“I’m thinking of ending things,” Jessie Buckley’s character mutters to open the movie with the titular quote. When her character, referred only as a Young Woman when not going by inconsistently different names throughout the movie, utters the sentence, it radiates ambiguity—not some sort of sinister feeling the title has suggested. A dark sense, however, still looms everywhere in the movie as the young woman and her lover, Jake (brilliantly versatile Jesse Plemons), as they embark on a bizarre road trip.
The woman is about to end a few week old relationship with Jake when the movie starts. And yet, they’re still going to Jake’s peculiar parents’ house for some sort of introducing-your-partner-to-parent dinner. Peculiar may seem like an understatement to describe Jake’s parent (Toni Collette and David Thewlis); they seem like some characters imported directly from a surreal painting or David Lynch’s movies. Fast-talking and emotionally awkward, the parent won’t resist their thought from exploding into open air, which eventually makes the warm, wintry dinner an inconvenient sight. The awkward situation continues to falter until, in one pivotal moment, it turns out to be outright surreal with no turning back.
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The young woman, confident and witty every day of the week, quips and explains when she’s not referencing any literary works coming from the thin air. She is a landscape painter, a poet, a scholar who studies quantum physics (which Jake’s mother refers as psychics) and also gerontology. She creates arts; she criticizes arts. She is, undoubtedly, ideal. Jake, on the other hand, is a more restraint character with seemingly repressed emotions and not-so-subtly concealed secrets. Her mother keeps bragging about him getting associated with genius (while she’s misread the word ‘genus’) and being awarded a star of diligence back in school. However, everything about him seems to be about control; approving, correcting, and being willed. In a prompt observance, Jake is a through-and-through Kaufmanesque character; but, looks aside for a while and there he goes—from a predictably mapped out character to Kaufman’s darkest character so far.
By any account, I’m Thinking of Ending Things embraces Charlie Kaufman’s recurring theme of a highly vulnerable male character’s identity crisis; but, he takes the road less taken in transliterating Iain Reid’s novel of the same title and blends it with his signature dreamlike, paraphysical universe. If it isn’t revelating, then it’s another head-scratching voyage down the human soul soiled in solitude. To completely understand it may take several view-throughs and, most importantly, some big deals of understanding about the literary references that can suddenly pop. To simply grasp the plot, on the contrary, takes some effort in collecting the breadcrumbs which can be challenging but less intriguing. Kaufman cleverly plants some evidences in the form of narrative inconsistencies to get audience’s’ senses tingling. Some fragments give the deja vu to Mulholland Drive and, by positioning Jake to function like Naomi Watts’ character in David Lynch’s movie helps to shed some lights in grasping the narrative. After all, there’s some sort of invisible string between both characters from two different movies that connect their story.
Implication is a key aspect in this movie. Kaufman ensures that the audience not only catches the experiences but also what is implied from it. Jessie Buckley’s young woman works as a key to delve deeper into the experience. From where it’s started, she has always been the protagonist albeit enigmatic. The lock is Jake. The thing is, it takes a while before we realize that the narrative leans towards the lock rather than the key; but, the lock has been kept on the background whenever the key has to look important. Buckley emanates the much-needed charm with harrowing sense and mysterious backstories that are haunting. By thinking of ending things, she poses a vivid threat that challenges the nature of her character. With her thinking of ending things, Plemons’ character must be sympathetic even when he has to somehow be pathetic instead. And that’s how they key and the lock operate; the former needs to fit the latter to be able to make each other works. Ironically, the young woman has to repeatedly fit Jake’s vision of ideals only to unravel the movie’s grim nature.
When you’ve read up to this point, you will somehow get the implication that I view Kaufman’s new movie as a baffling psychological thriller. From what I personally perceived, this might be a safest standpoint to admire what the writer-director has created. The crisis does not seem to take shape until a while, but that doesn’t make it a story that relies on shocking therapy. It indeed feels therapeutical, but that comes from Kaufman’s frequent visit to the movie’s rich discussion of literature and the nature of existence. At one point, on a long car drive, Jake and the woman would lost themselves in a prolonged argument about John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence that somehow plays a tongue-to-cheek allusion to the nature of the relationship. Those recurring existentialism discussions interpolate with short glimpses of a janitor’s life and scenes from a Robert Zemeckis’ romcom he’s been watching. At some points, the constant strings of discussion and in-story reference droppings convolute the narrative; although, they also somehow enrich it as a reward for those who understand.
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For all its worth, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an exhaustive challenge to repressed male vulnerability depending on how we perceive the story. The identity crisis theme takes the central spot and gets delivered as swaying as Jake’s final speech. His story is a sad one; her story is a struggling one. They coalesce into an enigmatic crisis that only gets deeper the more we look at it. This Kaufmanesque story induces a real swaying feeling.