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USA 2020
Directed by
Charlie Kaufman
134 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

I'm Thinking Of Ending Things

Anyone coming to Charlie Kaufman’s latest film expecting to be tossed out of their comfort zone won’t be disappointed. The rest of you, fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things, which Kaufman adapted from an acclaimed 2016 thriller/horror novel of the same name by Canadian writer Iain Reid tells the story of a young woman (Jessie Buckley) who goes with her new boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) in the middle of winter to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) on their farm in upstate New York.

One way of looking at the film is that, in a nutshell, it is a depiction of the human condition as chronic estrangement. The young woman whose name changes multiple times throughout the film is the emblematic character through whose eyes (and on-going narration) we see the world. One could say, in this respect that it is a more substantial revisiting of Being John Malkovich (1999) which Kaufman wrote but did not direct, What we see on screen seems weird or surreal but really it is not anymore so than what we all experience in our daily stream of consciousness. And a visit to meet the parents is a stressful experience (see the Jay Roach 2000 comedy so named) which may well exacerbate the awkwardness we usually keep concealed from others.

This interpretation of I'm Thinking of Ending Things may be simplistic, a strategy treduces Kaufman’s work to being yet another consumable. There are certainly moments, particularly the scenes involving an elderly janitor which suggest that this summation doesn’t do justice to the film though there is no reason why Kaufman shouldn’t interpellate apparently random elements, like the visit to a roadside ice cream parlour into the narrative. David Lynch does it all the time just in a more disjunctive way. Kaufman, however, seems happy to leave proceedings mundane, “the horror” being more Conradian than genre-determined. Other devices such as the young woman verbatim quotation from Pauline Kael’s review of  John Cassavetes’ 1974 movie A Woman Under the Influence may just be a film buff’s in-joke, a Tarantino-esque nod to the audience. Ditto for his dig at mainstream director Robert Zemeckis.

Particularly given the disorienting nature of the narrative, the performances are excellent. Plemons captures Jake’s self-loathing and repressed anger that one feels is about to boil over on his to-say-the-least eccentric parents and the world that he finds himself in. Buckley on the other hand provides a point of identification for the viewer making the nightmarish strangeness palpable yet not succumbing to it as would usually be the case with a standard psychological horror film.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things is not an easy film but it's one that you’ll earmark for a second viewing.




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