by Marija Vucic for the Carl Kruse blog
”People like to think of themselves as points moving through time. But I think it’s probably the opposite. We’re stationary. And time passes through us.”
These are the words of Jessie Buckley, the lead female in Charlie Kaufman’s long-awaited ”I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” It also summarizes the central point of this whimsical thriller based upon the book by Canadian writer Ian Reed of the same title. Kaufman, Academy award-winning writer of ”Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and ”Being John Malkovich”, director of ”Synecdoche, New York” and ”Anomalisa,” has delivered his usual pattern of themes diving into the motives of the psyche and existential questioning in this visually unique release.
The general plot of the film could be summarized as the story of a woman on her way to meet her boyfriend’s parents at their secluded farm. From the first minute, the woman whose name remains unknown guides us with expressions of her inner thoughts. She refers to her relatively fresh relationship with Jake, played by Jesse Plemons, as something doomed from the beginning. On their drive, we are trapped in her head, feeling the unpleasantness of her dry conversation with Jake. She is thinking of ending things, thinking of ending this relationship, ironically on the way to meet his parents. She is constantly there, letting us in, but her words seem just like obscure whispers in a dream. The situation quickly turns into something hauntingly misgiving as we slowly begin to realize that the words of our narrator are becoming more and more unreliable. Upon the moment of their arrival at the farmhouse, an unsettling sensation arises that something is inexplicably wrong with both Jake’s parents and their remote home.
The movie is characterized by brilliant performances but Toni Collette as the mother and David Thewlis as the father undoubtedly steal the show. Their performances are extremely strong and impactful, paralyzingly unnerving. Every detail of their delivery is specific and realistic, serving almost as a plot device for the dreadful turn of events. Occurrences inside the farmhouse shaped the film into a beast of confusion and inescapable horror. As the woman begins to question reality, we cannot help but feel lost and hopeless as well. Kaufman explores the sensitive subjects of aging, death, and immortality in a way that digs deep into the ravages of our fears and insecurities. He is also dealing with the unknown realms of identity and he does so profoundly. We almost feel personally attacked as he strips our psyche leaving nothing but our most hidden feelings of dread and helplessness. Our fear of time is laid bare and the film detours mercilessly into its core. Kaufman also morphs the variety of mental illnesses into the plot to paint the broader, more unconventional picture of a human mind. This is depicted with heart-wrenching portrayal of dementia. There are also hints for possible representations of schizophrenia. It is also subtly nodded that every person is strongly defined by the media that surrounds him in all shapes and forms. The definitions of identity and occupation are interlinked. This can be seen in various conversations between the woman and Jake, as they are both passionate about their interests and cultural influences. They argue about such topics multiple times throughout the movie, which gives us, the viewers, a unique insight into who these characters are. This is important because it applies to our way of thinking. The process of thinking itself is also one of the main ideas explored in the movie. Would we be who we are if not for our thoughts?
During the course of the film, we simultaneously follow a day in the life of an aging janitor who works in Jake’s former high school. Depictions of his everyday run like a thread through the film’s timeline, representing another mystery to unravel. The scenes yank us into the mundane nature of his existence, leaving us with nothing more than sympathy for the man who seems to have lost himself to his daily duties. Even though it seems that we are reaching no deeper than a surface-level appreciation of his role and existence, from the beginning there is a feeling of longing and regret surrounding this solitary man. Perhaps he is too old to move forward and the only thing left to do is dwell upon the past and linger on the same fantasies in a never-ending cycle. Passion and obsession are perhaps what he lacks, or maybe these are the things that occupy his mind the most? Do memories ultimately define who we are in the moment of our death? The power of an idea is what we are left with, as the crucial meaning of the film- lingers.
This movie that surely subverts expectations and plays with our minds and feelings long after the credits roll. A film that feels like a dream, and in moments like a nightmare. Its scenes constantly morphing until no trace of the beginning is left. Viewers are dished a surrealism that somehow manages to look, feel, and sound so familiar. We are left in a confused haze, reminiscing on the formidable aftermath. It leaves us oblivious for longer than expected and when the pieces slowly start to come together, only then are we left with complete dread. This is a social horror film set to invade our psyche and challenge what is real, primordial fears residing in our hearts. The fear of being alone and helpless, the fear of the unknown and inevitable, the fear of death and transiency, the fear of growing old and the feeling of abandonment. And inevitably, the fear of ourselves. In the end, it’s important not to linger for too long and to keep moving forward.
Homepage for this Carl Kruse blog: https://carlkruse.at
For the New York Times film review on “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” see here.
Contact Carl Kruse: carl AT carlkruse DOT org
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