Review: ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is awkward, uncomfortable, and purposeful

Charlie Kaufman films have a particular feeling to them. Weird isn’t the right word. Unique is a good one. Idiosyncratic is another. Netflix has a string of movies they’ve released where they seem to have backed a dump truck full of money onto the lawn of a filmmaker and then set them loose to make whatever they’re going to make. For better or for worse, in these cases, we seem to end up with films that are very much their filmmakers’ films.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a very Charlie Kaufman movie. Starting with the simplest of setups –a young woman and her boyfriend take a road trip to his parent’s house during a snowstorm– and slowly but surely expanding to ruminate on ideas of self, relationships, memory, fantasy, quantum physics, family, and great poets, among other things.

If you’re into Charlie Kaufman, this movie is definitely for you.

The young woman, unnamed and played by Jesse Buckley, is nervous. She’s thinking of ending things but she’s on her way to her boyfriends parents house. The young man, Jake, played by Jesse Plemons, is also nervous. What are his parents going to think of her? What is she going to think of them?

The opening scene of the film has him picking her up in a car. The next 45 minutes of the film have them driving and talking, and dancing around each others respective feelings, especially hers. Once they arrive at the secluded farm house, the most awkward dinner in the history of awkward dinners takes place.

It should be apparent from the beginning that something is off. Jake occasionally appears to be able to hear the young woman’s inner monologue. Through the course of the dinner she is explained to have different jobs and hobbies and never contradicts anyone. The family dog seems friendly, but then it’s also in an urn in the next room.

It’s not a stretch to call I’m Thinking of Ending Things a horror film. There aren’t any big scares or gore, but the persistent awkward feeling will seep under your skin. That feeling of anxiety that something is going to happen never goes away. There’s an existential dread that this film captures and weaponizes.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Thinking of Ending Things

The acting, across the board, is exquisite. Jesse Buckley continues to prove that she’s one of our next powerhouse actors. Her delivery of even the most mundane dialogue is utterly compelling, and she moves through the various uncomfortable feelings in this film with ease. Jesse Plemons also continues to put in solid work. He seems to thrive playing characters predisposed to awkwardness, but he captures an undercurrent of anger here that you’d swear his outbursts are real.

Toni Collette is pretty much always fabulous and here is no different. She can be entirely serious or entirely ridiculous, but either way she always comes off with complete sincerity and is incredibly compelling.

Here’s where I tell you how I felt though: this movie isn’t for me. I’ve seen it now, and I get what Kaufman is going for, but despite some moments I felt were completely brilliant, this movie didn’t work for me. However, I think that for those of you for whom the film does work are going to be rewarded by your third (or fourth) viewing as much as by your first. There are a ton of details to notice and a ton of discussions and metaphors to unpack.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things will keep you talking for ages going through it all, and if nothing else I’m glad it exists, and I’m jealous of those of you who have a new film to unpack and analyise to death together.

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