I’m Thinking of Ending Things is Charlie Kaufman’s first psychological thriller as both writer and director. I watched two films he has written in preparation: Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. After this week, I can say with absolute certainty that Kaufman is a brilliant writer. Do I always understand what’s going on in his mind, though? Nope.
It’s difficult to talk about the film without spoiling everything – I’ve been mulling over the ending of the film for the past three hours and am just now beginning to piece the narrative together, to find meaning in the events leading up to the conclusion, and to solidify my interpretation of the film in its entirety. But, that’s what I love about this film – it makes you think.
Before I delve into more specific details, I should mention that the film is about an unnamed young woman who joins her boyfriend on a trip to visit his parents, but she doesn’t foresee their relationship lasting much longer. The film begins with the couple’s drive to the family farm. From the get-go, you understand why the young woman is thinking of ending things. The two are both well-educated – the boyfriend, Jake, is able to keep up with his girlfriend’s explanation of her research and the paper she has to write. They both like poetry. However, they have differing interpretations of poems and clashing opinions on philosophical debates, but they are unable to articulate their thoughts and hold a progressive conversation without being afraid of offending each other. The couple will then fall into complete silence, and when Jake asks what his girlfriend is thinking about, she tells him she’s thinking about vague, in her head stuff, while she tells the audience she doesn’t think she wants to a continue a relationship where she can’t even tell the other person what’s on her mind.
From the moment the couple starts their road trip, it’s clear there’s a sense of unease between the two. I think that this shows just how good of a writer Kaufman is. The dialogue isn’t clunky – although it can be confusing, he portrays realistic conversations between two intelligent individuals who are falling out of love. And what I find most impressive is how Kaufman is able to write all kinds of couples, from a shallow and almost manipulative attraction in Being John Malkovich, to Eternal Sunshine, which depicts the initial euphoria of meeting someone devolving into irritability and volatility, and ultimately a breakup. Furthermore, Jake and his girlfriend’s relationship in I’m Thinking of Ending Things is different from Clementine and Joel in Eternal Sunshine – we only get the young woman’s point of view, and we never see them connect on the level that Clementine and Joel do.
I have many more thoughts about the film, but they all fall into spoiler territory. So I’ll leave with the fact that there is very little music, which makes the musical moments stand out. The use of sound really sets the uneasy tone of the film – you just always feel like something’s off. Whether it’s complete silence punctuated by uncomfortable dialogue, the rhythmic thud of windshield wipers, the jingling of a dog’s collar, the minimal score, or a song from Oklahoma!, you find yourself wondering what it all means and why you feel uncomfortable. Of course, this is aided by the performances of Toni Collette and David Thewlis, and Kaufman’s messing with the concept of time, as introduced in the trailer for the film.
Overall, I highly recommend this film. You might hate it, but it’s just so interesting and there’s just so much to unpack. If anyone wants to talk about spoilers please leave a comment! I need to talk about this film!