REVIEW: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Rated: R
Run Time: 134 minutes
Director: Charlie Kaufman

So, I would place director, Charlie Kaufman in the same category as David Lynch. Both have never really made a customary film with things like a linear plot, even tone, clear purpose, and actual resolution. Both are some of the most talented screenplay writers of our time that employ groundbreaking creativity, and both have the same effect on actors: that is, the actors will do anything to be in their latest film. If I could just lump them together, I would say, “They both have gained success making really weird movies.”

Kaufman directed and/or wrote films like Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (personal favorite), Anolmalisa, Adaptation., and Synecdoche, New York. All are extremely unique, are difficult (at least for me) to understand, and often involve elements dealing with human psychology and mortality. There’s also a recurring theme of puppets… In fact Anomalisa utilizes puppets for all of its characters, though it’s one of the most humanistic films I’ve ever seen. They all utilize music, poetry, literature, and just great original writing to really enrich themselves, and it’s all from the mind of Kaufman.

Though his latest release through Netflix, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, takes a turn for the more creepy, all of these elements (minus the puppets this time) can be found here. Whether some of those aforementioned quirks sound captivating enough to reel you in or make you shrug or sigh and cause you to overlook this film, I understand either way. This movie is not for everyone. I’m not even sure it’s for me.

In I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a woman and her new boyfriend take a trip to his parents’ rural, isolated farmhouse. What’s supposed to be a dinner with awkward pleasantries turns into a night that loses its grip on reality and exploits the woman’s dark thoughts on life and time. 

Jessie Buckley as Young Woman, Jesse Plemons as Jake in I’m Thinking Of Ending Things. Credit: Mary Cybulski | NETFLIX © 2020

Here’s some of things I love about it:

There’s this bizarre yet honest first person narration from the main character, played by Jessie Buckley, that truly feels like it’s out of a bestseller novel (the film is based off a book by the same name). This narration is interactive, constantly interrupted, and enhanced by a beautiful score.

The movie involves a lot of pastime with Buckley’s character and her boyfriend, played by Jesse Plemons, driving in a car on a snowy, lonely highway. Their discussions caused me to write down quotes that I thought were so insightful and relatable about little details in life. Unfortunately, most of those details are rather bleak, but like I said, the writing alone will keep you entertained for a good while. There’s some truly poetic monologues and dialogues. 

There’s an unsettling figurative backdrop that leaves you waiting for a jump scare, but it never comes because it’s not that type of movie. Rather, the plot clumsily bumps into disturbing details of morbid animals, distorted time, and erratic behavior. There’s even quirky moments of genuine, relatable comedy that somehow isn’t out of place. There’s even a beautiful contemporary dance out of nowhere that feels clever and right. The whole thing makes your eyes widen, and I appreciated how the movie got me to feel just as uncomfortable as the main character. 

Finally, to complement the great writing and direction, the acting is impeccable. Both Buckley and Plemons, as well as Toni Collette and David Thewlis, give great performances with a wide range of emotion and state of mind.

When it comes to what I didn’t necessarily enjoy, and what might make people stray away from watching is just how terribly vague and bizarre the movie is.

(From left to right) Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette and David Thewlis in a scene of I’m Thinking of Ending Things | NETFLIX.

Most people like to have some sort of grasp of what is going on in the movie they’re watching. Maybe it’s just me, but this film will likely prove difficult to get a grasp. The whole time, you’re not sure whether there’s a supernatural haunting going on, there’s some sort of black hole that’s affecting time and space, one or more characters are losing their minds, or if you’re not even close and the whole movie is some sort of a metaphor. Trying to understand the movie just kind of leaves you in a blur. The secret may be to just not try too hard, and let the movie pass through you…or something. If you know the point of the movie, please comment below!

It ends up feeling like a bizarre dream you had the night before and you’re trying to recall later in the day; you’re left trying to remember vague scattered pieces. I have to admit, I have the same attitude in both scenarios: earnest effort to listen and see it through, but overall confusion. And there’s the same urge to move on and forget the story forevermore.

But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. If you’re a fan of Kaufman or you can appreciate a film for its qualities without requiring all the answers, give this a try. Otherwise, I think this may be irritating to a lot of viewers. Either way, I’ll leave the general invitation to give this a single watch.

Oh, and a warning: I’ve heard the word “horror” floating around to describe this film, but I would call it psychological suspense. DO NOT watch this with a group of friends expecting a unique horror film. Your friends will likely leave early and judge you for putting them through it.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

About the Author
Resident of Utah County, Ex Movie-Pass owner, and married with a baby! Good movies have been my go-to pastime for as long as I can remember; from my dad introducing me to gems such as Tommy Boy and Dumb and Dumber, to discovering the work of people like Paul Thomas Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg. These filmmakers taught me that cinema truly is an art form. Movies are my way of better understanding complex emotions and unfamiliar walks of life. Movies are a consistent and reliable way of connecting ourselves to the human race, and it’s often done marvelously. I love it!

5 comments on REVIEW: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

  1. Kim says:

    I have to agree with you on some points.
    Literally halfway thought the movie I had this confused look on my face that would not dissapear till the very end, when I yelled what!! don’t end it here?!?
    I have to say eternal sunshine is by far one of my favorite movies, and is what made me more interested in watching this.
    The immediate draw to this movie for me, was with the characters and their story.. it just feels so real. It’s real life, until.. you’re not sure what it is.
    I think it’s easy to see yourself as lucy.. or Lucinda.. or Ames.. or even as Phlemons, whos just trying to get through all of it…
    I like movies that mix it up and aren’t so “cookie cutter.” This is a movie that I should love, but … am not sure where I lie…
    It keeps you guessing the whole way .. And then at the end you try connecting the dots just like Inception.. like you need to re visit it with an informed mind..
    The dance scene was almost longer than it should be, but also captivated me the entire time… trying to I interpret and anyalyze it.
    I think the only thing missing, for me, was a bit more.. I didn’t want it wrapped up so quickly, I needed a bit more clairvoyance in the situation, rather than some few scenes of heavily, fake makeup-ed, award winning, disconnect between a janitor I don’t know and a boy with a girl.
    It was a bit hard for me to grasp that connection, but once I did, it’s a snippet of why these kinds of movies earn extra points in my book.

    1. Sam Cooley says:

      Really appreciate your comment here! I agree about …Spotless Mind being the best film. It’s really just as thoughtful and artistic while still letting the laymen viewer like myself gain an understanding of it.

      This left me pretty lost. If you have a good idea of what the ending dance/ performance meant, I’d love to hear it. Also loved what you said about relatability. I was constantly feeling that with Buckley’s character but hadn’t even thought about it for Plemons. It really is a well done movie With genuine elements and I’ll stand by that, but yeah… I just felt like a confused child after it.

      1. Kim says:

        Totally! It seems the dance scene was an interpretation of how he invisioned his life with this girl.. That it’d be full of love and life, but that he stood in his own way (his janitor self stabbing his “in love” version of himself) all because he didn’t have courage enough to talk to girls, while he still had a chance.. before he had shut himself down to become a lonely, hopelessly romantic recluse.
        It’s a slightly odd, but beautiful interpretation of his lifes dreams being lost to himself.

        1. Sam Cooley says:

          Oh my gosh. This makes so much more sense. I mean I knew that the custodian was an older version of Plemmons, but couldn’t quite put my finger on what was going on with his character holistically. Makes me want to watch it again! If you’re not writing for us already, you should!

  2. Kim says:

    Sam Cooley, have you watched/ reviewed “Swiss Army Man”? This is a niche movie, not meant for the masses, but has a vibe of “I’m thinking of ending things” and maybe “castaway”, lol…
    I fit into the small mass of people who are delightfully entertained by this movie, and would love to read some more reviews on this.
    Maybe check out disclaimers in case you’re not ok with this kind of movie..

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