Here we have another compelling endorsement for the unexamined life from Charlie Kaufman. i’m thinking of ending things, written by Kaufman but based on a book by Iain Reid, deals with the relationship between two nonentities, played by Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons. They are academics whose names, past, ideas, and sense of self all fall into question.
On the drive through a blinding snowstorm to meet the parents of Plemons’ character, Jake, they engage in the kind of thorny banter not uncommon to couples who have passed the honeymoon phase and skidded into the quiet desperation phase. They spend much of the time debating ideas by trading references and starting sentences with “have you read.” The movie’s creepy score—mostly made of hyperbolic environmental noises, such as the beating metronome of windshield wipers—could be called “Dueling Quotations.” When Buckley’s character internally repeats the title of the movie, it’s not a declaration, but a weak-willed attempt at selfhood. There’s even a moment in which she condemns unoriginality by quoting someone.
When the couple arrives at the home of Jake’s parents, the movie shifts into another gear. Everything becomes distorted, but in a way that still manages to be truthful, like looking through the outer edges of a magnifying glass. Kaufman goes out of his way to force imperfections, tinging the Midwestern household with a grotesque surrealism that grows as the movie rolls along. During a dinner between the couple and the parents, played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis (who always seems out of breath), it’s like the viewer has been given a lethal dose of familiarity and obtains the supersensory powers of contempt, allowing you to key in on every obnoxious laugh and stupid question.
“…a haunted house for the neurotic, bringing with it all the self-propelled scares and nervous laughter you’d expect from such a place.”
While the 20-minute, uninterrupted car ride that begins the movie will surely sift out the less adventurous viewers, i’m thinking of ending things does end up being much more entertaining than other movies that sulk in style and abstractions. It feels like a haunted house for the neurotic, bringing with it all the self-propelled scares and nervous laughter you’d expect from such a place. Instead of being led into a dungeon where Vincent Price hits you with a skeleton, you’re led into a barn where Charlie Kaufman hits you with nature’s cold indifference.
Considering Kaufman’s tendency to blind his characters with torturous self-reflection, you can forget how funny he is. Among all the nightmarish sound design and unsettling interactions, some goofy moments sneak up on you. In fact, a jab at Robert Zemeckis is the most I’ve laughed at a movie all year, not including the annual re-watch of Bananas. What I’m trying to say is that if you don’t find fun in discussing the significance of ice cream or why a dog can’t ever get dry, the movie’s endless hijinks might keep you going.
i’m thinking of ending things is a lawless movie, made up of one memorable scene after another, none of which are restrained by any storytelling edicts—anything goes, and it goes. The playful dialogue and prankster approach to introspection could very well keep even the most plot-obsessed viewer from pulling the ripcord, or maybe they’ll cast it aside as two hours of pretentious muttering. And maybe that’s an apt description, but pretentious muttering has never been as fun as in Kaufman’s house of horrors.
"…the kind of thorny banter not uncommon to couples who have passed the honeymoon phase and skidded into the quiet desperation phase."