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Review: ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is a perplexing, unique take on loneliness

Review: ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is a perplexing, unique take on loneliness

Review: ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is a perplexing, unique take on loneliness
September 11
16:00 2020

I think the idea of loneliness is inherently more applicable today than it is, say, in non-pandemic circumstances where you can actually be around living, breathing human beings. Over the last six months, we’ve each had to grapple some way or another with the physical distance caused by coronavirus as it’s inevitably chipped away at our emotional health.

So, to some extent, the timing of Charlie Kaufman‘s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is, well, timely.

There’s not much I can say about the story that wouldn’t cross the spoiler line and I believe going into the film blind is the best way to watch it. To keep it brief, the movie stars Jessie Buckley as the unnamed girlfriend (she’s referred to in subtitles as Young Woman) of Jake (Jesse Plemons). Young Woman is on the verge of ending her brief and aimless relationship with Jake, but before that, she embarks on a road trip to meet his parents. As time goes on, though, the viewer realizes, as the film’s Netflix bio aptly puts it, “nothing is as it seems.”

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a cerebral thriller that often makes you go, “Huh?” throughout the film, and even a little bit after the credits roll. It makes you repeatedly question the nature of Jake and Young Woman’s reality across its 134-minute runtime. For me, the litmus test for mind benders like this is, “Does the plot wrap up in an understandingly meaningful way, or is it just plain convoluted?”

So, where does Kaufman’s new film fall? My verdict: While it’s slow in parts and therefore a bit frustrating to watch, it’s ultimately an incredibly unique look at how loneliness manifests. It offers the fun of solving a mental puzzle while delivering solid performances and a compelling storyline.

I want to be clear on what I mean by “slow” here — once you’ve finished the film, you realize there aren’t really any useless scenes, as it’s all quite pivotal to understanding the story and therefore is well-paced. What I mean is that it takes just so long to truly start to string things together. I had an inkling early on as to who Young Woman really was, and I turned out to be right in the end, but other than that there weren’t a ton of potential leads in the first act that would queue you in to the plot. The film also doesn’t have one particular ubiquitous “Aha!” moment, so when exactly you start to catch on depends. Because of this, you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be watching for. It makes it hard to tell what’s really meaningful and what isn’t, so you’re just sort of left to think, “What on earth is going on?” for a little too long. For this reason, they could’ve tightened it a bit.

Additionally, calling it a “thriller” implies there’s some sort of edge-of-your-seat action, but this is a pretty tame and understated film. It’s really just thrilling mentally. Hence, my calling it slow.

While it’s a brow-furrowing first hour or so, the payoff is pretty strong, and passing the “Aha!” finish line is so rewarding. It’s an incredibly abstract film not to be taken literally, but its commentary on loneliness and ego-driven desires, like the need to control and overpower and be loved by others, is quite tangible. There’s also a lot of alluding to these desires particularly as they relate to masculinity, and Jake’s crippling need to be the center of attention and to be catered to by Young Woman and his parents is quite provocative.

If this review hasn’t tipped you off to the loneliness theme, the movie will really drive it home. Shots are framed to convey emptiness and solitude, even when you know other characters are around. The film is also largely silent, which I found unsettling in the best way possible. In an age where scores are used to hammer in the emotions you’re supposed to be feeling, it was refreshing and quite fitting for that element to be mostly absent here. It’s eerie and disquieting. There’s no sound lonelier than the sound of complete silence.

One element that really threw me off at first until I reached the “Aha!” moment was the dialogue. Characters randomly talk over each other and change the subject entirely. Some conversations felt so abrupt it was like we were going nowhere, watching characters talk in circles about nothing. But when it all clicks, you realize how brilliant the script was all along. And as for acting, Buckley gives a stunning performance as Young Woman. Plemons, while lackluster at first, makes a lot more sense once you realize who Jake is, and he fits that role perfectly. Toni Collette and David Thewlis are downright creepy as Jake’s parents.

A word of caution to anyone who likes easy-to-follow storylines that wrap up nicely, this may not be for you. But for those willing to undertake the challenge, you won’t be disappointed. While I wish they’d trimmed some to make the first half less frustrating, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a perplexing watch that, while not particularly exciting, is insightful and intriguing.

Final rating: 3.75/5

Featured image: Courtesy Netflix

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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