by Staff Writer Maggie Lai
Viewers are in for a mind-boggling ride with writer-director Charlie Kaufman’s latest psychological thriller I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Released on Netflix, the film is adapted from Canadian author Iain Reid’s 2016 novel of the same name, and Kaufman, renowned for his complex dissections of reality and the human psyche in previous films like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, pulls it off in his own mysterious style. Although overly dull and anticlimactic at times, the cast’s praiseworthy performance and the dizzying cinematography of I’m Thinking of Ending Things makes it the spellbinding thriller we’ve all been waiting for.
Lucy, the film’s main protagonist.
The film follows Lucy, a middle-aged woman (Jessie Buckley) paying an evening visit to her new boyfriend Jake’s (Jesse Plemons) parents for the first time at their secluded farmhouse. Their dinner together is anything but normal — Lucy spots a childhood photo of Jake that eerily resembles herself, Jake’s parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) are a little too eccentric for comfort, not to mention a mysterious basement with scratches on the door that’s strictly off-limits. Besides being baffled by the bizarre happenings around her, Lucy feels increasingly doubtful about her and Jake’s relationship throughout the night, repeatedly echoing the film’s title in her head.
When it comes to acting in Kaufman’s film, Collette’s laudable performance as Jake’s unorthodox mother is what truly brings it home. Out of all the cast members, Collette’s acting is the most unsettling — with her disturbing hysterical laughter, her frantic repetition of syllables, and her purposely exaggerated facial expressions, it isn’t long before Collette’s rendition starts sending chills down viewers’ spines.
Toni Collette plays Jake’s unconventional mother in I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
Not only that, Buckley and Plemons’ portrayals of Lucy and Jake are also applause-worthy; Buckley’s dark internal monologues combined with Plemons’ sudden bursts of agitation outstandingly convey the strained relationship between their characters.
The cinematography and camerawork of I’m Thinking of Ending Things keep audiences’ eyes glued to the screen as well. The boxy angles and aspect ratios emulate a sense of claustrophobia and discomfort that makes viewers feel like they’re Lucy at the dinner table, wanting to escape the impending dread seeping into her.
Lucy endures a harrowing dinner with her new boyfriend Jake and his off-kilter parents.
The film’s thrill aspect isn’t obnoxiously in-your-face either; Kaufman sticks to sweet subtlety and uses dreary lighting and repetitive actions to create unnerving images out of seemingly mundane things, such as the recurring jingle of a dog’s collar shaking water off itself.
One of the film’s most mesmerizing scenes, where younger versions of Lucy and Jake perform a poignant dance in a high school hallway, is euphoric and nightmarish at the same time. The gentle yet haunting melody and transition from soft beacons of light to a raging blizzard surrounding the young couple makes for a dynamic sequence that leaves viewers in awe.
A young Lucy and Jake perform a riveting dance in the halls of a high school.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things has its shortcomings nonetheless; Lucy and Jake’s philosophical car debates seem to drag on unnecessarily and feel disconnected from the plot. Their prolonged back-and-forths about various books and films are overkill and lack any sort of excitement, culminating in a tedious couple of scenes that amount to nothing more than a nuisance to sit through.
Nothing screams fever dream more than a Charlie Kaufman film, and I’m Thinking of Ending Things executes it in the most hauntingly beautiful way possible. Contrary to the novel, the film adaptation purposely makes the twist ending more ambiguous, leaving it open to different interpretations. By the time the credits roll, audiences are left scratching their heads at the dreamlike enigma they’ve just watched.
The movie nonetheless stays mostly true to the uneasiness and unraveling mystery of its precedent novel and largely owes its brilliance to its gifted actors and immersive scenes. Apart from a few monotonous segments, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a freakish thrill ride with a staggering twist at the end that makes it well worth the watch.