Charlie Kaufman’s latest film, ‘i’m thinking of ending things’, premiered as a Netflix original on Sep. 4. Though the film is definitely not “all style and no substance”, it is also not the sum of its parts, leaving the viewer wanting something more.
Based on Iain Reid’s 2016 novel of the same name, it follows a young woman (Jessie Buckley) as she contemplates whether or not to end her relationship with her boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons), while having dinner with his parents Suzie (Toni Collette) and Dean (David Thewlis). As the night grows increasingly unsettling, the world seems to start unravelling around the young woman, which leaves her constantly doubting what’s real and what’s not.
By far the best part of the film is how it portrays unreality. Cinematographer Łukasz Żal’s camera work and editor Robert Frazen’s cuts are top-notch, shining throughout the more dream-like sequences of the film. Its post-production makes the viewer constantly second-guess reality, especially through its excellent use of sound and costume design. Attentive viewers will most likely be able to catch on quickly to what’s really going on just by watching for continuity errors.
This attention to detail is fairly par for the course for a Kaufman film. Those familiar with ‘Synecdoche, New York’ or ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ will recognize Kaufman’s directorial and writing style immediately. His script writing is at its best in scenes with the main couple driving through the snow, awkwardly trying to figure out what else to talk about. The viewer feels trapped with the main characters throughout dinner without becoming bored with what’s happening on screen.
This is partially helped by the top-notch acting across the board. Buckley, even as a late addition to the cast, expertly plays into the awkwardness and horror of each scene she’s in through speaking ticks and nonverbal cues. Plemons also does a wonderful job as Jake, playing him with a level of self-awareness fitting for the character. Another major highlight is Collette as Jake’s mother, who is able to portray both the comedy and tragedy inherent to her story within a single line of dialogue.
All that being said, ‘i’m thinking of ending things’ is not a perfect movie. The actual plot of the film, much like the plot of the novel, is hinged too heavily on its ending twist and leaves very little breathing room elsewhere. This is especially true for Kaufman’s newer additions to the story, such as a fictional movie by Robert Zemeckis, which only ever seems to get passing acknowledgement.
Its overreliance on visual storytelling, too, only goes so far in engaging the viewer. Kaufman keeps his affinity for subtext in this latest romp, and its visual style is definitely striking enough to keep everyone’s attention. But, instead of enhancing the story, subtext in ‘i’m thinking of ending things’ detracts from the overall experience.
No information in this movie is portrayed without layers upon layers of subtext piled on it, and its efforts to obscure certain facts from the viewer increases confusion rather than rewards vigilance. There are several sections where the viewer becomes easily lost, especially as reality becomes more and more frayed during the last twenty minutes of the film. Someone shouldn’t have to watch a film multiple times just to understand their first viewing, and this is a major blow to its overall enjoyability.
Though there are certainly many good things about ‘i’m thinking of ending things’, there are also a fair amount of problems with it, leaving a longing while watching never quite satisfied.