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New Release Review [Netflix] - I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS

I'm Thinking of Ending Things review
On a trip to meet her boyfriend's parents, a young woman begins to question her reality.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Charlie Kaufman

Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Guy Boyd, David Thewlis, Toni Collette

I'm Thinking of Ending Things poster


When it comes to relationships, most men will happily settle for anything with a pulse, but there exists a few who stubbornly insist on seeking out that mythical figure known as "the one". With his previous film, the puppet animation Anomalisa, writer/director Charlie Kaufman devised an ingenious analogy for this state of mind. That film's protagonist was a middle-aged man who suffered from a condition that made everyone's voice sound exactly the same, save for one woman he meets while attending a conference. Believing he's found "the one", he spends the night with the woman, but over breakfast he grows annoyed at how she loudly chews her food, and her voice begins to resemble the monotone drawl of everyone else.

Kaufman's latest, billed as "inspired by" rather than simply adapted from Iain Reid's novel, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, continues this exploration of men who set themselves relationship expectations no woman has any realistic hope of meeting. Jake (Jesse Plemons) believes he has found "the one" in a young woman (Jessie Buckley, whose character name is never fully divulged so I'll refer to her here as simply "Jessie") he met during a college trivia night. She shares both his professional (they're both student physicists) and cultural interests (she's a budding poet and has an analytical obsession with movies). So confident is he in the potential for this relationship to succeed that he's taking Jessie to meet his parents on their farm.


I'm Thinking of Ending Things review


What Jake doesn't realise is that Jessie is "thinking of ending things" with him. In voiceover we're made privy to her thoughts, as she curses herself for not having the courage to end the relationship sooner. Arriving at the farm, Jessie meets Jake's mother (Toni Collette) and father (David Thewlis), an oddball pair who should be spending their retirement in the suburbs of Twin Peaks. Following the most uncomfortable dinner scene since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Jessie finds herself in a surreal scenario - Jake's parents appear to age three decades; she finds a photo in their living room that appears to be of her childhood self; and Jake's childhood room contains cultural ephemera that strikes a suspicious chord within her.

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Jessie's experiences are intercut with those of an aging high school janitor. We see him go about his work while drawing mocking looks from the student body, and we get the sense that this is a man who was destined for greater things. At one point, while on his lunch break, he watches a DVD of a clichéd Hollywood rom-com (credited to a real-life famous director - how did Kaufman convince said filmmaker to be mocked in such a manner?). This film within a film follows the template of an entitled man behaving like a sociopath in his pursuit of a woman, and subsequently being rewarded for doing so. Kaufman appears to be suggesting that films of this nature are part of the reason men have unrealistic expectations when it comes to romance.


I'm Thinking of Ending Things review


[Warning: Spoilers ahead] Plemons' distinctive looks have seen him given the nickname of "Meth Damon" for his unflattering resemblance to Matt Damon (you might say he's the Beau Bridges to Damon's Jeff, or the Randy Quaid to Damon's Dennis). Perhaps this is why Kaufman picked him for this role, as Jake is essentially an alternate universe version of Damon's protagonist from Good Will Hunting. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the janitor is Jake himself, and that his career in physics never took off, having never met a Minnie Driver to inspire him to greatness. In fact he never met any woman, likely due to his unrealistic standards, and so has ended up a lonely old man.

Similarly, you'll likely twig early on that Jessie is a figment of Jake's imagination, an amalgamation of the heroine of the rom-com he watches (Colby Minifie) and his idea of a woman whose interests mirror his own. Our suspicions are raised early on when Jessie recites a poem she claims to have composed herself, but which is actually a piece by the award-winning Canadian poet Eva H.D. But for cinephiles, the cat is truly released from the bag when Jake asks Jessie for her opinion of John Cassavettes' A Woman Under the Influence and Jessie replies with a word for word recital of Pauline Kael's scathing review of said film (Buckley's Kael impersonation is the highlight of the movie, and will have "Film Twitter" clamouring for the Irish actress to star in a biopic of the critic). Jake has constructed Jessie from his cultural interests, Keyser Soze as girlfriend.

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Like Anomalisa, Kaufman's latest has a similar punchline, but here it's drawn out across the course of the movie. Even though Jessie is a figment of Jake's imagination, she still refuses to conform to his ideals. As with the recent sci-fi thriller Elizabeth Harvest, I'm Thinking of Ending Things is essentially a pseudo-feminist reworking of the Frankenstein story. Jessie is the monster who begins to rebel against Jake's mad scientist once she cottons onto the roots of her creation. A terrifying encounter with a young female employee at an ice cream stand clues us in that Jessie isn't alone in being created by Jake's twisted psyche. Oddly enough, we've seen this story play out before, also with Plemons in the lead role, in the Black Mirror episode 'USS Callister', in which a young woman similarly realises she's trapped in a misogynistic simulation of Plemons' making. [Spoilers end]


I'm Thinking of Ending Things review


I'm Thinking of Ending Things mines ideas that have been explored more succinctly in recent films and TV shows, including of course, Kaufman's own Anomalisa. Accusations of self-indulgence will no doubt greet Kaufman's film, and they'll be difficult to dismiss. The bulk of the film is based around two lengthy car rides in which Jessie spends a lot of time quoting existing cultural texts word for word. It's as though Kaufman doesn't have faith in his audience to figure out what's going on here and feels he has to drag it out while he waits for us to catch up. It may be the latest example of Netflix giving a respected filmmaker a little too much rope in the way a traditional studio wouldn't.

But if you're willing to indulge Kaufman, his film will get under your skin. It might be the ultimate anti-date movie, and any young man who decides to "Netflix and chill" with his date in front of this movie is extinguishing any chance of a second date. It's misandrist in a way no woman filmmaker would be able to get away with. Its critique of men comes straight from the source, and you get the sense Kaufman is self-flagellating here (like David Robert Mitchell's Under the Silver Lake, it's another case of a male filmmaker examining toxic masculinity while somewhat hypocritically critiquing cultural curiosity, and will no doubt prove equally divisive). There are moments as creepy as any in recent horror cinema, and if you can appreciate a film that puts you in the doldrums (an under-rated ability), I'm Thinking of Ending Things is for you. If you're a man, don't watch it with your girlfriend, or she really will start thinking of ending things.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things is on Netflix from September 4th.




2020 movie reviews