“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter and director known for his surrealist perspective, heavy and thematic subject matter and frequent use of sci-fi elements. Kaufman’s latest outing lives up to the man’s reputation for the bizarre. The story follows a woman, played by Jessie Buckley, as she embarks on a road trip to meet her boyfriend’s parents. The trip takes a strange and increasingly sinister turn however, as it becomes clear that everything is not as it seems.
There’s a lot to spoil about the film’s plot, but suffice it to say the film gets very creepy as it progresses, and it does so with a purpose, subtly suggesting something that becomes more-or-less clear by its end.
The film has its share of problems. Kaufman’s dialogue, while thematic and loaded with metaphorical significance throughout all his filmography, is occasionally criticized for being unrealistic and overburdened with the weight of the ideas it represents. In other words, his characters sometimes don’t sound like people.
This film is certainly guilty of that, as listening to the characters talk feels more like listening to a dissertation than a conversation. The main character gives monologues about art, cinema, age and sexism, all of which are packed with so many references to literature, artists and philosophers as to make you wish you’d perused the required reading list before watching. For all the themes Kaufman wants to address, he simply writes a speech and has his ideas flow directly from his characters’ mouths. It’s a classic case of tell but don’t show. The film is more than dense. In many places, it’s heavy-handed.
On the other hand, certain deeper themes, like those buried within the film’s true plotline and setting, are awash in such subtlety as to be difficult to catch without a detailed analysis or explanation. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” does not make for a casual watch.
Nonetheless, there’s a lot the film does right. The film is slow-burn-creepy in the very best way and will keep you on the edge of your seat through the utterly strange climax. Toni Collette’s performance is vaguely reminiscent of her astoundingly horrifying role in “Hereditary.” Jesse Plemons is excellent as the awkward and subtly oppressive boyfriend Jake. He has an energy that fits his character perfectly. Buckley herself delivers a great performance, even as her mannerisms shift throughout the film.
Kaufman’s signature surrealism is very effective, leading viewers through the dense and complicated story with an unsettling urgency. The film is an interesting mystery that one can’t wait to unravel.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a decent film. It’s not quite adept at telling its story or conveying its themes, but it is well constructed. Its characters and surrealist elements make for a fascinating, if difficult, dive into the human mind. The film is definitely worth a watch for any Kaufman fan. Just make sure you’re familiar with the musical “Oklahoma!” first.