Netflix’s newest contribution their psychological thriller catalog comes on the behalf of the critically beloved Charlie Kauffman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). The dramatic thriller is based on a novel by Iain Reid that was originally published in 2016.
Movie-bros and #FilmTwitter alike have been awaiting the release of Kaufman’s newest book-to-film adaptation ever since the Netflix Film Twitter account went on a tweet for tweet rampage about their new collection.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a dialogue-driven, delusional rollercoaster of moods and tempos. It’s about a young woman named Lucy (Jessie Buckley) who departs with her boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons), who she’s been seeing for six weeks to meet his parents at their family farmhouse (Toni Collette and David Thewlis).
Lucy is skeptical about the trip because she’s thinking about ending her relationship with Jake. The dinner at the farm that ensues is as creepy as it is chaotic, and as awkward as it is entertaining. The time-baffling evening is the stepping stone towards a surreal climax featuring Lucy, Jake and a high school janitor.
Letterboxd average rating: 3.8 stars
DISCLAIMER: In order to make these film reviews both opinion dependent and adherent to an objective scale, I’ve implemented a scoring system for each movie reviewed. Think of it as a box score for film. It looks like this:
5 total categories/10 points per category (10 being the highest possible score)
Category 1: The performances by the actors
Category 2: The overall direction by the “auteur” and cinematography
Category 3: The plot/storyline
Category 4: How it measures amongst its genre
Category 5: Miscellaneous (things such as music, originality, coherence and truly any other thing about the movie outside of the main categories)
At the end of the scoring, the categories will all be added up with the highest possible score being 50 points, and then divided by 10 to fall under a rating out of 5 stars.
Give Toni Collette all of the awards right flipping now (there won’t be any cursing in this household).
Jesse Plemons is, to me, 80% of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman and an appropriate apprentice to him. While the movie seems to be about Jessie Buckley’s character, Lucy, it largely revolves around Plemons’s Jake in the end.
Although the film may feature Plemons and Buckley with the most screen time, this is clearly Toni Collette’s movie. She is charming in one moment and immediately horrifying in the next. Collette has cemented herself as one of my favorite actors and continues to remain on a notorious hot-streak (Hereditary in 2018, Knives Out in 2019, and now this? Give her a trophy already, @TheAcademy).
The visual choices were perhaps Kaufman’s best to date as a director.
There’s a healthy mix of muted colors for the depressive moments and vibrant auras for the lovely ones. Kaufman was formerly a screenwriter, but adopted the responsibility of director for the first time in 2008 with Synechdoche, New York.
There are few things in the movie universe that I enjoy more than “car-shots.” There’s something so elegant yet simple about the perspective of two people engaging in dialogue in a car, whether the camera is on the inside or outside. Hell, they don’t even have to be talking, like the shot of Reynolds Woodcock and Alma driving to dinner in Phantom Thread or Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski driving to the Playboy Mansion in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
It’s worth nothing that the language in this movie varies from scientific to poetic within seconds. A lot of the dialogue went completely over my head, but a good majority of it truly resonated with me. It’s much like what Lucy says in the car ride to the farm, poetic language is successful if it is both universally applicable and innately specific to its reader. Kaufman achieves that more often than not with his writing.
If you, like me, struggled with exactly what happened during this movie, then I encourage you to check out this piece by Eric Kohn of IndieWire for a brief explanation.
This, unlike TENET, would benefit from a rewatch for all of the right reasons.
1) You’d have to be a damn near neurotic genius to understand all the references that Jake relies on to craft his idea of how life is supposed to be.
2) There isn’t a crazy “TWIST!” moment, but rather subtle realizations throughout the course of the movie that one would benefit from by knowing what those precisely are on their second viewing.
However, I wish that the majority of this movie had taken place at Jake’s childhood farmhouse. Every second there is utterly thrilling and on-the-edge-of-your-seat entertainment.
Everything that comes after that, well, in no thanks to my lofted expectations, was relatively disappointing and a little too open to interpretation for my liking.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things vs. The Psychological Thriller Genre
The end-all be-all of the psychological thriller genre can be boiled down into three movies, which all other films in the genre are measured against: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.
Had this movie’s setting primarily taken place in Jake’s childhood home, then it would’ve likely scored a 9.5 on this scale. But it didn’t, and it often veered off into dialogue-heavy essays about pop culture a la Woman Under the Influence and David Foster Wallace (and his suicide).
Miscellaneous: Who’s a good boy? The interpretive dance, and Kaufman’s shaky ending
On one hand, the decision to have the dog constantly shaking was truly wonderful. On another, the whole don’t go in the basement trope wasn’t rewarding enough on first viewing. Like yeah, okay, Jake is the janitor and he wears the same outfit every day. Cool, I get it, but there was no need to overhype that realization rather than letting it but its own worth organically.
There was absolutely no room for the impromptu interpretive dance scene. It came out of the middle of nowhere and didn’t really serve any genuine purpose. Who, what, where, when and WHY did they come up with that idea? Kaufman is a creative genius for his work in the past, but this decision was a generous stretch for the movie’s direction and ultimately drained its opportunity at an affective climax.
At the end of the day, the movie is both a microscopic look and somewhat of a mockery of the subconscious. Kaufman is clearly in touch with the human psyche, perhaps too in touch with it as the movie never truly finds its footing and seems to tap into a cluster of different philosophies that I’m sure roam right over the head of anybody without a psychology degree.