Let me start this off by saying that “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” isn’t a movie for everyone. I don’t mean that I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a movie only ‘smart’ people can enjoy or something, but I have to say that despite all its good attributes, it isn’t a very entertaining movie, with next to 0 rewatch value (unless you want to go back to find the Easter Eggs and understand the story better). It is both alike and different from a piece of abstract art, coincidentally something that is ragged on by the characters. It is like a piece of abstract art in that it isn’t linear or obvious in its progression, the details aren’t clear at first glance, you really have to look inside it and not stop thinking for a second of its runtime to understand it. At the same time, it differs from a piece of abstract art because it doesn’t really open itself up to interpretation, there is actually a very specific plot and message that all the clues point towards, one that the director (Charlie Kaufman, also acclaimed director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and New York) has even come out and explained. If you want a movie that entertains more than it engrosses, and one that you don’t have to labour for, one that you can rewatch and enjoy, then this one isn’t for you.
I am not one of those people, however, and I loved the movie. It is very hard to review it without spoiling it, but I’ll try anyway. I can’t tell you any more about the plot than the IMDB synopsis, “Full of misgivings, a young woman travels with her new boyfriend to his parents’ secluded farm. Upon arriving, she comes to question everything she thought she knew about him, and herself.” The movie features a lot of conversations, which are quite interesting as they allow the viewer to immerse oneself into the minds of the characters. The inconsistencies and the contradictions in the opinions of the ‘main’ character, played by Jessie Buckley, are very important, and allow you to learn more about what Jake’s (played by Jesse Plemons) ideal woman would be. The director does an expert job of telling you the story of Jake’s life, his relationship with his parents, and his mental illnesses through the lens of the young woman, and he manages to do it out of order. Every frame is important, and details are brought up again at seemingly arbitrary (but not really) points in the movie.
More than the plethora of easter eggs (which are admittedly very satisfying to discover and discuss), the use of snow as a metaphor for how Jake views society, cold, unfeeling and apathetic, is what stood out to me. . The gradual buildup of snow, the variations in the speed of the snowfall, the moments where the snow falls nowhere except in one particular place, all these things really help the audience to decipher the scene when the director and the dialogue aren’t doing you any favours.
The movie is based on a book, and if you’ve read the book you know how the movie ends, but the movie differs from the book in that it is a lot more subtle with its ending. The movie also uses multiple forms of storytelling to achieve its ends, musical theatre, interpretive dance, even animation at one point. Buckley in particular plays her role to perfection, and I fail to understand how she managed to change so much while not changing very much at all (you’ll understand if you watch it).
While it would be a bald-faced lie to say that Kaufman didn’t succeed in what he set out to achieve in the movie (he definitely did), it is easy to get too wrapped up in the bells and whistles to objectively (or atleast somewhat) criticise this movie. Even if intentionally, the movie features a lot of looping dialogues or sequences, and fails to explain itself on the first watch, which is where I think the downfall of the movie lies. It is just a little bit too self-indulgent in my opinion, and takes itself very seriously, focussing a lot more on the medium of the storytelling than the story itself. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and far from unique, but I still think that that is a valid criticism. It doesn’t do a good enough job at inviting audiences in for a rewatch, but mandates one anyway, which will probably lead the viewer to just google what the movie was even about. I think other movies have done a better job at balancing the psychedelic and the artistic, while still telling a good and not-out-of-reach story, Chungking Express and Kaufman’s own Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind come to mind.
It is not a bad movie by any means, and a must watch if you like picking scenes apart and analysing them. But, if you do like investing that much into a movie, then I would suggest giving the source material as well, as it provides some much-needed context that the movie neglected in favour of the psychedelic elements.