Note: no spoilers here
“I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks, it lingers, it dominates. There’s not much I can do about it, trust me. It doesn’t go away. It’s there whether I like it or not. It’s there when I eat, when I go to bed. It’s there when I sleep. It’s there when I wake up. It’s always there. Always.”
Based on the book of the same title written by Iain Reid, I Am Thinking of Ending Things definitely challenges audiences with an immense amount of dialogue amid a surreal, human condition story focusing on Jake (Jesse Plemons) bringing his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) to visit his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) at his rural childhood home.
Other characters from Jake’s nearby hometown include a janitor (Guy Boyd), a restaurant worker (Abby Quinn), two town girls (Hadley Robinson and Gus Birney), and a screen duo from a fictional Robert Zemeckis film (Colby Minifie and Jason Ralph).
Narrated by Oliver Platt, this two hour and 14-minute opus of the mind succeeds in creating a unique experience backed by talented filmmaking, mind-boggling editing work by Robert Frazen, and a stellar core cast.
Plemons and Buckley’s masterful acting, especially in heavy dialogue scenes (e.g. a poem recital) endlessly impress. Incredible performances of the challenging characters they embody along with Collette and Thewlis.
She considers several engaging philosophical theories with Jake, usually during the car ride like color theories, how it’s tempting to pin faults on one person, desirable traits of being young (healthy, fun, hopeful), and some biting critiques like the holiday song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” I haven’t been thinking about it for long. “The idea’s new. But it feels old at the same time. When did it start? What if this thought wasn’t conceived by me, but planted in my mind, pre-developed? Is an spoken idea unoriginal?” says Jake’s girlfriend.
The surreal elements give filmmakers license to randomize their style, set design, and many other functions through Lukasz Zal’s cinematography stays consistent. Good closure and explanations come if audiences find themselves intrigued enough to finish the journey …to the absolute end (after the ending credits).
Director Charlie Kaufman adapts the screenplay, which can be tedious to follow at times, but has some great payoffs (shifts in character focus) and eventually leads audiences to character path by the end that explains previous events. This world seen through the camera visualizes special knowledge…knowledge unknown to certain characters.
Elements of inebriation, plot discrepancies, seemingly illogical events, and dementia don’t make it easy for audiences. “That’s okay. Truth is, I’m looking forward to when it gets very bad and I don’t have to remember that I can’t remember!” says Jake’s father. Filmmakers balance these challenges with visual elements like the beginning narration sequence with wallpaper montage meld elements quite nicely.
Audiences get a unique ride. No need to worry about guessing clues or concoct any special twists or revelations. There’s usually too much going on for those asides plus filmmakers progress the adapted plot well by compounding and building on the initial core. For example, the title has a double meaning depending on which character you apply it to or smaller elements like the multiple mentions/appearances of a specific pair of slippers. Kaufman’s top shots are particularly effective at the film’s ending.
Delving into the mind is definitely Kaufman’s forte. The audience will definitely identify with the experiences in this film by the end especially basic themes of life purpose, acceptance, and family dynamics (a coddling mother as society’s culprit for a child’s vices going into adulthood). The emotional connections work well in the overall intrigue appeal because Kaufman doesn’t manipulate the audience and presents one point-of-view throughout. Jay Wadley’s musical score works well in this complex web with subtle movements that sustain an effective emotional enhancement of the plot. Kaufman also contributes to the music by creating the lyrics for the “Tulsey Town Jingle.”
The numerous references (e.g. musicals, Ode: Intimations of Immortality, Forget Paris, A Woman Under the Influence, etc.) can be a distraction unless seen as basic mental elements. These references expand into the plot taking surprisingly large amounts of screen time through character discussion (mainly Jake and his girlfriend).
The mind has to be populated with something and that’s what the audience gets. Characters have some carefully timed exposition and background reveals to help the audience along.
Recommended with reservations (**1/2 out of four stars) – definitely a memorable cinematic experience and incredible exercise in storytelling, but not very entertaining. Rated R for language including some sexual references. Be sure to catch the hopeful post-credits scene.