Photo | “I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS” | Likely Story
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” — the latest depressing mind-bender from writer-director Charlie Kaufman — had me thinking the same thing. While its complex achievements are undeniable, watching this story of a couple driving in a snowstorm was no picnic. The dialogue was amazing, the performances were amazing and the uncanny, disorienting sense of total dread was amazing. But I guess my appetite for dread is somewhat diminished lately.
On the surface, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” follows a couple as they drive out of town to the farm where the boyfriend’s parents live, so the girlfriend can meet them for the first time. The man is Jake, played by Jesse Plemons, an actor I already find deeply unsettling due in no small part to his uncanny valley resemblance to Matt Damon. The woman, Lucy, narrates much of the film and is played by Jessie Buckley, who fortunately doesn’t look anything like Matt Damon. No matter what else happens in this film, the dialogue between the two of them is interesting and they do things with their roles that are subtle and fascinating. As simply a character study, the two of them do impressive work.
Once they finally arrive at the farmhouse, our sense that things are amiss only deepens. Toni Collette and David Thewlis give daffy, disturbing performances as the parents, who may actually be long dead. A dog appears then disappears; people who were standing and talking then turn up in a hospital bed. After the languorous, fascinating drive to the farm and the indelible characters developed in those scenes, the viewer begins to doubt any of it is even real.
Charlie Kaufman, paired with director Michel Gondry, created some of the most convincing dreamlike sequences in their 2004 film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” ever put on screen. The way reality gets slippery, the sudden omissions and elisions, was masterful, and this film does that incredibly well as well. Shifts in names, faces and surroundings take place in subtly terrifying ways.
The perspective sometimes changes to that of a high school janitor watching a performance of “Oklahoma,” which eventually pays off in a pretty spectacular way, and hearkens back to the first leg of the couple’s road trip, when they listen to “Many A New Day” on the radio and Jake reveals a rather deep appreciation for musical theater.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” defies plot summary and reactions should prove highly personal and variable to this terribly strange film. It cannot be described in terms of “good” or “bad.” I’m certain this is the film Kaufman wanted to make. It was an incredibly slow, cerebral horror movie, very similar to the work of David Lynch but without his supernatural sense of theatricality.
Like Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York” and “Anomalisa,” this film draws its effect from an overall experience, not a sequence of events. I must acknowledge another viewing would probably improve my opinion of it and I must further acknowledge that is not a very appealing prospect. There is a degree of disorientation a work of art can create that, for me, obliterates it completely, no matter how valid the deeply hidden message.
I’m sure there is a case to be made for what this film said about love, loss, identity and memory. My patience, my nerves, my very soul perhaps, could not get on board with “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” and if this makes me seem shallow, so be it. It’s a small price to pay for not watching it again. I’m already afraid I might have to because I know there is so much there to appreciate — if you can just endure it.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is currently available on Netflix.
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