I’m Thinking Of Ending Things Is A Complex Yet Artistic Take On Romantic Relationships: Review
Charlie Kaufman’s latest directorial stint I’m Thinking Of Ending Things has been dividing film critics across the world, and now it is finally out on Netflix. Mixing the genres of horror, fantasy, existential and psychological thriller, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things moves along the line of this emerging category of films like Jennifer Lawrence’s Mother and Florence Pugh’s Midsommar. To tell the truth, when news came that Kaufman, the famed writer of Eternal Sunshine Of Spotless Mind, was taking up the trifold task of writing, producing and directing this film, the excitement did run high.
The verdict? Well, it’s hard to put the film in a simple classification of good/bad, but let’s just say that it’s an immensely confounding, emotionally laborious, and yet profoundly bold creation of a genius filmmaker. And if you think that these adjectives are heavy-handed, wait till you watch this work of art.
The film is adapted from a book-of-the-same-name written by the Canadian author Ian Reed. It stars Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis and Guy Boyd in pivotal roles. The film defies the unity of time and space, and to even watch the characters going back and forth in the plot is hard to follow, so one can imagine how difficult it must have been to act them through. But suffice to say, each actor does a phenomenal job of portraying their characters.
On the surface, the plot revolves around a woman’s journey to meet her new boyfriend’s parents on a snowy day, one that turns into a dangerous drive because of the weather. Simple, right? If only this film thrived on the surface. It’s hard to explain what happens in the film because again, Kaufman is the kind of filmmaker who prefers the audience to feel their way through his stories, rather than insisting on ‘solving’ the plots like puzzles. It starts with Jake (Jesse Plemons) taking the Young Woman (Jessie Buckley) to meet his parents, who live somewhere out in the country. Right at the beginning, this woman lets us know that she’s “thinking of ending things”, although she hasn’t worked up the gumption to do so yet. The couple then reaches the parent’s house, where a surreal encounter happens between the parents and the young woman.
At first, Jake’s parents seem friendly enough, but soon we see them starting to shift through different phases of their lives, going from young to old and back again. It feels like the audience, like the Young Woman, is made to witness the highlights of Jake’s parents’ lifelong partnership on one snowy night. It’s all very dream-like really, only that this dream is as unsettling as the night that is repeatedly called “treacherous” in the film. Throughout the to-and-fro journey, Jake and the Young Woman talk around and at each other in the car, but rarely to each other. There’s an awkwardness between them, and it feels more like two strangers conversing for the first time than a romantic couple talking. And it is their inability to merge, even momentarily, that holds a clue to the ending— that is if you can figure out what on Earth the ending is.
Characterisation Of The Female Protagonist
For anybody who is now wondering why is the main protagonist called Young Woman, here’s where the sense of disconcertion begins. The woman is called by different names each time: Is she Lucy? Lucia? Louisa? Ames? We are not told clearly. And so changes her profession: Is she a painter or a physicist or a poet or a gerontologist? As we ponder upon these, slowly the film throws more and more of such astonishing questions: Where did she grow up? What does her voice even really sound like? Why does it feel like time is slipping back and forth?
And what about Jake? He seems to be attentive to his girlfriend; he takes an interest in her work, or at least convincingly pretends to do so. But does he really see her? The way her name and profession keeps changing, it seems like she is a symbol for the entire womenkind whose sole existence in a patriarchal society demands servitude to men’s whims and fantasies. Her very namelessness suggests an identity erasure of sorts. In the middle of the film, we hear her saying to herself: “I don’t even know who am I in this whole thing anymore. Where I stop and Jake starts. Jake needs to see me as someone who sees him. He needs to be seen and he needs to be seen with approval. Like that’s my purpose in all this, in life. To approve of Jake, to keep him going.”
Is The Film Showing The Workings Of A Toxic Relationship?
Kaufman himself says about the film, “It’s less a horror movie than a meditation on a whole bunch of other human attributes…. It’s about romantic projection and fantasies, and what that does to a relationship when people ultimately aren’t what you want or imagine them to be.” To which Jessie Buckley adds, “Lots of people will relate to being in that situation of trying to find themselves in a relationship, but also losing yourself in relationships and how complex that is.”
The film is largely told from the Young Woman’s perspective, but it really feels all about Jake. Whenever the woman is trying to talk about her accomplishments, the topic of conversation somehow shifts to Jake. It’s as if it doesn’t matter if the woman is a scientist, an artist, or a labourer; all her successes only make her a better trophy girlfriend for Jake. Even when she wants to break up with him, we see her trying to convince herself otherwise. She gives herself reasons as to why Jake is great: “He doesn’t beat me”, she reassures herself. But as if presenting a twisted contrast to this very thought, the metaphor of chain runs throughout the movie. In fact, Jake’s family keeps constantly talking about “using the chains” to get Young Woman home.
As an audience, we can clearly see that this woman is much more talented and verbose than the guy. In the second half of the film, when she finally starts to unravel all the talents she had previously subdued to protect her man’s ego, all sense that Jake had of being her equal vanishes into thin air. Eventually, the feeling that Jake may still be a good man also goes for a toss. But then again, it’s one of the many interpretations one can draw from the film (the ending might call for a different analysis altogether). As someone somewhere utters in the film, “there is no objective reality”, and perhaps that is the greatest clue about the film’s meaning without actually explaining anything.
Picture Credit: Netflix
Views expressed are the author’s own.