REVIEW: ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ (2020) is a Paradox of a Film

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“It’s Schrödinger’s cat in moving image form: at once brilliant and frustrating.”

It comes as no surprise to hear that other reviewers are struggling to put their thoughts of Charlie Kaufman’s latest feature, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, into words. Even trying to formulate thoughts, let alone opinions, is difficult. The film is messy, nonsensical and self-indulgent but simultaneously entertaining, powerful, and meaningful. At times, I was on the edge-of-my-seat, other times I wanted to leave my seat. It’s Schrödinger’s cat in moving image form: at once brilliant and frustrating. One thing I can confidently say, however, is that the film will have dug deep into your mind without you realising it and stay there long after the credits roll.

Let’s try and start with the plot. A young woman (Jessie Buckley) goes on a road trip with her new boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons), to see his family at a rural farm. Even before they reach their destination, we are made aware through voiceover that the young woman (Buckley’s character doesn’t actually have a name) has second thoughts about her relationship, and we quickly learn about her feelings and attitudes towards different aspects of her life and life in general. Once she meets Jake’s parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), that’s when the absurdity dials up and the young woman begins questioning herself and everything around her. That is as much plot as I can really cover. The individual scenes are much more engaging and accessible than the overall film, and I’m Thinking of Ending Things is undoubtedly at it’s most entertaining when the four characters finally meet and spend the evening together. Collette and Thewlis are absolutely mesmerising as Jake’s peculiar parents, both clearly having a blast in their roles whilst also delivering depth and heart. One particular speech from Thewlis’ character talking about their relationship ripped my heart to shreds: lamenting on how time changes us. The blending of different tones works best here too: flitting from big laughs to unbearable tension to heart-wrenching sadness. Collette and Thewlis will be talked about the most for sure but Buckley and Plemons do incredible work in such a challenging project. You can see that both actors trusted in Kaufman and his script, and gave it their all.

A young woman (Jessie Buckley) stands over her unimpressed boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) and his bemused mother (Toni Collette) who are sat at a dinner table. From 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things'.
image courtesy of Netflix

The biggest problem with I’m Thinking of Ending Things is not with the over-arching narrative making little sense, but with how long stretches of the film are self-indulgent. There are plenty of moments where characters will argue, debate and have lengthy monologues over different poets, artists, and philosophers to talk about time, the universe and the human condition. It feels like Kaufman debating and talking to himself. These segments are exhausting and quickly become tedious. As the film goes on, Kaufman introduces increasingly absurd visuals and sequences which makes it tough for us to get back on board with the film after such self-indulgence. Each scene is a well-crafted puzzle piece, but they just don’t all fit together. People will argue that the frustration felt during the runtime is all part of the film’s design, but it nonetheless still makes it difficult to keep engaged.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things had a perverse effect on me after viewing the film though. As the credits rolled, I felt initially underwhelmed by the whole experience and a little empty, until the credit sequence ended and the screen faded to black. That’s when the existential thoughts seeped into my mind: reflecting on the film’s exploration on regrets, how time moves through us and how we move through time, loneliness. It was similar to how the feeling of pain doesn’t come until moments after you get hit. And boy it hit hard. Even through the push and pull of boredom and captivation, I’m Thinking of Ending Things silently crept into my conscious and extracted emotional responses out of me, be it remembering the film’s frustrations or reflecting on its existential thoughts. Giving the film a star rating was challenging because I’m Thinking of Ending Things is everything and nothing, meaningless but meaningful. I’m thinking that Kaufman would actually be pretty happy with that statement.

Written/Directed by: Charlie Kaufman

Produced by: Stephanie Azpiazu, Anthony Bregman, Robert Salerno, Charlie Kaufman

Cast: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd

Available on: Netflix