"I'm Thinking of Ending Things", by Charlie Kaufman

‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’, another meta-film from Charlie Kaufman

I’m Thinking of Ending Things’, a new “psychodrama” film directed by Charlie Kaufman, will at first recall his “meta-screenwriting” exercise with “Adaptation” in 2001.  But this indeed a work about interchangeability of identities across time, and as such it is based on the relatively brief (224 pages) novel by Canadian author Iain Reid (2016) from Simon and Schuster. It’s full length, at 135 minutes and had a one-week theatrical opportunity (during the pandemic) at the end of August before going strictly to Netflix.

The title is suggestive, and this article by Braden Roberts explains how the book is personally darker than the movie, perhaps.  The book, and the movie more or less, in viewed in terms of the female lead played by Jesse Buckley (referred to as “Young Woman”) who accompanies her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemmons) on a winter journey to his parents’ farm home in upstate New York in the dead of winter. But Jake thinks the Woman is someone else, a woman he had “cathected” and wanted in the past.  Their talk has literary allusions (Wordsworth’s Ode of Intimations of Immortality,  “Splendor in the Grass”, for all intents the inspiration of an important 1961 film which I saw during that lost semester at William and Mary).

When they arrive, weird stuff seems to happen. The parents (David Thewlis and Toni Collette) gradually slip into cycles of dementia and visibly increase aging.  The Woman sees visions of a pig, and a janitor as she navigates the house, particularly in the washing machine scene.  (I’ve never had a machine you could open while it still runs.)  The Woman begins to confuse her own identity with Jake’s, and perhaps the other woman in Jake’s fantasies of “glance history” (imaginary girl friend in a dream).

As the couple returns Jake ruminates about John Cassavette’s 'A Woman Under the Influence' (1974, don’t think I have seen) and then it really turns into David Lynch country (maybe even Stephen King). The Janitor breaks down into psychosis, and the Janitor is, well, Jake, who ages quickly (even to the point of showing a coronary bypass surgery scar).  There is a sequence where a dancing double (Ryan Laughtner Steele) dies (with red handkerchiefs substituting for blood).  There are other interesting metaphors, like 'pretty people'.  (Somehow I could read the title as 'I’m thinking of losing it all', like on the Internet in the old days.)

Then Jake accepts an award, on a bizarre stage (with a doll house having a black globe just like mine in my train set, with some books behind), in front of an audience (no social distancing yet) which faces furrowed by age, so they are in some sort of afterlife.

There is some interesting music, such as a quote from 'The Sound of Music', I think.

The film is shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio.  Even though distributed by Netflix, it has the feel of A24.

Name: ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Thing’”

Director, writer: Charlie Kaufman, Iain Reid

Released: 2020/8

Format: 1.33:1

When and how viewed: Netflix, 2020/9/18, subscription

Length: 135

Rating: R

Companies: Likely Story, Netflix

Link: (subscription)

Stars: ****_