So I did a quick Google search for “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” because I wanted to look up the name of the author of the book. The first result was “I’m Thinking of Ending Things: The Ending Explained!” and I couldn’t help but laugh.
If you watched this entire movie and then said “yeah but what was the ending about?!” I don’t know what to tell you.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is not a movie that is easily digested, nor is it one that is easily grasped but for a confusing ending or a surprising twist. The way it is filmed and presented, there is no twist, and the ending isn’t even that surprising. Not because it isn’t surprising, but because after two hours of watching it, you’ll be so desensitized to surprises not even a talking pig will cause your eyebrow to lift.
The film is screen-written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, so let’s start there.
Kaufman is one of the most innovative cinematic storytellers working today, an artist who plays with the medium of film in ways that are borderline experimental. The only other person who comes close is David Lynch. He’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and his movies are often too esoteric to be enjoyed by the average moviegoer, which makes Netflix the perfect place to host his movies, even at the sacrifice of seeing his incredible images on the biggest screen possible. Like Lynch, Kaufman believes in using the sights and the sounds of a movie in distinct ways, showing one thing while saying another, intentionally confusing the viewer who expects—in a traditional movie—for the two to work in harmony throughout the runtime.
It says something when the man’s most mainstream and accessible movie is the wildly bizarre (but beautifully poignant) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
I wouldn’t compare I’m Thinking of Ending Things to any of the director’s other works, however. Instead, I’d point to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Both movies feature a surface level story that unravels as it progresses, causing both the character(s) in the story and the viewer watching it to question what is real and what is not. Both movies feature a solidly defined “truth” that is hidden behind the bizarre sights and unsettling sounds. Both movies are actually very easy to explain once you know what they’re all about. A movie like Tenet is criticized because its story is unintentionally convoluted; you can know what it is about without being able to follow it. I’m Thinking of Ending Things, like Mulholland Drive, is actually very simple, but at the same time it is intentionally convoluted in the way it tells that story, so that—without someone flat-out saying “the movie is about this—you’re not likely to “get it.”
Do you want me to tell you what I’m Thinking of Ending Things is about?
If not, skip this next part…
In one sentence: The boyfriend is the old janitor, slowly losing his mind to dementia, remembering (haphazardly) a woman he met once, long ago, and imagining what it would have been like to take her home to his parents.
In a paragraph: We’re led to believe that the movie is told from the perspective of the girlfriend. It’s her narration we hear, after all. But no, she is a construct of the boyfriend’s deteriorating mind. That age-addled brain is the reason why the continuity of the movie is so off the rails: Characters change clothes, professions, and ages. Moods swing wildly from childlike to angry to what seems like drunken mindlessness. The movie is a window into the mind of an old man battling dementia, who has gotten so far gone he doesn’t even remember that he can’t even remember anymore.
That’s it. It’s that simple. Once you read it, everything sort of makes sense.
I mean, it doesn’t really, but that’s kind of the point in this case, just as it was in Mulholland Drive. Once you “get it,” all the bizarre stuff falls into place. Something like the ending, which sees the boyfriend win a Nobel Prize and the give a speech lifted, word for word, from A Beautiful Mind—Why? Because it’s a movie the old man watched recently, and he forgot where the speech came from; it was just rattling around in his mind, and it poured out of him, just like the mini-rant/review (in the style of the previously-inimitable Pauline Kael) that the girlfriend has in the car on the way back, or the characters from the “Robert Zemeckis” movie. Those things seem, at first, to be pointlessly bizarre, but actually, they’re “pointedly bizarre.”
Kauffman is a master writer. I know he didn’t write the book, but he wrote the screenplay and it’s obviously his style. As said, he’s not for everyone, but I love his way of crafting a screenplay. He’s not just subtle, and he’s not just clever, and he’s not just economical. Somehow he’s all of those things all at once. As a director, he can draw incredible performances from the very small cast, putting them through a variety of personas, and highlighting all the subtle differences between them without putting too obvious a finger on it.
The initial car ride is a great display of awkwardness, tension, and drama. On paper, it should be mildly comedic, but it’s not. It never gets to that point because Kaufman doesn’t let it; everything is a little off but it’s not funny, it’s just bizarre, and off-kilter, like a horror setting that never goes all-in on the terror because no one in the movie is ever really scared. His camera work is active but not intrusive or showy. It was an interesting choice to go with an Academy Ratio, and even more so to use a lot of panning during the dinner scene. It lent to the off-kilter feel of it all.
The dinner scene is where Kaufman stops playing with just the girlfriend and starts playing with the audience. If you’ve seen a horror movie or two, you know what to expect at this point. At yet, it never comes. The movie remains consistent with the same level of strangeness that it had from the jump. You might find that a bit unfulfilling or even anti-climactic, but you just have to know going in that this isn’t going to be a traditional horror movie…or even a non-traditional one. The movie never plays to type because this isn’t actually a horror movie (no matter how it is marketed); this is something indescribable, I think.
I don’t know what this is, other than surreal.
In defense of Baby, It’s Cold Outside. The song is not a rape song. It’s about a woman who wants to stay late and intends to as well, while also knowing it’s uncouth in her day and age to agree so “easily.” Society compels her to pretend to say “no no no” though the words are intentionally playful and obviously opposite in their intention. The romance in question, and all that the song implies, is very mutual, which is the antithesis of rape. It’s a proverbial “song and dance” played according to long-forgotten cultural mores and the attacks against it are solely due to people applying modern definitions and terms to an archaic culture. That’s not to say “it was a different time so it’s okay to sing about rape.” Not at all. The point is that it’s not about rape but that might not be readily apparent because, being so old, it uses words and phrases and ideas that have long-since faded from our culture and thus are easily misconstrued.
There. You got me talking about a Christmas song, which I haven’t thought about in nine months, as well as A Beautiful Mind, which I haven’t thought about in nearly twenty years. What even is this movie?
8/10 – I don’t really know how to rate this. At first, not knowing what it’s about left me loving the aesthetic but bewildered by the meaning. Now that I know, I appreciate it so much more. Do I review based on my initial viewing or what I came to understand after the fact? I’ll split the difference between 7 and 9 and give it an 8.