After a long hiatus, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman makes his return with I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and it is impressive. With Netflix in the habit of funding any and every idea, it is also Kaufman’s most accessible release where ordinary viewers are exposed to the ‘arthouse’ genre (if they don’t turn it off in the middle).
Based on a novel of the same name by Iain Reid, the film has a seemingly simple plot. Lucy (played by Jessie Buckley) begins to have doubts about her new relationship with her boyfriend, Jake (played by Jesse Plemons), as they go on a road trip to visit Jake’s parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) for the first time together.
As you might expect from a Kaufman movie, it subverts expectations with uncomfortable truths about human nature
It sounds like a cut and dry heartbreak story, but it is the complete opposite. As you might expect from a Kaufman movie, it subverts expectations with uncomfortable truths about human nature, society and mental illness, all while mixing in drama and elements of horror. There is a lot of dialogue with little action in a lot of the film and it does require your full attention, so it certainly isn’t for everyone. However, the attention to detail makes it all worth it.
It very much is a movie you have to watch more than once to get the most out of it, even now re-watching it for the third time I find myself spotting new things and hints that foreshadow what’s to come. This film doesn’t hold your hand, you will have to figure it out yourself (or Google it), but in an era of big blockbuster films that feel compelled to explain everything through exposition, I welcome a change.
The performances of the stars are excellent. Both Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons play a convincing couple that has a straining relationship. Toni Collette and David Thewlis, who play Jake’s ageing parents, do an outstanding job. Throughout much of the film, we see glimpses of them in different stages of their lives which Collette and Thewlis portray convincingly, with so much detail placed on their voice and body language. Jake’s father is later revealed to have dementia and I was astonished as to how well Thewlis managed to change his performance with falling into the standard negative stereotypes. This is greatly complimented by makeup that isn’t overbeating.
I said before there is a lot of dialogue in the film, and much of it comes from the internal dialogue of Lucy. As the story, progresses, her thoughts become more chilling and you can sense the fear and confusion. There are also a number of heated moments during a dinner with Jake’s parents, and the subtle transition back to normalcy feels natural which I find a lot of films fail to capture.
Music is appropriately used to add to tense and tragic scenes rather than compensate for it because it really doesn’t need to
The sound design and editing are equally excellent. Music is appropriately used to add to tense and tragic scenes rather than compensate for it because it really doesn’t need to. Video editing is just as purposeful in blending the different genres of the film, convincing you at times you’re watching a horror flick before dialling it back.
I wish I could say more about the story, but you really do have to watch it yourself and figure it out. You will almost certainly be confused by the end of your first viewing, but hopefully, like me, you’ll be drawn to explore it again. Kaufman is well known for his deep films and this one deserves to join the list. I genuinely love this movie and I think most of you will too.