The new Netflix feature I’m Thinking of Ending Things starts with the simple premise of an unnamed young woman joining her boyfriend, Jake, on a road trip to visit his parents. Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis star as the central quartet, and the film is written, directed, and produced by Charlie Kaufman. The Academy Award winning writer/director does not disappoint, incorporating themes of morality and identity crises in this movie. The result is a stunning, but complex, psychological thriller that slowly reveals its secrets to entranced viewers as they watch the story unfold.
The first half of the film is quite eerie. The car ride up to Jake’s parents house leaves the viewer with a feeling that something isn’t quite right. The pair reveals their lack of chemistry through long philosophical discussions in which they don’t seem to be on the same wavelength. This disconnectedness is conveyed further through the solo shots of the young woman and Jake: despite being in the car together they are rarely, if ever, featured in the same shot. Throughout their drive, the young woman constantly mulls over whether she should end things with Jake—yet as soon as she delves into her reasoning, Jake introduces a new conversation starter, almost as if he knows exactly what she is thinking.
While I’m Thinking of Ending Things could be considered a horror movie, it is not a film full of jump scares or obvious danger, opting instead for a constant, quiet nervousness throughout. Jake takes his girlfriend to the family’s barn where he recalls a morbid story about maggot-infested pigs that used to be there. This isn’t exactly the first place or story most people would introduce to a significant other during their first visit home to meet the folks. Even though the viewer becomes a bit anxious about what is happening, it’s difficult to know what or who to be afraid of. The anxiety-inducing plot and Kaufman’s subtly tricky writing are more than enough to make the viewer wish this visit was over and hope that there is nothing more to it than Jake’s strange family—even though there is clearly something else at play. Indeed, it encourages you to try to take in as much detail as possible, perhaps rewind once or twice in an attempt to pick up on whatever semblances of a clue you can. Still, you feel helpless watching this film because it is impossible to fully understand what is happening.
The second half is full of more weirdness, culminating in a final montage complete with musical numbers and a haunting revelation. It makes viewers contemplate loneliness and shows how our own imaginations can lead us to destructive delusion. While many questions are answered even more are raised, and the dual nature of the film’s title is imparted on us.
A significant strength of this film is that it is the perfect fit for Netflix. In fact, viewers benefit from the fact that they can’t see it in cinemas. Kaufman’s work will sink into your brain, requiring multiple viewings in order to catch all the nuances of this story.
Though I enjoyed and recommend the film, I can’t help but criticize the sympathy for Jake that the film tries to elicit from the audience. His refusal to proactively take ownership of his life was extremely frustrating and hard to connect with. Jake seems to have no concept of a woman having her own autonomy—that alone makes him incredibly difficult to sympathize with.
Kaufman certainly took on a bold endeavor: unmask the facade of the person who is always on the sidelines. This film does so brilliantly. I’m Thinking of Ending Things preys on the darkest fears of our everyday lives: the fear that we might live a life without love, success, or happiness—a life without meaning. There are many anti-heroes in film, but Kaufman’s work here gives us an understanding of what it is like to be in the mind of an outcast. In a full circle moment, it is pointed out that Jake is the maggot-infected pig of life; after all, it has to be someone.
Ultimately, Kaufman and the cast do pull off an incredibly thought provoking film that will have viewers on the edge of their seat and thinking until the very end of its one hundred and thirty four minute duration. It’s bold unique- ness makes it well worth a watch and an interesting one to keep your eye on for the upcoming awards season.
Marion Cassidy is a sophomore in the College studying History and Theatre and Performance Studies.