I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

It is as if Charlie Kaufman had reimagined ‘The Shining’ in a whole new dimension—this indescribably cerebral and atmospheric film, an adaptation of the 2016 novel of the same name, enthrals as much as it frustrates.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Charlie Kaufman
2020 | USA | Drama/Mystery | 134 mins | 1.33:1 | English & Spanish
NC16 (Netflix rating) for language including some sexual references

Cast: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Plot: Full of misgivings, a young woman travels with her new boyfriend to his parents’ secluded farm. Upon arriving, she comes to question everything she thought she knew about him, and herself.
Distributor: Netflix

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Existential, Memory, Relationships
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

It has been five years since Charlie Kaufman made Anomalisa (2015), so it’s good to see him back with a new film, and a Netflix Original to boot. 

An adaptation of the 2016 novel of the same name by Ian Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things will probably fly over the heads of most viewers, but those who have developed an appreciation for Kaufman’s idiosyncratic and cerebral approach to storytelling will find strains of novelty amid the familiarity. 

It’s a strange concoction of a film, though that’s not really saying much about Kaufman’s style; in fact, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is indescribable and unclassifiable.  It is as if Kaufman had reimagined The Shining (1980) in a whole new dimension—that’s how I would describe the movie in one sentence. 

The premise is straightforward: a young woman (the magnificent Jessie Buckley) travels with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to visit the latter’s parents for the first time (or is it not?). 

“Sometimes the thought is closer to the truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”

But the narrative structure (if there is even one at all, such is its free-flowing nature) is complex: the first 40 or so minutes of conversation between the couple in the car are some of the most riveting cinema I’ve seen this year. 

Character’s thoughts—some random, some deliberate—are ominously interwoven with dialogue and the eerie soundscape.  It’s snowing heavily, and things get surreal and psychological. 

Kaufman does play around with horror tropes, but I wouldn’t classify the film as horror because even horror has some sort of logic; this one doesn’t, and it plays—with unbridled freedom—on the phenomenology of space and time as experienced by the young woman in her mind as she tries to make sense of past (or maybe future) memories. 

A film about finding the psychical in the physical and vice versa, I’m Thinking of Ending Things enthrals as much as it frustrates.  I can’t quite draw anything much from it, except the strange, subliminal experience of seeing it. 

Or maybe that’s the point—that the film’s resonance, if any, is spectral.

Grade: B+


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