Charlie Kaufman’s latest directorial effort released this past Friday (9/4) on Netflix. After one watch I hesitate to say I fully grasped everything that happened within it. This is one of those films that you either want to keep going back to in order to fully understand… OR you want nothing to do with it anymore.
I will say, knowing as little as possible before going into this kind of film would be the best way to do it. Reading any further will inherently bring up spoilers, as I’ve begun to notice the very essence of what this film is about, is baked into every fiber of every scene, cut, sound, color, etc. However, I will try to keep this as spoiler-less as possible for as long as I can.
To start there is a big discernment between the “plot” of the film and the true “story”. The plot being a very simple chain of events that sounds fitting for any romantic drama or even comedy. Rest assured, this is NEITHER of those. This film is something in a class of it’s own. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an exclusive product of what could only be fully expressed by the mind of Charlie Kaufman.
A woman is picked up by her boyfriend, Jake, for a drive through the snow to meet his parents. The parents live in a remote house on a farm, way out in the middle of nowhere. Then they, slowly but surely, make their way back home. Oh yeah, and she’s “thinking of ending things”. A thought that I’ve since learned can take on several meanings here.
That is the simplest, spoiler free version of the film that I can give you. The barest of bones… now here comes the rest.
As you watch, you begin to realize that though this plot remains constant, the stories do not… the characters do not. Their ages, names, personalities, surroundings and even conversation are at will to a rolling fragmentation. Notice that I didn’t bother to name the female in the couple, as her name, occupation, interests and even attire change throughout the entire night.
I felt as if I was jumping in and out of several narratives. Living the lives of several people at several different times within the context of a greater plotline. I hope that makes any sense at all. And if it does, what does all that mean in terms of story?
Think about it… or just go watch it again and again and again and again and again. At the very least, this film will make you think, something that Kaufman will undoubtedly do every time with his work.
My first thoughts after watching this film were about the massive amount of context, subtext and symbolism that one would have to unpack in order to catch the underlying theme for a review. This was a daunting film, and ends in a fashion that is so off the beating path it forces you to dig deeper.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things begins and feels like a story revolving around the girlfriend’s want to break up with Jake, but slowly grows into something much bigger, grander and with deeper implications as you realize the girl and Jake might even be one in the same. But in what context, time or way? Also, why is all this fragmented, awkward, freaky time jumping stuff happening anyway? There are a lot of questions.
That being said, at face value, I’m Thinking of Ending Things as a strange, off kilter unraveling of what should be a normal night was captivating enough for me to sit back and go along for the ride. I accepted the fluid yet fractured time scape of our character’s for a reality, knowing I wasn’t fully picking up on all the little things.
I say that because while watching, you get the feeling that every tiny aspect of this film can be used as an entry way into unveiling its true nature. While watching, it might feel like that “true nature” is too shrouded under a thick blanket of metaphors, similes, conflicting dialogue, unannounced set and costume changes… the list goes on, but it’s all purposeful.
When you finally come to some kind of an answer or understanding in your head, it’s quite the rush. But is your answer correct for everyone else?
To fully grasp what is going on in the story beyond the very basic plot line, I turned to the source material of which the film is based on. Charlie Kaufman wrote the screenplay based on a novel of the same name. The book essentially is supposed to follow the story of one man, and all the thoughts that go through his mind before he decides to kill himself.
Knowing this about the narrative, it absolutely blows open the doors of opportunity for theorizing what’s truly happening in the film. They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die, and I whole-heartedly think that is what’s going on here. This also ushers in the idea of “time” as a theme, and how as individuals, we may be experiencing it differently.
“People like to think of themselves as points moving through time, but I think it’s probably the opposite. We’re stationary and time passes through us. Blowing like cold wind, stealing our heat.”
I was astonished by Kaufman’s ability to harbor such saddening subject matter within a narrative that could make you think the film is going literally anywhere else other than a tragic suicide. The very last frame after the credits will even take things a step further.
This film will definitely not be for everyone. It’s an art house film. Viewers who enjoy more of a straightforward narrative probably won’t like it. If you’re not a fan for the metaphorical, you probably wont like it. For someone who doesn’t indulge in these kinds of films, it could be a difficult first go. I’m interested to see how many people will end up wanting to rewatch after their first viewing.
Regardless, I really enjoyed it. I think this is Kaufman flexing his cinematic muscles here, telling a story only he can, not caring much of what people on a massive scale want to see in a film over his own tastes and inspirations. I think he found a way to make this jittery, jumpy and smeared reality of a story work in an uncomfortable yet enticing way. The overall framing of the entire film gives me nostalgic vibes as well. Perhaps this was a mood he was going for while trying to convey a look at one’s past life.
Verdict 4 out of 5
It’s a thought provoking commentary on life itself, and all that comes with it. I believe if viewers find themselves fully invested they will easily be able to find pieces to relate to. Though what is happening at times is weird, undefined and even unexplained there are human elements, relationships, worries and emotions that are universal throughout.
Admittedly there are sequences that feel like they could’ve been cut down or are hard to follow. On the other side of that coin, I’m not going to tell Charlie Kaufman how to convey his vision. As far as I’m concerned, this film accomplished its task in getting a visceral reaction from myself.
I thought the acting across the board was fantastic. Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette and David Thewlis all did amazing jobs.
Like I said before, this is an art-house film on Netflix, it should be approached and treated as such. There is so much to unpack and to take from it; I cannot shake the feeling that almost everyone who watches will come away on an individual level with something unique that it meant to him or her. That’s the power of Kaufman.
How could one define this film when no one can fully define a life?