I'm Thinking of Ending Things: Terrifying or Confusing? - Review
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is Charlie Kaufman’s new Netflix original. The film follows a young woman called Lucy (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) and as the title suggests, she has thoughts about ending her relationship with Jake. Even though they have only been seeing each other for a month, she decides to go on a road trip to meet Jake’s mother (Toni Collette) and father (David Thewlis). It becomes very clear that not everything is what it seems, as she not only questions her relationship but her own mortality.
Going in, I was expecting to see a philosophical Kaufman film, but what I was not expecting, however, was to be terrified by it. As well as being a slow film, it succeeds in making the viewer feel uncomfortable. With a cast like this, it is safe to say that they delivered. Collette and Thewlis are both scarily accurate in the roles of the well-meaning but embarrassing older parents. What makes the acting phenomenal is the small but important details. Plemons folds his arms and constantly looks at the ground; Collette leans her head forwards and has an almost patronizing way of talking as she mentions embarrassing stories about Jake. One moment she is laughing, and then the next moment she is crying. Thewlis refuses to maintain eye contact with Jake, he makes inappropriate jokes that a father would, and does not appreciate Lucy’s art. These small touches add to the uncomfortable nature of the film.
However, the real star of the show is Jesse Plemons. At first, this seems like another “socially awkward” performance that Plemons is known for, however, as the film goes on his performance becomes more than that. The horror that comes from this film, is the very accurate portrayal of anxiety and depression. As the film goes on, it is speculated that Jake may have some form of anxiety, or might be on the autistic spectrum. Jake has not got a great relationship with his parents. They are well-meaning, but Jake is frustrated by the fact that they “don’t understand him.” This is one of the first signs that things are not normal, because Jake has an angry outburst at his mother for mispronouncing a word, and no one is bothered by this.
Jake is shown to be haunted by a memory of two girls laughing at him in school. Remember that time when you thought you saw those popular boys/girls talking about and giggling at you? Even if you were overthinking that, that memory is not going away, no matter what you do. The smallest details will linger in your mind no matter how good your life is. There is also a moment where the titular characters buy two drinks, but they decide not to drink them. Jake becomes desperate to get rid of them, and even this simple task becomes an anxiety-driven nightmare for him. It is clichéd to call a performance raw and humane, but this is the best description to give because I can imagine it hitting home for a lot of people.
Another reason why the film is so uncomfortable is because of Charlie Kaufman's directing. The conversations that Lucy has with Jake’s parents go nowhere, and then all of a sudden, a long shot will be implemented where Lucy is all alone in the frame. People will just disappear and then reappear, and portraits on the wall will suddenly change appearance without an explanation. Jake’s car and his childhood house become characters in the film as the characters are trapped in them with just their thoughts. When people describe depression, it is said that you want to be left alone, where you end up pushing your friends away and when you have so many thoughts but can't say them, because you don’t want to bother or worry your friends. Lucy is constantly thinking about ending things, but anytime she is asked what she is thinking of, she never dares to say it. Kaufman’s direction composes his actors in certain ways to perfectly capture the hell of depression and loneliness.
Without giving anything away, the film becomes very self-aware. It is a film that tries to understand itself by quoting philosophers and even references film critics like Pauline Kael. One of the conversations that Lucy and Jake have is just a glorified review of John Cassavetes’ Woman Under the Influence. In most films, quoting philosophers can become pointless, tiresome, and self-indulgent, and most of the film is just the titular characters in a car talking, but due to the mysterious nature of the film, it becomes engrossing. Some of the more interesting conversations include criticism of Freud and the song Baby It's Cold Outside. These speeches have a great impact on the true meaning of the film, as it is a character study that becomes a reflection on life, and an examination of popular culture. Jake blames his parents for who he is, but because of Lucy, Jake realises that he has to come to terms with who he is.
This film is not for everyone, but Kaufman’s masterpiece touches on many universal themes such as anxiety, childhood trauma, depression, fragmented memory, and regret. Before watching this film, it would be recommended to not read much about the film. Kaufman knows that people will try and fail at interpreting this film. It would be silly though to interpret it, you just got to enjoy the ride. Like life itself, you don't know where it is going to take you. Don’t waste this opportunity to be transported into the unknown...