“It’s tragic how few people possess their souls before they die… ‘Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.’ That’s an Oscar Wilde quote.”
The elements of ambiguity within films are no stranger to director Charlie Kaufman. The fluid intricacies of the quirky romance in Kaufman’s screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is only a taste of the layers upon layers that are on display in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Sure, Eternal Sunshine makes us look internally, questioning our own personal relationships. But Thinking of Ending Things goes into our deepest psyche, and examines our personal thoughts. This cerebral-bender is not for the faint of heart. The film’s complexity is an existential take on the bleak neurosis of the human mind, set to the background of frozen tundra, that further amplifies the brutality of one’s life.
Based on the novel by Iain Reid, Thinking of Ending Things focuses on a young woman, played by the amazing Jessie Buckley, who continues to show her talents in nearly everything she’s in. This young woman is traveling with her boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons), to visit his family for the first time. It’s a strange meeting, to say the least. Jake’s parents aren’t like most. And while Jake shrugs off his parents peculiar antics, he too is a bit odd. This type of character is, of course, no stranger to Plemons’ constant barrage of “shy” characters, and yet he continues to play it so well.
Jake’s mother, played by the lovely Toni Collette, is ailing, fighting her own fight with a deteriorating illness. Age has caught up to her, not taking any mercy on her once beautiful complexion. Collette is great as always — her mannerisms send a shockwave of uncomfortable awkwardness through the screen. She makes every character she plays, fresh, as she envelopes herself in the sheer imperfections of her characters. It’s David Thewlis, however, that surprises me. The man known most for his work as Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter series, plays the typical Dad who often sounds a bit rude around meeting new people.
The scenes surrounding the family visit takes on a mother! type of non-linear story-telling. The sequence goes back and forth as the characters become older, and then proceed to get younger. You find yourself following the young woman, as she travels around the cold home, finding elements of the house, and the people within it, changing. The why, behind all of this, is a safe-guarded secret within the pages of the story.
Thinking of Ending Things shouldn’t be a surprise when you look at Kaufman’s previous works. With the help of filmmakers like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, Kaufman is able to push his viewers to dig deep — scouring the film for its meaning. The story emphasizes the importance of time. What time? Who’s time? Where are we all going as we continue to move forward? It’s a complicated concept, but Kaufman does a fantastic job of fluidly moving this idea within the scenes. Although Thinking of Ending Things is lush with ambiguity, the hidden meaning to the film is readily apparent. But the viewer must look closely to find it, as it can easily become cloaked behind the shadows of chaos.
How funny that the new releases revolve around the concept of time, as we ourselves are stuck in a unending loop of quarantine — the hours bleeding into one another. Our thought process, and the sadness that follows our current situation, may never get to the point of sadness that overtakes our characters in Thinking of Ending Things. But for some people, the sadness will never end, only to continue to eat away at them.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Written and Directed by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, David Thewlis, and Toni Collette