I’m Thinking of Ending Things Review

I was so confused. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” the most recent film from Charlie Kaufman, is very confusing. Thankfully I’m less confused now, a few hours after watching, since I’ve been scavenging online message boards and interviews with the director to try and figure out what the heck I just spent two hours watching.

The film, which is a Netflix original released earlier in September, is directed by Charlie Kaufman, the same person who wrote the script for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Both films by Kaufman use similar methods of rearranging the timeline of the story as well as center around dying relationships. That is where the similarities end, though. “Eternal Sunshine” is heartfelt, it centers around the pain and nostalgia associated with a past relationship. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” on the other hand, focuses more on the horror which is experienced after a lifetime of loneliness.

The plot is centered on (but also many times strays from) a road trip taken by Jake and college student Lucy to visit Jake’s parents. Lucy, played by Jessie Buckley, has been dating Jake for just over a month and feels unsure of what this trip represents for her and through her narration we are constantly reminded that she is thinking of ending things with Jake. Jake, played by Jesse Plemons, picks up on her uneasiness in the journey but struggles to adjust to it. It is a simple plot on the page, but constant changes in the timeline and chilling performances bring a sense of urgency to this thriller.

You may recognize Plemons from his appearance in the “Black Mirror” episode “USS Callister.” Plemons’ role in “Black Mirror” is interesting to consider after finishing the movie, although he brings more nuance to this role that is fleshed out over the course of the film. Buckley, an Irish actress who is relatively unknown in the United States, does a transformative job of realizing the role of an American college student who is changed and molded throughout the film by those around her.

There are also standout performances by Toni Collette (from “Hereditary”) and David Thewlis (Professor Lupin from the “Harry Potter” series) who act as Jake’s parents. Collette and Thewlis as characters definitely exist as a means to an end in the plot. But luckily that end is to complicate the otherwise simple plot by giving a haunting and nagging performance.

Other than the performances, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” does have a strong use of horror movie techniques such as disorienting camera angles, a demented dog and motifs that show up throughout the film to prove someone’s insanity. Scenes are long and drawn out, they are awkward but fantastical. Characters always seem to be in a state of entropy, always letting the weight of the universe undo them and untie their knots. Luckily the audience is there to watch the crazy seep out as characters fall into chaos.

A few times the film deviates from the central plot, and one time there is a dance number. In the moment, the deviations are silly or useless or even distracting. But like a Monet painting, the pieces do come together at the end to tell that tale of a person eaten by loneliness or a person haunted by, as Lucy recites early in the film, “wife-shaped loneliness.”     

You will be thrilled, you will be shocked, and maybe 24 hours after you’ve finished watching the movie, you will appreciate it. It takes time to set in. As with many thrillers, things do not go according to plan. Lucy makes some discoveries, Jake realizes some things about himself. Jake’s parents turn into a figment of the past.

Take the two hours out of your schedule to watch it. Once you finish the film, you may be angry at me for giving you this recommendation, but I assure you you will be shocked. And maybe once it sets in, you might have to think about which character you actually identify with: protagonist Lucy who queasily is along for the ride, or a character who has “wife-shaped loneliness.”