The 400-Word Review: I'm Thinking of Ending Things
By Sean Collier
September 4, 2020
I’m pretty sure “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is Charlie Kaufman’s weirdest movie.
That’s quite a claim, considering the screenwriter and sometimes director (he does both jobs here) announced himself with a fable involving a portal into the literal head of John Malkovich. And that he was last seen crafting a mid-life crisis narrative via stop-motion, identically voiced puppets. And that his most commercially accessible movie concerns a man searching his own brain for disappearing memories of a former lover.
Still: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a bit weirder.
The Young Woman (Jessie Buckley), as she’s called in the credits, is headed upstate to meet the parents of her faux-intellectual boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons). After a tour of the farm, which features inexplicably frozen lambs and the site of a gruesome pig death — “Life can be hard on a farm,” Jake says — we eventually meet the doting parents (Toni Colette and David Thewlis). Mom is alternatingly fragile and doting; Dad is alternatingly dismissive and folksy.
At least at first. Then they keep spontaneously switching ages. And a dog which may or may not be alive shows up.
Along the way, there are frequent diversions to the life of a high-school janitor (Guy Boyd), whose experiences keep oddly overlapping with Jake’s references. The Young Woman’s thoughts, meanwhile, seem to all be recreated in Jake’s childhood bedroom. Things break down at a sinister, 24-hour ice cream parlor that seems to terrify and entrance Jake.
If I were searching for an easy explanation, I’d say that Kaufman watched the recent revival of “Twin Peaks” and saw Colette in “Hereditary,” then wrote the script to “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” immediately thereafter. That’s not meant as a criticism; I’d imagine the set of influences is a bit more broad than that and should note that the film is based on a novel of the same name by Iain Reid.
The feel, though, is Kaufman turned to the dark side. There’s Lynchian menace below the surface in it, yes, and a certain domestic horror. The puzzle-box result, however, is unique. It will certainly put some audiences off, whether textually or unintentionally; there is a lot of deeply bizarre stuff here, and the line between brilliant and bonkers is often a judgment call. For audiences that like their films gnarled and absurd, however, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” will likely become a favorite.
My Rating: 9/10
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is streaming on Netflix.