Charlie Kaufman’s latest film I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS follows the rules of modern viewing habits like those of Martin Scorsese or Noah Baumbach – and comes directly to Netflix instead of on the big screen. We’ll reveal in our review whether that says anything about the quality.
OT: I’m thinking of Ending Things (USA 2020)
Despite doubts about their relationship, a young woman (Jessie Buckley) visits his parents’ farm with her new boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). When a snowstorm inevitably extends her stay and she gets to know Jake’s mother (Toni Collette) and father (David Thewlis) better, she notices disturbing things. Why is there a photo of her as a child on the wall of Jake’s parents’ house? Who constantly tries to reach her on her smartphone, only to whisper cryptic words to her? And who actually tells us that what we see around us is actually reality?
Christopher Nolan is generally considered the king of mindfucks. At this very moment he is fooling people in cinemas (almost) all over the world with his time travel thriller “Tenet”. Just like he did before with films like “Interstellar,” “Memento,” and “Prestige.” Since Nolan is known to many casual viewers outside the cinephile bubble, people automatically notice his works more than, say, the stories of Charlie Kaufman. His play with different levels of perception has always been at least as exciting as the “Dark Knight” visionary’s twist rides. Kaufman’s directorial debut “Synecdoche, New York” with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a hypochondriacal theater director is still more of an insider tip, but hardly any film twists the brains of its audience so intensely and almost impenetrably that they want to watch it at least a second time, maybe must have seen it a third or even fourth time in order to understand it on all narrative levels. Kaufman’s screenplay work on “Adaptation” (a feast for lovers of metafictional filmmaking), “Being John Malkovich” and, last but not least, the melancholic love story “Forget Me Not” all follow unconventional depiction motifs of such deeply human problems as heartbreak, loneliness and the search for meaning. His latest work “I’m thinking of Ending Things” goes a few steps further in terms of potential for confusion, but as always allows the audience to make their own interpretations at any time. And as much as it is a shame that the (love) drama enriched with various genre motifs is not coming to the cinema, the direct release on Netflix may encourage some viewers to watch it who would never buy a ticket for it.
The young woman (Jessie Buckley) thinks about breaking up with her boyfriend.
I’m thinking of Ending Things is based on Ian Reid’s acclaimed psychological thriller The Ending. And you won’t know why.” Having read the novel before watching the film interpretation, which is idiosyncratic in the best sense of the word, can help to understand the drama, which leaves many empty spaces until the end. Or even in retrospect to untangle some things that Charlie Kaufman leaves open. Now one could safely reveal what kind of story the template tells. Because of Kaufman’s approach to the story about a (actually) newly in love couple who come to visit their future parents-in-law for the first time – “Get Out” sends greetings! – there is no danger of any upcoming twists being anticipated. Nevertheless, we won’t give any spoilers simply because “I’m thinking of Ending Things” still contains enough novel DNA that the film would best catch you completely off guard in order to trigger the entire spectrum of emotions in the viewer . We still recommend the tip of reading through what the original book did to the two protagonists, Jake and his girlfriend, at least afterwards. If only for another belated mindfuck. But there are already plenty of those before. Even though the dinner with Jake’s completely strange parents, which is so dominant in the trailer, only makes up a fraction of the running time, but at the same time contains most of the “Aha!” and “WTF” moments, Kaufman uses enough set pieces from the thriller, mystery and not least on horror cinema, so that you can hardly let yourself go even in the moments of intensive philosophizing about art, love and poetry. You never know what Kaufman will discover around the next corner in his film, which this time isn’t all that convoluted in terms of time.
“We still recommend the tip of at least reading through afterwards what the original book did to the two protagonists Jake and his girlfriend. If only for another belated mindfuck.”
Nevertheless, you should definitely not compare “I’m thinking of Ending Things” with a classic horror film. The creative team of cameraman Lukasz Zal (“Loving Vincent”)composer Jay Wadley (“Indignation”)Editor Robert Frazen (“The Founder”) and production designer Molly Hughes (“Louder than Bombs”) and set designer Mattie Siegal (“Beale Street”) creates an audiovisual experience in 4:3 format full of intense discomfort. This starts with the drive through the snow-covered wasteland, where not a single car approaches the couple for many kilometers. Only the headlights allow you to see through the thick snow; If anything happened out here, they would probably go undetected. At the same time, this fact makes the interior of the car appear even more cramped. While we hear the young woman’s off-camera thoughts about being lost and wanting to end the relationship, Jake is tensely trying to start the conversation; unaware that both of them are actually communicating past each other all the time. An unpleasant situation hidden under philosophical treatises on being, love and art; Poems, films, film criticism – Charlie Kaufman has always liked and intensively dealt with the perception of every form of pop culture, sometimes even his own. In this case, he even has his protagonist recite a well-known film critic and raves about Gena Rowlands’ acting performance in John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence” – and ultimately about himself.
At Jake’s (Jesse Plemons) parents’ home: mother (Toni Colette) and father (David Thewlis) were already waiting for the guests.
“I’m thinking of Ending Things” is full of discussions that seem unrelated at first glance; That’s what it’s like when you’re traveling in the car with someone else for a long time and you want to avoid awkward silences – a subtle indication that a routine hasn’t settled in between the main couple. Because the longer you stay silent together, the more confident you are in dealing with the other person. There’s even a short film-within-a-film passage for which “Forrest Gump” director Robert Zemeckis gave his permission to use his name in the end credits of the same. This may seem arbitrary, but on the one hand, Charlie Kaufman has always not been shy about any meta-gimmicks in his films, and on the other hand, it follows a clear concept. In their conversations, the young woman and her Jake always take a stand on certain topics that reflect the relationship between the two, their position within the situation itself and even within human existence. Due to the sheer number of topics, the discussions between the two of them on the car ride sometimes seem pretentious, but at the same time the unpredictable flow of the conversation also increases the tension before the next stage.
“While we hear the young woman’s off-screen thoughts revolving around being lost and the desire to end the relationship, Jake is tensely trying to start the conversation; unaware that both of them are actually communicating past each other all the time.”
Meanwhile, the already described food at Jake’s parents’ house is a collection of bizarre things. People age randomly, clothes change color, as do names, courses of study and the story of how we met. There are also moments in which the camera deliberately sticks to certain images and processes a little longer than usual – for example when the dog in the house shakes his wet fur and it just doesn’t look right that he takes much, much longer than everyone else other dog, so that at some point you can no longer tell whether you are watching a normal movement or whether the image trail has stuck. Together with the young woman’s comments about the perception of time, the idea of a time loop no longer seems so far-fetched at some point. Charlie Kaufman places such targeted pinpricks in a fake idyll of family security that the viewer absolutely wants to leave the house. Tony Colette (“Hereditary”) and David Thewlis (“Justice League”) play appropriately strange things to suit the situation, but between all their twisted whimsy they always take into account the tragedy inherent in their characters. For Charlie Kaufman, mother and father are not simply convenient figures to further the discomfort. But despite all the bizarreness, there are always people made of flesh and blood.
What is going on here?
In addition to two long car journeys and visits to the parents, the events in a sometimes empty, sometimes busy school building take up another important part of the running time. From the beginning of the film, Kaufman occasionally places short fragments about a veteran janitor in the film who tends the empty hallways of the school with stoic calm before “I’m thinking of Ending Things” finally ends at this location. A development that becomes apparent early on and from which clear conclusions can be drawn from the start about the existence of the caretaker and his connection to the couple – whether Kaufman redeems it, however, is another matter. When the director and author finally bring all the story threads together towards the end (or let’s say: at least takes them all in one hand – only the viewer can tie them together the way they want), the stylistic devices even extend to the musical. It almost seems as if Charlie Kaufman wanted to use his unbridled creativity to apologize to some extent for presenting the viewer with such a piece of crap once again. But the whole thing should ultimately be fun.
Even if you look at it from Jessie Buckley’s cold facial expressions (“The Fantastic Voyage of Dr. Dolittle”) and Jesse Plemons (“Game Night”) Although she doesn’t always look at her, her passion for her demanding roles is always noticeable. Both of them have the difficult task of being rooted in melancholy at all times and of conveying credible emotions to the outside world. Interest in the life of her in-laws in the young woman’s case, the quiet hope that his loved one might soon also be interested in the things that move him (musicals, for example) in Jake’s case. This becomes particularly noticeable towards the end, when great emotions such as curiosity, anger, joy and sadness emerge, which are not just presented in the moment, but are colored by the two hours before. As much as you wouldn’t like to drive through the snow with them, you still enjoy watching them.
“When the director and author finally bring all the story threads together towards the end (or let’s say: at least takes them all in one hand – only the viewer can tie them together the way they want), the stylistic devices even extend to a musical .”
Conclusion: A film to be discovered repeatedly – with his idiosyncratic interpretation of the novel “I’m thinking of Ending Things”, Charlie Kaufman presents a scenic surprise bag in which horror and musical motifs appear in equal measure, but at the core it is always about the misunderstanding of love. Or whatever else can be interpreted into the film.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” will be available to stream on Netflix from September 4th.