Film Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Streaming on Netflix: 09.04
“It is beautiful out here … in a bleak, heartbroken kind of way.”
–The Young Woman
The works of Charlie Kaufman are hardly for everyone, and I’d be lying if I said that they’ve always gone straight up my flagpole. I’ve found his works to be hypnotic, hilarious, surreal, insightful and at times maddeningly self-indulgent, but always fascinating. And the older I get, the more I appreciate his unique voice.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the film version Iain Reid‘s acclaimed psychological thriller/horror novel, is one of Kaufman’s relatively rare forays into adapting the works of others, but his Academy Award for the brilliantly audacious Adaptation—one of my favorites, along with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—is a testament to the fact that if you hire Charlie Kaufman, you must expect him to make the story his own.
This particular story is told from the point of view of a young woman (Jesse Buckley, Wild Rose) who is having very serious second thoughts about her relationship with Jake (Jesse Plemons, The Irishman, Breaking Bad), her boyfriend of only a few weeks. She takes a road trip with him to his family farm, but as the trip progresses, so does the feeling that nothing is quite as it seems. Feeling trapped at the farm with Jake’s mother (Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense, Hereditary) and father (David Thewliss, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, War Horse) during a relentless snowstorm, the young woman begins to question the nature of everything she knew or understood about her boyfriend, herself and the world.
Kaufman has crafted a spellbinding film that ranks among his best work, a triumph of atmosphere and unsettling tension and loneliness. It takes a visionary to make such a slow-moving and quiet film that keeps you thoroughly glued to the screen in suspense, unable to explain even to yourself why you feel so drawn in. Kaufman deviates ever so slightly from the book in the third act, but in an entirely good way, opening things up cinematically. There is just the faintest echo of Stanley Kubrick to this “make-of-it-what-you-will” tale, but Kaufman doesn’t wear the influence on his sleeve. Rather, he shows it in his command of his art form.
Jesse Buckley is a revelation. The Irish actress was a last moment replacement for Brie Larson, who had to step away from the project, and Buckley leaves no room for questioning whether even the Oscar-winning, powerhouse star could have been as enchanting in the role. There is an introspective intensity, a quiet confusion, that Buckley conveys, and it’s a masterful mix of being utterly in the moment as an actor and yet lost somewhere in a distant world of her own as a character.
Plemons is an actor with an understated presence that is easy to miss, but over the past few years he has continued to impress me, and I’m Thinking of Ending Things left me with the realization that if there is anyone who could fill the void left by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, it just might be Plemons. He adds to that a certain Matt Damon quality without the distraction of … actually being Matt Damon. Meanwhile, if Collette does not emerge as a frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress, there is even less justice in the world than I think there is, which is no small statement. Hilarious, unnerving and poignant, her performance has it all, and Thewlis matches her beat for beat.
Cinematographer Lukasz Zal (Cold War) creates stunning imagery that is alternately comforting and deeply haunting, shooting in a stark 1.33:1 aspect ratio that intensifies the moodiness and sense of awkward isolation.
As stated above, Charlie Kaufman and I’m Thinking of Ending Things are not for everyone. Anyone who watches this movie just because it’s labeled as horror is going to wind up among the steady stream of people who yell at me the moment they find out that I’m a film critic, simply because they hated Hereditary. This is a film that is both surreal and cerebral, with a heavy sense of sadness, it is genuinely disturbing. But to paraphrase its narrator, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is beautiful in a bleak, heartbreaking kind of way. –Patrick Gibbs