I’m Thinking of Ending Things is based on the book of the same name by Iain Reid. But this movie is first and foremost a Charlie Kaufman movie. Now if you have never heard of that name before then this might not be a movie for you. Charlie Kaufman is as much an auteur as say Hitchcock or Spielberg. But like Tarantino or Anderson (both Wes and Paul) Kaufman’s flavor of movies is an acquired taste. And this movie is NO DIFFERENT. This movie is layered upon layered with themes, subtext, and motifs that would make an English Teacher bluff. And the biggest problem that a lot of viewers will have is that it doesn’t hold your hand.
So after letting the movie sit in my brain and marinate for a while, how is it? Well, as simply as I can put it, “It’s amazing, I think?” Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad movie, but I’ve had to sit through the movie a couple times and even then I still don’t fully get it. I know this movie is like Inception in a way, it needs multiple viewings to fully grasp the overall idea of the movie, and even then you still might feel a bit lost.
So why is that? Well, allow me to explain.
If there is one thing Kaufman excels at it’s ideas and dialogue. The opening 20 minutes are just in a car. Now while this maybe bad on paper (and it should be) it’s actually pretty exceptional. The intercuts of voice over and dialogue is intertwined beautifully. Kaufman gets so much out of Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley. The way they talk and act, it really does feel like a couple trying to figure out if their relationship will last. It also is genius how the go about giving us exposition. Two characters stuck in a car during a snow storm, what else can they do but talk?
Even the dinner scene with Toni Collette and David Thewlis is incredible. The acting, writing, directing, and editing for this scene is about as good as it can get. Like the rest of the movie, it’s layered, it’s complex, it’s unsettling, and gets multiple points across without having to spell it out for us. Everyone here brings it and it shows — it really does.
But if there was one word to describe this scene in general it’s unsettling. Which brings me to my next point.
This movie also is, is DEEPLY UNSETTLING at times. This movie has a wide range of unsettling for you to choose from. From awkward silences of a dying relationship, maggots eating a pig from the inside out, a dog who can’t seem to stop shaking it’s fur to get dry, to David Thewlis (the character is only known as Dad) shaking his son’s hand while dead eyeing the Young Woman, to…well, just about half the movie. There are also weird jump cuts that just throw you for a loop. Like there is jump cut at dinner that had the family going to the dinner table in one shot to all of them except the Young Woman sitting around the table. There’s another brilliant cut where the Young Woman is petting a dog (Jimmy), and in the next shot he’s gone, but we can still hear him.
Even the performances are unsettling at times. Mom and Dad have a tendency to stare off into the distance and act offbeat at a moment’s notice. One second they can be laughing and then the next they are a sobbing mess. Even their ages and appearances change from scene to scene. The dialogue even has a tendency to become uncomfortable. There’s a scene where the Young Woman is on the phone and an old man’s distorted voice says some rather upsetting things. It’s quickly glossed over as if nothing happens and even the Young Woman says it’s her old girlfriend (not in that way) from college. The atmosphere to the film overall is just unsettling, but in a good way — if there is such a thing.
The movie is also subtle. Really subtle. Maybe too subtle. I wasn’t lying when I said this movie doesn’t hold your hand. There are bits of imagery and scenes placed as intercuts that don’t make a whole lotta sense, but I can feel they have some sort of purpose to the story as a whole. This movie is an enigma — a puzzle that you need to put together, but none of the pieces have any images on them, and it’s only when it’s complete do you actually see the big picture — and even then you still might not get what the picture is supposed to even be.
There are some metaphors that are much easier to understand. The pilgrim figures where the man is reading and is ignorant to his wife holding two evenly filled buckets of water — a clear sign that Jake is oblivious to the Young Woman’s feelings as she is trying to keep their relationship afloat. Or how the Young Woman is walking down the same staircase as her voice over continues, signifying the perpetual dilemma that lies before her.
There are plenty of aspects of this movie to enjoy, even if you don’t fully understand it. There isn’t a weak performance in sight so you’ll always be engaged with the characters and their story. The dialogue is exceptionally sharp, though it does have a problem, which we will get into. The direction, production design, cinematography, and editing is motivated and with a purpose. Every image that is on screen is there for a reason. The dance scene (yes, there is a dance — don’t ask) is amazingly choreographed. And the ending is…um…uhhh…well, see it for yourself and you’ll understand. Even the foreshadowing this film sets up is beautifully executed….at least the ones I know of.
However, despite all the good this movie does (and the bad that I haven’t found yet) this movie does have one noticeable flaw. Kaufman does have one reoccurring problem that he has in all of his movies — his dialogue. The dialogue at times is like watching a painter paint while also reciting poetry, it feels like it’s trying too hard to be artsy and comes across as pretentious sometimes. While the movie doesn’t talk down to the audience, the topics they bring up might go over most audience’s heads. And while it is interesting, I found myself thinking, “Is this really necessary?” But considering I’ve needed to see this 2 hr and 14 min movie twice and still don’t understand it, I think I may not be smart enough to get it.
Or maybe I’m not supposed to. I don’t know, we’ll see.
I’ve gone on talking about this movie for far too long, and I haven’t even scratched the surface as to what this film has to offer. But to avoid rambling further, I think I’ll cut straight to the question that I’m sure most of you are asking: what’s the verdict?
Verdict: ?/5 Stars
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a weird, artistic, but also deeply unsettling and yet equally beautiful (?) movie that I just can’t seem to wrap my head around. Honestly, I have to say that I’m stumped on this one. Trying to give this movie a score is like trying to teach a llama how to drive a sports car and perform open heart surgery…at the same time. In other words: it’s simply impossible. So rather than give my own verdict, I’d suggest you watch it for yourself and make up your own thoughts about it. For me, I’ll have to watch it again…and again, and again, and again. And again. But if you really want to know my own opinion on it, I’ll just take it from the top, “It’s amazing, I think?”