Believe it or not, there actually is joy to be found in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” a film that at first glance may appear to be so bleak and miserable that many will abandon ship before the second act.
Adapted for the screen by writer / director Charlie Kaufman from Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, the story is about a young woman (Jessie Buckley) who takes a road trip with her new boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents at their family farm in the middle of a blizzard. She is having second thoughts about their relationship, and is thinking of ending things with him. He is battling demons of his own, and things go from bad to worse when his bizarre, creepy parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) enter the picture.
If the plots sounds basic, I can assure you the movie is anything but. It’s best not to read too much about the story beforehand because it is a challenge to write a review without revealing massive spoilers. I can tell you that in true Kaufman style, this is the type of film that’s as divisive as it is provocative, with an interesting (if frustrating) open-for-interpretation message. It’s creative and weird in the most wonderful of ways. Plus, it’s perhaps the most awkward road trip movie ever filmed.
The film finds its success mostly on the strength of Kaufman’s writing, which is necessary for the lengthy, talky scenes. There are prolonged stretches where the two lead characters engage in high-brow but agitated discussions about literature, physics, film criticism, and poetry, and it sometimes feels like the work of a writer in love with his own dialogue — except you’ll likely fall in love with his dialogue, too.
Kaufman’s surreal vision comes into play with his original direction as well, like when the anxiety of this car ride is magnified by his choice to use a 4:3 aspect ratio. Viewers feel confined right along with the pair, and it rapidly becomes unbearably uncomfortable.
What may further alienate audiences is the purposefully obtuse storytelling, the visual riddles (pay close attention and you may notice details that keep changing), and the bleak exploration of regret, hopelessness, suffering, and loneliness that permeates the disturbing psychology of the human condition. It’s heavy stuff that packs a punch due to the strong lead performances from Plemons and Buckley.
Don’t expect anyone to solve the puzzle of this movie for you. There are infinite possibilities as to what it all really means. No matter your interpretation, it won’t be wrong. The film grows more and more surreal as it nears its end, including a fantastic sequence at an ice cream parlor in the middle of nowhere, and an interpretive dance in the halls of an empty high school. It’s a strange and abstract film that will elicit one of two reactions as the final credits roll: you’ll immediately want to watch it again, or you’ll throw up your hands in disgust and anger.
That, to me, is a bonafide litmus test for what meaningful art truly is.
By: Louisa Moore