Charlie Kaufman is a filmmaker whose work I have always admired; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my favourite films of all time (so much so that I wrote a whole essay on it in first year!). To this day, I remain astounded by the ambition and complexity of his directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. Having declared my love for Kaufman films, it is only expected that when Netflix announced that Kaufman would be adapting Iain Reid’s 2016 novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I was excited to see what his next creation would look like. And on reflection, Kaufman’s latest work is proven to be as meta and as surreal as his fans would hope.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things follows a young woman (Jessie Buckley) as she travels with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents for the first time. Their relationship seems mysterious; fairly new but already serious, and their conversations during the car journey spark further intrigue as to the connection between these two characters. Things take a turn when they meet his peculiar parents (played brilliantly by Toni Colette and David Thewlis) together with some ominous phone calls and a secret basement, and we learn that all is not as it seems.
From the very beginning, the film displays a strong sense of unease, not least from the eery presence of the harsh blizzard throughout the action. Large sections of the film take place within a car, and the uncomfortable, claustrophobic feeling this creates is amplified by the long, tense silences between the two characters. Perhaps there is more power in what Buckley and Plemons don’t say than what they do, but the use of dialogue is also one of my favourite things about I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
Conversations are fast paced, and the voices deliberately overlap – so much so that I chose to turn on the subtitles whilst watching in order to fully appreciate all of the scripts’ beautiful intricacies, performed masterfully by the two leading actors. Words are so important in the film, to the characters themselves but also to our understanding of their story. Communication is surely one of the key themes, and I found that the film explored how our connections with others affect our own sense of self. One of the characters says “Everything is tinged. Coloured by mood, by emotion, by past experience. There is no objective reality,” and this is my favourite line from the script because it embodies the aspect of the film that resonated most with me. It feels as if Reid and Kaufman have created a study of how we are influenced by our environment; by what we read, what we watch, and who we surround ourselves with.
It is difficult to say much more about I’m Thinking About Ending Things without ruining the experience of watching it for the first time; it is best to press play without knowing too much, allowing yourself to get completely swept away in the world created by Reid and brought to life by Kaufman. Much like Kaufman’s other works, such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is incredibly conceptual and metaphorical. For this reason, it will undoubtedly be a polarising film; whilst some will think it engaging and clever, others will view it as dissatisfying and pretentious. However, if you enjoyed Kaufman’s previous offerings, this will be a treat. Perhaps the plot itself is confusing but from a thematic sense, it felt clear and distinct, and is something that will stay with me for a long time.