I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020) Jessie Buckley, Jesse Piemons, David Thewlis, Toni Collette
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.
My first thought was 'surrealism', but André Breton would never have dreamt about stuff like this. My next was 'psychedelia' (hate the spelling), but there's a helluva lot intellectual chatter - as in a French film - one by Godard, say - which keeps the narrative grounded for long periods. So I've ended up with 'fantasy'. It's sort-of realistic for most of its length, but is allowed to go off into flights of fantasy, some involving Oklahoma!, some with a dancing janitor, and so on.
I used to say about Lynch's films - Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr. - that you abandoned your reality and entered Lynch-world. I think there's also a Kaufman-world - a parallel universe.
Cinematically, much of it is deadly dull. I'm mainly thinking of the endless car journeys in blizzards, almost completely obscuring the characters' faces some of the time. If you've never heard of John Cassavetes, or have but haven't seen A Woman under the Influence and don't know who Gena Rowlands was, you're going to particularly dislike that long sequence where she's discussed. Same with the science-y stuff.
But I enjoyed it. I was drawn in, involved, concerned.
As an Australian, I have to say once again how much I admire Toni Collette. She is a consummate actress. I don't think there's anything on a set or a stage she couldn't do, and do well.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things certainly traps us. The film’s first big sequence is the road trip to Jake’s parents’ house, in which he and the young woman wield their erudition against one another while a snow storm threatens to strand them. As in Antkind, the dialogue here is dense with literate references, which somehow manage to function as pretentious parodies of pretension. William Wordsworth is evoked, as are Benito Mussolini’s trains, and there’s a riff on suicidal insects that connects to one of Kaufman’s governing concepts: that ideas, especially asinine Hollywood clichés, are capable of fighting to live on in the manner of most animals, in this case taking root in our brains. This notion is reasonable—many of our most insidiously bad myths about relationships are reinforced by Hollywood romances—but in a film this scrambled and willfully devoid of pleasure it also feels self-congratulatory. This sequence lasts nearly 20 minutes, and as Jake and the young woman talk on and on, you may want to desperately get out of this car—an impression that Kaufman exacerbates through jagged editing and tense, mysteriously unmotivated camera angles. ...
.... The film has a weird, ghostly, even beautiful pull, but it functions mostly on theoretical terms because Kaufman has thought it to death, lingering only on his characters’ miseries and disappointments. If Kaufman had the generosity, for instance, to show what Jake and the young woman might have once seen in one another, allowing for the sort of spark that animated the couple in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this film might’ve been extraordinary—more like a tragedy in the key of Mulholland Drive and less like a dissertation. But Kaufman is content to remain a pain junkie, ruing the fakeness of everything. Chuck Bowen, Slant.
The film sits within the same horror framework as Jordan Peele’s Get Out (though with very different thematic concerns), and Buckley’s unfolding ordeal reflects on a wider genre arena too, recalling at times David Lynch’s ability to locate a sinister undertow in seemingly benign retro Americana, and terminating in a location that, like Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel, is both a geographical labyrinth and philosophical conundrum. Not what we’d expect from a Charlie Kaufman film, and all the better for it, the film’s myriad levels of thematic interest and enquiry complementing rather than hindering its sedulously nerve-shredding effectiveness. Trevor Johnston, Sight&Sound.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things feels like a movie that could be hurt by the Netflix model. It’s not something that should be watched while being distracted by your phone. It demands attention to allow its mood to find its way under your skin or it really won’t work. It has a remarkable cumulative power, even as it narratively seems to make less and less sense. You have to give yourself over to it, and you'll be moved by some of its later imagery even if you have no idea how to explain why. Kaufman is trying to find a storytelling approach that goes beyond simple plot, conveying the loneliness and relative stasis of human existence. Roger Ebert.
Garry Gillard | New: 13 February, 2021 | Now: 18 February, 2021