I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS: Existential Crisis of the Neurotic Mind

“Everything is tinged,” or so Jake (Jesse Plemons) would like us to believe. Color, thought, spectacle, reality is nothing more than personality, pollinated by experience and poisoned by situation, manifested in the present moment. Blatantly philosophical, the introspective nature of I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020, Netflix) isn’t all that unexpected.

Charlie Kaufman (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004), ADAPTATION (2002)) has made the exploration of consciousness and the way we refine the world through apperception his life work, and Canadian author Iain Reid has provided him with an ideal framework with which to construct yet another cerebral yarn. For what better way to traverse the void of metacognition than on a long drive through rural Ontario with nihilism in the passenger seat.

I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS poster, available on Netflix

“The Young Woman” (Jessie Buckley) has been infected with a thought. Despite a “rare and intense attachment,” her relationship with Jake is all but over. He hasn’t been her boyfriend very long. Still, rather than face the unavoidable fork in the road, “The Young Woman” has decided to accompany Jake to his childhood home, where she will meet his mother (Toni Collette) and father (David Thewlis) for the first time. Maybe it’s human nature to take the easy way out.

On the road, Jake and “The Young Woman” wax poetic about literature, the musical Oklahoma, and perspective. Then, somewhere between the destination and her poignant rendition of a poem by Eva H.D., the thought mutated. Conceivably, “The Young Woman” has not just reached an impasse with Jake but lost her zest for life. The snow, of which there is supposed to be a “fair amount,” is heavy now.

 At the farm, the tone of the I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS has switched from didactic drama to hallucinatory horror. The once hospitable, albeit eerie family is both everywhere and nowhere, able to materialize and vanish throughout the animate house at will. Collette (HEREDITY (2018)) and Thewlis (ANOMALISA (2015)) oscillate between age and frailty, in a state of perpetuate deterioration and recovery, and Jake, initially volatile toward his kin, has become inexplicably kindhearted.

Eventually able to break free from the nightmare, Jake and “The Young Woman” head back to the city. There’s been a change in the central character, or, rather, the persona uncloaked. Whether the visit was traumatic or entirely immaterial, the provisional couple decide, ironically, an analysis is not worth the breath. Instead, on the way home, Jake and “The Young Woman” sift through Guy Debord, “A Woman Under the Influence,” and David Foster Wallace, amongst other minutiae, and adjust to their new-found skin.

Somehow deceptively hopeful while, at the same time, dismal enough to hold a knife flush against your wrist, the Dantean hell created by Kaufman and cinematographer Łukasz Żal (COLD WAR (2018)) is a visual paradise in which to get lost and contemplate the very essence of life. Naturally, that’s only if being stranded in the Canadian countryside, during a blizzard, and ultimately freezing to death is your idea of heaven.

Steered to excellence by an instinctive performance from Jessie Buckley (WILD ROSE (2018)) and an uncharacteristically unhinged turn by Jesse Plemons (THE IRISHMAN (2019)), I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS has found Kaufman once again attempt to embody the human psyche as only he can. Of course, this is just my interpretation of a Charlie Kaufman film, based on a novel by Iain Reid, seen through the glass of individuality, so, much like the film itself, your mileage will vary.

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