“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is both the title of the movie and what I kept thinking as I endured this two-hour lecture of a film. From the director of “Being John Malkovich” and “Anomalisa,” “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” was a film I expected to both thrill and confuse me as I explored the world through the bleak and existential eyes of Charlie Kaufman. Instead, I got a pretentious monologue about aesthetics, an absurd amount of references only “Family Guy” could compare with and a two-hour hole in my brain from which I will never recover.
The film begins by confusing a monologue with character dialogue between the two main characters, Jake and his name-swapping girlfriend, Lucy/Louisa/Yvonne/totallydifferentactresslaterinthemovie. I call it a monologue because what proceeds is a 45-minute conversation between Jake and Lucy about aesthetics and poetry where Kaufman tries to name drop as many impressive poets as he can, almost demanding the viewer to do an hour of research before continuing the film. Themes of poetry and aesthetics can be interesting and enlightening, but when the viewer has to be well informed on the directors favorite subjects without any plot or motivation inspiring them to care about it, the viewing experience ceases to be entertaining and more like when your dad would play NPR in the car when you were six years old.
Eventually, the couple make it to Jake’s parents’ house. It’s here in the movie where Kaufman seems to finally set up tension-building and a semblance of plot, and the audience can latch on. There’s a spooky basement Lucy is forbidden to enter, a mysterious dog that seems to appear and disappear when mentioned and Jake’s parents are both incredibly creepy and full of mystery. Finally, I found myself absorbed in this part of the film, especially by the excellent performances of the actors. The film is well shot, and the main character’s isolation amid her boyfriend’s family is strongly suggested through camera placing.
Unfortunately, that falls apart almost immediately. First, Lucy’s name changes, and everyone refers to her as Lucia. Then, the details of Jake and Lucia’s life start to swap and shift — first she’s a poet, then she’s a graduate student, then she’s a theoretical physicist and she gets mysterious phone calls from someone with the same name as her. While at first Lucia seems frightened by the changes and seeking escape, you start to discover she is not only aware of it, but also a part of it. This deflates all tension immediately. When the character the audience is supposed to relate to is in on the plot, the audience loses its tether and stops caring. Our suspension of disbelief is shattered. Without a plot or main character to be invested in, the film sacrifices its avenue to convey its message to the audience. I can feel my eyes glaze over just thinking about it.
Eventually Jake and Yvonne (oh yeah, her name changed again) leave his parents and spend another hour in the car going on about poetry and philosophy. It becomes obvious by now these aren’t characters with depth or personality; they are just physical stand-ins for Kaufman to dump whatever he learned from his most recent upper division literature course onto the screen. He is metaphorically making you smell his own farts as his characters voice his own convoluted and watered down ideas on life, existence and the universe. If Kaufman wanted to share what he learned about philosophy in a straightforward way, he didn’t have to make a two-hour movie. A 20-minute TedTalk or a podcast would have sufficed. But those wouldn’t make him the same money a film would…
This film is a sharp contrast to Kaufman’s other work of similar substance. Two of his films that come to mind are the existential dramas “Anomalisa” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” In both films, Kaufman created well-rounded characters influenced by intriguing and unique plots that drove them to come to their own conclusions on life and aesthetics. The characters had something called an “arc.” On the contrary, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” replaced plot with metaphorical allusions and empty allegorical plot devices. By the time the movie ends, nothing is resolved, accomplished or transmitted because the film was absent of any story, message or concrete ideals.
While the movie attempts to criticize romanticism and elevate realism with its dark depiction of farm life and car ride criticism of romantic poets, it’s all for nothing and devoid of any evidence. The heart of filmmaking is storytelling. If you have no story to tell, why make a movie at all?
Written By: Tony Le Calvez