Charlie Kaufman is the latest acclaimed filmmaker to join the Netflix talent roster. I’m Thinking of Ending Things may begin like more of a traditional drama. Rest assured, it becomes a Charlie Kaufman movie before the halfway point.
‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ isn’t as dire as the title suggests
When a young woman (Jessie Buckley) says in narration, “I’m thinking of ending things,” she’s referring to her relationship with Jake (Jesse Plemons), not ending her life. She’s on a long (20 minutes of screen time) car ride to visit his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) for the first time.
Along the way, they discuss and debate philosophical issues. For a while, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is like a ‘90s indie drama where people talk. The sheer length of the drive pushes the boundaries of what mainstream films would allow.
Jake’s parents are a lot. They’re trying too hard, the way his mom giggles at every lame joke and his dad contradicts everything. They frustrate Jake until he blows up over a minor mispronunciation of a word. We’ve all been there. The word isn’t a big deal, but every little thing adds up. It’s a lot and it’s constant.
‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ goes full Charlie Kaufman
I’m Thinking of Ending Things would work as a drama about the tensions of keeping up appearances in an unhappy relationship. Or, the frustrations of family. It’s poignant and well done up to that point. After they stay in the parents’ house for a while, it goes full Kaufman.
The house becomes a sort of quantum realm. Age becomes fluid, weather selectively affects Jake’s car, and the young woman herself gets caught in loops. They watch a fake romantic comedy that skewers the type of Hollywood movie that sells couples false ideas of happiness.
It makes sense. You do enter all the baggage and history when you meet your partner’s parents. Kaufman dramatizes it visually and metaphysically, but it’s all there. Everything that happened before you met influenced the person you’re dating now. It’s not quite a portal into John Malkovich’s head or a fake twin brother, but it’s still very Kaufman.
It could be Jake’s drama too
The ambiguity and metaphysics aren’t limited to the young woman either. She could also represent every relationship Jake has had too. They do have a theme where people keep calling her by different names, so many that the credits still only refer to Buckley’s character as Young Woman.
Jake is trying too hard to make her a part of his life, too. It could be he’s putting all this pressure on one girlfriend. However, a more forgiving interpretation to Jake would be that these are all things he’s done wrong in previous relationships. I’m Thinking of Ending Things just portrays them all in a single day trip.
Or, all of the above could be wrong. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is intended to be open to the interpretation of the viewer. Whatever you get out of it, the frequent shifts in narrative and character devices make it compelling for the duration of the film.