Charlie Kaufman’s ominously named new movie, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, with its lower-case title design, is cinema in all-caps. And possibly the most productive breakup film since Ari Aster’s Midsommar.
After a career spent trying to piece together the broken fragments of the delicate male psyche, Kaufman, in his new movie, introduces — for the first time — a female protagonist. But she will not be real. It’s complicated.
Played by Jessie Buckley, the character — like most Kaufman characters — is essentially an extension of the filmmaker himself. And as terrific as Buckley is as The Young Woman, part of me want to consider that she used to be cast simply in order that Kaufman could add another layer of surrealism to his story. Buckley’s co-star, you see, is Jesse Plemons, who plays the boyfriend, Jake. An equally legal counterargument could be made that Jake is the protagonist. But he will not be real either.
Watch the I’m Thinking of Ending Things trailer here
Casting two lead actors whose names sound precisely alike, to play characters that might be imaginary — all signs point to them being constructs of a isolated janitor’s brain — is the gratuity of the iceberg so far as the kookiness of Kaufman’s movie is concerned.
In an opening scene that will remind viewers of Jordan Peele’s comparatively more straightforward Get Out, we’re introduced to the couple as they’re on their way into the countryside to meet his parents. They’ve known each and every other for approximately seven weeks, but their relationship is new enough for him to ask whether she likes Wordsworth, as whether they’re still discovering things approximately each and every other. She’s contemplating dumping him, that much is made lucid.
“I’m thinking of ending things,” she thinks to herself right through the endless drive to his parents’, over and over and again. But while this first of all sounds like a reference to their relationship, a later conversation approximately the creator David Foster Wallace gives the words a fairly morbid new meaning. “Even people who realize nothing else approximately David Foster Wallace realize that he killed himself,” Jake tells The Young Woman, who nods. They might be the same person, or they might be Charlie Kaufman, having a conversation with himself, as he did in Adaptation.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things unfolds like a dying man’s life, flashing before his eyes. On other occasions, it sort of feels like all of the movie takes place within a snow globe that is slowly falling to the ground. There is sense of inevitability to it. Human beings, as The Young Woman says in one scene, are the only animals who understand the concept that of mortality, which is why they’ve invented hope.
Jessie Buckley as Young Woman, Jesse Plemons as Jake in I’m Thinking Of Ending Things.
At Jake’s parents’ house, The Young Woman visits his childhood bedroom, which is littered with stacks of books and movies that he should have consumed as a juvenile. Here’s where Netflix comes in. I’m Thinking of Ending Things benefits tremendously for having been released on streaming. Actually, it is in many ways designed to be viewed this way. For example, when I first noticed changes in the physical appearances of Jake’s parents — his father’s hair looked as if it would have turn out to be shorter — I immediately paused and rewinded to reconfirm my suspicions. Moments later, of class lesson, I realised that my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me in any case, and that a slight change in coiffure used to be easily the most subtle transformation that the parents would undergo in that sequence. In a similar way, the scene in Jake’s bedroom positively begs you to pause and devour the entire visual foreshadowing that it contains.
So when The Young Woman, on the drive back, begins an impromptu critique of John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence, your brain immediately connects it to a fleeting glimpse of a Pauline Kael book mendacity on the rack in Jake’s bedroom. “I imagine I watch too many movies,” Jake tells The Young Woman, and she replies, “Everyone does. It’s a societal malady.”
Movies and books and culture of all sorts is the prism through which Jake looks back on his life, whether we pursue the theory that all of the movie plays out in the brain of a dying man — the highschool janitor who makes occasional appearances, but plays a larger role in the film’s wilfully obtuse third act. For example, the movie’s last scene is lifted, nearly shot-for-shot, from a similar scene in Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Brain. And Kaufman, as we realize, has all the time been interested in the minds of men who like to mythologize themselves. This is him contemplating his own legacy.
Also read: I Missing My Body film review: Netflix delivers the most productive lively movie of 2019; a stone-cold masterpiece
While it is imaginable for some viewers to have an emotional reaction to I’m Thinking of Ending Things, it’s hardly as accessible as Kaufman’s best movie, Everlasting Sunshine of the Spotless Brain. It is neither as imperceptible as Synecdoche, New York. It is, on the other hand, another notch on Netflix’s bedpost, as it continues its quest to lure each auteur under the sun into its boudoir. Watch, and watch again.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Director – Charlie Kaufman
Cast – Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
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The creator tweets @RohanNaahar