A captivating build-up leads to an unsatisfying conclusion in Charlie Kaufman’s latest drama.
Stariing: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, and Guy Boyd
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman
His style may not vibe with everyone, but Charlie Kaufman’s idiosyncratic storytelling has certainly made him a fascinating filmmaker. And while his latest project – the eerie I’m Thinking of Ending Things – is as intriguing as you would expect, the psychological thriller is just as likely (if not more so) to confuse viewers as it is to captivate them.
On the surface, the film appears to tell the story of a young woman (portrayed by a perfectly cast Jessie Buckley) who is going on a journey with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (Toni Collette [wonderful, as always] and David Thewlis) while thinking of ending their six-week relationship. But Kaufman soon makes it abundantly clear that things aren’t exactly as they seem.
Glitches and anomalies enter the tale as the narrative soon degenerates into what feels like a fever dream. Details, ages, personas, behaviours, settings. circumstances … everything keeps shifting. But what exactly is going on?
It’s hard to tell.
It all seems like (to borrow from Winston Churchill) a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. And it is a riddle that the average viewer does not have a reasonable chance of decoding, not without a superhuman ability to decipher vague clues anyway, or, barring that, at least some prior knowledge of either the Iain Reid novel the movie is based on or the many works the film references.
There are some elements that are fairly obvious from the get-go (like the double meaning of the title, for instance) and other things you can pick up on if you pay close attention, but a cohesive whole remains elusive even after the end credits have rolled.
The acting is brilliant, the visuals are stunning, the creepiness is riveting and the execution, artistic and creative. But by the end, the obtuseness is frustrating and how the story is handled feels unsatisfying. In making things inaccessible, Kaufman strips the film of the impact a more comprehensible ending could have delivered.
Ultimately how you feel about I’m Thinking of Ending Things will come down to how much you enjoy abstract filmmaking. You’re probably going to need to give this one time to fully appreciate it. The more you think about or discuss or read up on the movie (or novel – Reid’s original does seem more powerful than this adaptation), the more admiration you are likely to develop for the poignancy of its tragic tale.
A second viewing thereafter is likely to be a more rewarding experience (although admittedly, if you didn’t enjoy the slow-burn drama of this movie the first time around, then you probably won’t want to sit through 134 minutes of this dark strangeness all over again).
Rating system: ★Not on your life ★ ½ If you really must waste your time ★★ Hardly worth the bother ★★ ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only ★★★ Good enough for a look see ★★★ ½ Recommended viewing ★★★★ Don’t miss it ★★★★ ½ Almost perfect ★★★★★ Perfection