Kaufman’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” and the Intangibility of Thoughts and Time

Monday, September 7, 2020

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things”- metroscene mag


I’m thinking of ending things – the film opens with these words: first, as a tiny white title against a black screen, then as the first sentence of the young woman’s monologue. She’s thinking of ending things, and many others. She’s visiting her boyfriend Jake’s parents for the first time, she says. They’ve been together for six—maybe seven weeks? She isn’t sure. He picks her up, she climbs in the car, and kisses him on the lips. The snow falls softly as he drives, and she continues to think of things she wants to end. Things begin from here. 

Kaufman who directed Synecdoche, New York and co-wrote Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, now offers a new Netflix film that has the merits and faults of most Kaufman-written movies. 'I’m thinking of ending things' has a simple, straightforward premise. Starring Jesse Plemons as Jake, The Boyfriend, and Jessie Buckley who is credited at the end as The Young Woman, Kaufman developed a story of a young couple driving through a blizzard to visit the farmhouse of Jake’s parents. But true Kaufman style of course, the story is never just simple as that. 

  

The film oscillates between thoughts and truths, as the images that inhabit the minds of the characters are slowly replaced by uncertainty, illusion, and doubt. It portrays ideas such as the slow fading of life, discontentment, impatience, the labelling of memories as an attempt to keep them, only to discover in the end that they were caged for so long it now fears freedom. It’s a strong film that goes beyond most cinematic conventions, not the very first one to do so, but still very refreshing to see when done well.

But films, no matter how well-thought they are, have weak points, too. The film is paralyzed in its own ambitious themes, and immobilized by tedious dialogues that carry more metaphors than messages. It decapitates its most admirable strengths – such as the performance of Toni Collette as an eccentric matriarch, and the unsettling atmosphere and mystery that the farmhouse seems to be enveloped in – by transitioning the tension through the shift of themes and settings that’s excessive rather than eloquent. 




Still, there is no reason to dismiss the things that film attempted and succeed in executing. Kaufman frames thoughts that way thoughts are conjured in the head, or in the middle of a conversation, as well as the way people get so easily involved with their thoughts that it becomes their reality, their fears and pasts. We see these themes personified by the character played by Jessie Buckley. In the film she is Lucy, Lucia, Louisa, and at one point she was also Ames. She studies quantum physics, studies gerontology, paints landscapes, and we don’t know anything about her beyond that. But we see the story through her eyes even though she travels in memories that don’t belong to her. Do we trust what she sees? Do we trust what she tells us?

'I’m Thinking of Ending Things' is now available for streaming on Netflix. If you want something to think about, go watch this film.

Written by Kim Argosino  



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