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“I’m Thinking Of Ending Things” Is A Challenging Journey Into Charlie Kaufman’s Concerns

Charlie Kaufman is unlike any other creative force in the business. One only needs to look at his resume and you’ll see, both as a writer as well as a director, that he’s a singular talent. He sees the world, and interprets it as art, like no one else. At the same time, he often creates things that go off in very unique directions. For the most part, when he’s solely been a writer, Kaufman filters them through someone’s more accessible vision. When he’s behind the camera, however, that filter is gone. His latest project, the adaptation of the book i’m thinking of ending things, is about as unfiltered as it gets. Morphing the novel to fit his concerns and interests, this is shaping up to be the most divisive work of Kaufman’s career. For some, it’s going to be close to his masterpiece, but for others, they’re going to give up only minutes in. Dropping on Netflix this Friday, it’ll undoubtedly spark some conversation, at the very least.

The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, presenting itself as a psychological horror/thriller, at least on the surface. A young woman (Jessie Buckley) referred to by many names as things progress, is on a long car ride with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents. They haven’t been dating too long, though the timeline is hazy, and she’s considering breaking up with him. As they drive through Oklahoma, they engage in wide-ranging philosophical discussions, some of which she’s engaged in, some of which she’s barely paying attention to, all the while having the thought “i’m thinking of ending things” running through her head. Jake almost seems aware of her inner monologue, though it’s unclear. When they arrive at his childhood home, things only get stranger. First, he’s hesitant to go inside. Then, his mother (Toni Collette) and father (David Thewlis) act a bit strangely. Before long, as they enter or exit a room, or as the young woman explores the house, complete with a creepy basement, Jake’s parents keep changing in age. Sometimes they’re middle aged. Sometimes they’re young and vibrant. Sometimes they’re old and decrepit. This makes her eager to leave, though once they get back on the road, a detour only makes things weirder. How it all comes together, as well as how it ties in to the story of a high school janitor (Guy Bond) we’ve been seeing sporadically throughout the flick, I’ll leave for you to discover. Kaufman writes and directs, adapting the book by Iain Reid. Colby Minifie, Abby Quinn, Ira Temchin, and more round out the cast. Jay Wadley composes the score, while the cinematography is by Lukasz Zal.

In a lot of ways, this is a hard movie to critique. It’s so unpleasant and so obtuse at times, since you’re wallowing along with Kaufman about not just the state of the world, but the bleakness of it. He’s long felt that relationships are doomed to fail, one’s identity is is hard to pinpoint, especially when they’re a creator, and it all comes through here. On the one hand, it’s stunningly unvarnished, in terms of representing Kaufman’s ability to place elements of his psyche on the screen. On the other hand, there’s little to no entertainment value here. That’s not necessarily a prerequisite, but it’s notable that this may end up being the filmmaker’s most widely seen work (give or take Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), due to Netflix releasing this, and a significant portion of the audience is going to hate it.

i’m thinking of ending things, from top to bottom, is impeccably made. In particular, the performances are sterling, with Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons truly shining. Now, Toni Collette and David Thewlis are terrific too, but Buckley and Plemons do the true heavy lifting. Their two long car rides together are phenomenal bits of acting, even if the pacing is thrown off by the second one. That’s really the only technical glitch, as losing that sequence wouldn’t have affected the narrative and would have dropped the flick to under two hours (it runs two hours and fourteen minutes, overall). Aside from that, the look and sound on display, as well as the aforementioned acting, are top notch.

Awards wise, this is going to be a hard sell, outside of perhaps Charlie Kaufman in Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s just such an art film, all things considered, that most voters won’t be able to get on its wavelength. Those who can will find a ton of things to dig in and explore, but those who can’t will be lost and perhaps even repulsed by what they see. It’s a tough sit, and not everyone will be willing to do so. They’ll be losing out, but it’s just a fact right now. Perhaps the precursors will take to this one and put more categories in play, but for now, unless Jessie Buckley is a long shot Best Actress contender, it’s Kaufman or bust in Adapted Screenplay.

On Friday, a very challenging film is hitting Netflix in Charlie Kaufman’s i’m thinking of ending things. The movie is not a passive experience, that’s for sure, so know what you’re getting into. The streaming giant will bring Kaufman’s vision to more folks than ever before, at least initially, but not everyone is going to understand what they’re seeing. However, for those who eagerly await his latest outings, this will be a stimulating and perhaps even confounding treat. No matter if you love it or hate it, it’s well worth seeing, if only to appreciate the genius at work.

Be sure to check out i’m thinking of ending things, streaming on Netflix this weekend!

(Photos courtesy of Netflix)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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