I’m Thinking of Ending Things is dreamy, surreal, and utterly confusing

Charlie Kaufman’s new film is a cinephile’s wet dream

This film will have you questioning your perception of reality. Courtesy of Netflix

By: Aritro Mukhopadhyay, SFU Student

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a film made for people who love being perplexed by cinema and appreciate cinematography that emotionally moves them. Viewers who prefer fast-paced films might want to skip this one. This psychological thriller often feels like slow cinema, mainly because the change in location happens gradually. Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, known for films such as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the film is based on a book of the same name by Canadian author Iain Reid. 

The film begins with shots of an empty old house set to a narrator’s inner monologue while she is “thinking of ending things.” The narrator, later revealed to be Lucy, repeats this thought as something that lingers and ruminates like a broken record. The film then follows Lucy and her new boyfriend, Jake, on their journey to meet Jake’s parents for the first time. The beginning seems innocent enough and the viewer has no idea how surreal and bizarre the film is about to become — and that’s part of the fun. 

The first time I watched it was with two of my friends and we were all utterly disgruntled by the film’s convoluted plot and slow pace. It is difficult to figure out what is real and what is Jake’s imagination. Needless to say I will never be allowed to choose another film ever again on movie night. 

But does that mean that the film is bad? 

For some, this film might be pretentious garbage; but for a keen eye this is a cinema porn. This is a classic Kaufman film that makes you feel uneasy, sad, puzzled, and dazed all at once. A melancholic yet ominous background score, a blizzard, a dead pig, and the overall bluish hue of the film are all cleverly used as symbols of Jake’s dishevelled psychological state. 

As the couple make their way through a blizzard toward the farm, inconsistencies about Lucy’s background start to surface. After saying she has no interest in poetry, the film shows her reciting a heart-wrenching rendition of a poem called “Bonedog” by Eva H.D. that she claims to have written herself — I know, talk about academic dishonesty right? She also claims to be a scholar in physics, art, and gerontology (the study of aging) all at the same time. Her name might not even be Lucy for all we know. The film makes it feel like Lucy is being pulled apart in different directions by her ambitions. 

Jake, too, seems to be an unreliable narrator. Jake’s parents age back and forth throughout the visit, making it feel like we are watching Jake’s memories after somebody has shuffled them randomly in a sack and presented them to us like a box of chocolates — we never know which one we’re going to get.   

I’m Thinking of Ending Things deals with themes of loneliness, isolation, and aging — something many of us have been made aware of in these past few months due to the pandemic. Although the film is categorized under horror and psychological thriller, it really isn’t a jump scare movie. This film has the ability to make its viewers shift in their seats, not through a scary monster but through facing real human emotions that we often try to suppress.

“I’m thinking of ending things” is uttered multiple times by Lucy early on in the film, like a thought that gets stuck and refuses to budge. She repeats “I’m thinking of ending things”as if it were a refrain in a poem. In a virtual talk with Charlie Kaufman through Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) Talks, Kaufman mentions his obsessive nature with getting stuck to a single idea or thought and how it affects and is even reflected in the films he creates.  

I was amazed by how picturesque the film was as well as annoyed in places where the film didn’t give me the answers I wanted. It is a complex piece of cinema that is woven with multiple stories and narratives in mind.