Existential cynicism; fractured romance; projective introspection; all of the hallmarks which transform Charlie Kaufman into a misanthropic variant of Captain Planet. However familiar we are with Kaufman’s pencil-case of themes, there remains an inherent appeal in the way he colours outside the lines of convention. His dark, albeit confronting, fascination with impermanence is as disturbing as it affecting.
Now that we are past the formalities, we can look at Kaufman’s newie, i’m thinking of ending things; a surrealist nightmare that continues Kaufman’s exploration on the slog of existing.
Based on Iain Reid’s 2016 novel of the same name, i’m thinking of ending things follows newly formed couple, Jake (Jesse Plemons, channelling a role made for the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and narrator Lucy ((or maybe her name is Lucia?), Jessie Buckley). The bleakness, promised in the film’s title, appears straight outta-the-gate, as Lucia (or is it Louisa?) discusses her lurid fascination with finality; what exactly this ending refers to remains unclear.
Having dated for only six weeks, the fresh-faced couple, spending a large portion of the film reflecting on Louisa’s (no, wait, I am pretty sure her name is Lucy?) reluctance to keep the relationship going, venture out to visit Jake’s parents: Mother (go to psychological horror mum, Toni Collette) and Father (Anomalisa puppet, now real-boy, David Thewlis).
The dinner party from hell (if Mr Kaufman would believe such ideology) proves but a fraction of the erraticism that occurs throughout the film. The horror strung out of the banality of living is affirmed in the intersecting side-story of a local janitor (Gus Boyd). His inclusion adds intrigue to an already alluring puzzle.
Dreary quietness and a dreamlike inconsistency of reality (peoples ages shifts back and forth like a yoyo in flux) creates a stillness that sets the film up to land a potent punch. A significant contributor of this being the fantastic work put into audible and visual aesthetic; its inclusion bringing to life Kaufman’s vision of a depressing, wintry nightmare. This becomes heightened by Kaufman’s directorial grace, for which he finds the film dancing on a knife’s edge regarding tension. His sense of steadiness and acidic dialogue helps the film function as an exercise on mood; a psychological horror that avoids the conventional bedrocks of the genre, and uses mystery to simulate unease.
This is all to be expected by someone of Kauf’s calibre: a filmmaker who goes as far to blatantly announce in his films, to the point of foreboding, a dislike of convention. He effectively places a target on his head: be different or eat crow. That said, convention by virtue would be the antithesis of Charlie Kaufman’s contrarian ways; a feat Kaufman toys with in i’m thinking of ending things before undoing with morose, comedic wit.
Even in previous adaptations (ahem), Kaufman finds a way to ingest himself (sometimes twice!) into his films. The effect imbues upon his films a sombre vulnerability. Kaufman breaks off another piece of his psyche with i’m thinking of ending things, but manages to expand upon typical territory surrounding the horror of humdrum quotidian existence (the janitor could well and truly be Kauf’s Boggart) with unique takes on: the nature of entertainment (frequently referenced and providing the film’s biggest laugh), futility and co-dependency.
The film indulges in heavy references to literature and psychological conditions, but does not require its audience to be experts on the matters. Instead, this state of unknowingness works in favour of the viewer; exuding a haunting air of mystique which circumvents throughout the first half of the film.
From the second half onwards, i’m thinking of ending things sheds its skin – replacing jitters with a rumination of regret, told from the perspective of a relationship never destined to take-off. (As bleak as their conversation is, it pales in comparison to the heavy snowfall that rages outside.) The surrealist, bitterly cold, relationship-on-the-rocks isn’t exactly new territory for the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind writer, but when presented on screen in all its brazen glory, it is delivered with a surrealist flair that would make David Lynch nod his head in admiration.
The above only succeeds thanks to a talented ensemble cast, with particular praise directed towards the carriers of the film: Buckley and Plemons. Both Buckley and Plemons handle their characters – and their corresponding dynamics which occur naturally throughout the film – with an astute sense of aplomb that overcomes the monotony of Kaufman’s occasionally posturing screenplay.
At a time when the world is in need of jubilance, it seems oddly fitting for a filmmaker like Charlie Kaufman to release a moody picture like i’m thinking of ending things. If you have an affection for Kaufman’s vision of a world abound in heartache and suffering, i’m thinking of ending things could be the anti-comfort viewing you need right now.
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette
Writer: Charlie Kaufman, (based on the book I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid)
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