“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is the latest film by writer/director Charlie Kaufman (based on the book of the same title by Ian Reid) and Kaufman’s first film since 2015’s grounded and intimate “Anomalisa.” It stars Jessie Buckley (The Young Woman) and Jesse Plemons (Jake) as boyfriend and girlfriend going to meet Jake’s parents, but many strange occurrences start to happen. To put it simply, Kaufman makes weird movies. Whether they’re about erasing your own memory or entering the mind of John Malkovich, they have multiple layers that require many viewings to fully grasp what Kaufman was going for. He always aims at dissecting what it means to be human and, with that being no easy question, it results in his movies being very detailed and confusing at times. This is also his first attempt at a mystery/thriller, so I was quite excited to see what Kaufman was going to do with the genre.
With that being said, I was greatly disappointed with this film. I shouldn’t be too shocked by that because most of Kaufman’s movies just have not struck the right chord with me. I appreciate the sense of realism that he brings with his writing and the fact that he tries to tackle the hardest questions of life. But it is the weirdness he brings that throws everything else off. Don’t get me wrong, I love weird movies and I love the weird and strange things that Kaufman introduces here. But he doesn’t expand on almost anything, which just makes for a very frustrating watch. It has always seemed like Kaufman throws all of these weird things in his movies just for the sake of being weird. With there being no expansion on them, they add nothing to the movie and feel completely out of place.
The most characterization we get is from The Young Woman’s thoughts. We can hear her as she thinks and it gives us the context of her relationship with Jake, but that is all we get. This is odd because Kaufman is very good at building characters and making them relatable. A lot of this is because he purposefully tells us multiple contradicting things about them. We hear that The Young Woman is an artist, waitress, physicist, or poet. And from the very beginning, lots of strange things are happening. Strange things continue to happen and only get more bizarre as the movie goes on. It all gives for some really interesting ideas, but again, almost none of them are mentioned again.
When we meet Jake’s parents for the second act, the strangeness continues to grow. The sudden shift in tones from certain characters at some points could have given us some much-needed characterization, but that only be guessed. Once again, there are some really interesting ideas that are brought up and some dots that are connected for some people who hadn’t figured some parts out yet. His parents are my favorite part of the movie. They strike a great balance between weird and making no sense. Toni Collette plays Jake’s mother and she is fantastic. I love her interactions with Jake, but I wish we could have learned more.
The viewer is almost forced to forget about all of these random occurrences and just let them slide because that is what Kaufman does throughout his career. He introduces something briefly and does not explain or expand any further. The only difference in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is that these occurrences greatly impact the characters and story. It isn’t just a house that is always burning in “Synecdoche, New York” or a floor of a building that is only three feet tall in “Being John Malkovich." None of these are explained, but they are minuscule and are fairly obvious metaphors. I know it sounds like I really hate this movie, but that is not the case. I can just see the potential it had and knew I could have really liked it. I have read that reading the book greatly helps to understand the movie, but I am judging this solely on what we see in the film. The great dialogue is what really saves the movie for me.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things trailer