Charlie Kaufman’s Netflix Original is odd, complex, and thoughtful — in the weirdest way possible
Charlie Kaufman doesn’t want to spoon-feed us. If you’ve seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, or Adaptation, then you know that most of his films are open to different interpretations. If you haven’t seen any of these, then you’ll maybe be weirded out (or turned off) by the director’s newest Netflix movie, I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
Kaufman’s latest work, an adaptation of Canadian author Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, is a puzzling one to review. I don’t want to dive into deep plot details because that would pretty much ruin most of the enjoyment that comes from his off-kilter storytelling, but essentially, the movie is about a nameless young woman (Jessie Buckley) who’s been thinking about — you guessed it — ending things with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). Before committing to this decision, the couple decides to go visit Jake’s parents, in the middle of nowhere, during a blizzard. From here, the only thing I can say that won’t spoil anything is that it gets weird.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things then takes a turn as the movie diverges from its more-or-less linear story and jumps from scene to scene, forward and backward in time, detailing key moments in both the young woman and Jake’s lives. At times, the main story branches out in so many different directions, it becomes difficult to figure out what’s real and what isn’t.
There’s no one true answer as to what happens in the movie. It’s important to keep in mind that you really should be paying attention to what each character says. Sometimes, a keyword from dialogue earlier in the film will be an essential piece in understanding moments that happen later. I’m Thinking of Ending Things demands to be rewatched. Kaufman’s storytelling is so open-ended that it begs the viewer to come up with their own interpretation — a task that may not be viable to complete upon a single viewing.
Every character in this otherwise small cast is fully fleshed out. You could not cast a more awkward couple than Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley. Both were fully invested in the oddities of their characters, such as the bleak intensity of the young woman’s recital of a rather morbid poem to Jake on the way to his parents’ house. Jake’s parents, played by the wonderful Toni Collette (Hereditary, Knives Out) and the absolutely creepy David Thewlis (Big Mouth, Fargo), elevate the movie to surreal heights. The main cast feels at home in Kaufman’s film, but they aren’t weird for the sake of being weird. Every line of dialogue is essential, perhaps not to the story, but to the character development and overall understanding of the film.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is yet another winning entry in Charlie Kaufman’s labyrinthine filmography. It requires patience, deep observation, and critical thinking, but at no point is it a slog or boring, despite its hefty length. The good thing is, it’s a Netflix original, perhaps the best platform for a movie like this to exist since it allows the viewer to watch the movie over again and pause it at critical moments to reflect on scenes they wouldn’t have thought about upon their first viewing.
There are multiple moments in Kaufman’s movie that call back single lines of dialogue mentioned earlier in the film. Some of which might be apparent, others, less so. All these idiosyncrasies are precisely what makes Charlie Kaufman a standout director.