For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Unreliable Narrator movies here’s a review of I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) by James of Blogging By Cinemalight.
Thanks again to Lisa Leehey of Critical Critics for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s genre has been chosen by Aaron Neuwirth of the Code is Zeek and we will be reviewing our favorite Horror-Comedy Films.
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of Feb by sending them to email@example.com
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Aaron!
Let’s see what James thought of this movie:
Writer-director Charlie Kaufman is a creator of a particular niche, but nothing so ephemeral as a consistent genre or style. He’s not someone you go with expecting a “twist ending” or a particular visual “language”. His projects take you down roads nobody has ever travelled before in movies with concepts wholly original, whether metaphorical or philosophical. You recognize the landscape as being of “the real world” but there it ends as far as a frame of reference for where he’s taking you is filtered not though the physical eye, but the mental point of view. His fables and myths are of the mind and its undiscovered countries.
Most movies make you feel. Kaufman’s make you think. Sometimes painfully.
Whether they ponder identity and wish-fulfilment like Being John Malkovich, or emotional response as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Anomalisa, or the act and process of creation—Adaptation. or Synecdoche, New York—Kaufman takes the “what if?” approach to crystallizing the concepts, the same way a science-fiction writer throws a magnifying lens on a subject by imagining its inverse or subverting traditional norms. Watching Kaufman is like watching “The Twilight Zone” but not going to a “fifth dimension” but definitely “to the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.”
Kaufman’s new film (streaming on Netflix) I’m Thinking of Ending Things is based on the 2016 novel by Iain Reid—but not the way Adaptation. is based on “The Orchid Thief”. For that film, Kaufman made a screenplay of trying to “crack” the writing of the screenplay, and made his own difficulties doing so part of the narrative (and having done that, tossed away the book’s specifics to get to its heart). For Reid’s book, he took the method the writer was employing and wrote his own more visual ending while staying true to his resolution.
The result is a meandering stream of conscious quilt of a movie that involves the fears and tensions of interaction, the arbitrariness of life—and thought, and, something that might be of concern in these days of COVID, the bubble of “interiority”. It can be a healthy mode of analysis or it can be a trap in a hall of mirrors.
We start out with a young couple (Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons) on that ritual step of dating—meeting the parents (his). This can be the stuff of comedy (Meet the Parents) or the stuff of horror (Get Out). With Kaufman, it’s a little bit of both with a mutated dash of Lynch. We see the couple—her voice-over talking about how she’s “thinking of ending things”—as they drive through the snow, the conversations of fits and starts, the mis-understandings of meaning, the doubts of the relationship despite having “so much in common.” She’s loquacious, even animated, while he has a nervous remoteness, bordering on a muted hostility, nervous, perhaps, about her entering into the family sphere he is only too familiar with…and (as they say) familiarity breeds contempt.
He’s driving. He’ll always be driving.
Once we meet Jake’s parents—after a prolonged, uncomfortable wait, where she meets the farm’s dog with perpetual shaker syndrome and a door leading to the basement with scratch marks on one side and masking tape on the other—things to start really getting weird. Dad (David Thewliss) appears to be palsied and Mom (Toni Collette) is a paroxysm of nervous laughter. Jake turns slightly diffident and embarrassed by his parents and all she can do is try and make the most of it, but things are clearly out of whack here. It isn’t long before she starts making excuses to leave because she has work in the morning.
Besides, the snow is starting to really come down. You have to be careful. The roads are treacherous.
Kaufman occasionally cuts away, without warning, to an elderly janitor cleaning a high school in the middle of the night. It’s also snowing, and the theater troupe is practicing in the gym, and on his break he watches a TV movie.
But, things are getting weirder back at the farm. The snow’s not letting up, and, although everybody’s holding up their end of the conversation, there are things Jake doesn’t want to talk about…like how they met at a trivia contest, and he was so good at it, and they had so much in common that he asked for her phone number. It’s funny about the picture of him as a child on the wall, though. It looks just like her as a child. That’s just…weird.
What…just, wait…what is going on here? After awhile, one wonders who’s having the brain infarction: her or you? There appears to be a logic to it, but…no. To talk about details will be to spoil surprises…that is, if you have the patience to go along with it, and wonder exactly where you’re being taken in this snowstorm. It may not be your idea of entertainment. In which case, reading the 1-star reviews over at IMDB might be more your style (some of them are almost clever!).
But, let’s admit it: this one’s not for everyone. For those who aren’t engaged by a movie in the first 20 minutes it’s a non-starter (and you’ll think of ending it, lol—those IMDB commenters are a hoot!) If you have a favorite Charlie Kaufman movie, this isn’t like it, and you’ll like it only if you’re into the off-beat and you’re not comfortable in the David Lynch-end of the universe. Oh, there are joys: at one point Our Heroine goes into a straight-up imitation of Pauline Kael criticizing A Woman Under the Influence (1974), which is a hoot—even her cigarette comes out of nowhere.
But, it’s Kaufman playing around with the form, and sometimes that can be frustrating if one wants things tied up with a bow, or already chewed and spat into your brain. This one’s about depression and loneliness and despair and “what-might’ve-been” and sometimes watching something like that can be depressing in and of itself.
But, it can also be intriguing and imaginative. Oh, I wouldn’t blame ya for I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
But, it’s my cup of arsenic.