Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Last night, my wife and I watched a new movie on Netflix called I’m Thinking of Ending Things. It’s based on a book (which I’ve never read). It was adapted for the screen by Charlie Kaufman, who also directed it. If you don’t know him by name, he’s the man who wrote Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich. If you’ve seen either of those movies, you know that this movie is going to be…. trippy.

I’d like to share my thoughts on the film with you. The first portion of this review will be spoiler-free. The last portion will have spoilers that will be very clearly marked. I would strongly advise not to read the spoiler section until you’ve seen the movie (at least, if you have even the slightest intention to watch the film).

The movie starts off with a woman and her boyfriend Jake in a car. They are driving in a snowstorm. They live in the city, and his parents live out in the country. He is taking her out to meet them for the first time. We spend a lot of time seeing them converse with one another, and we hear the woman’s thoughts. She is thinking of ending things with Jake. He is nice, smart, and cute. But she doesn’t feel like this relationship is going anywhere. She hasn’t even mentioned his existence to her own parents. Jake is clearly more invested in the relationship at this point.

When they arrive at the house, she meets his parents. They are quite strange to begin with. Things quickly turn far stranger. It starts with little things. The woman will be conversing with Jake and his parents. She’ll stand up and look out the window to check on the snowstorm. She’ll turn around, and they’ll be gone, having left the room in the last couple of seconds somehow. Little things like this start to build up. I won’t say more in this section of the review. Suffice it to say that things are weird and get weirder.

I really enjoy the performance of the young woman by Jessie Buckley (who you may recognize from Chernoybl). It’s a very complex role and she brings the depth necessary for it. There is great nuance to be found here. The rest of the cast are solid in their roles, for the most part.

I am sad to report that I can’t really recommend this movie on the whole. I will say that, if you read and appreciated this book, you should probably watch the movie. If only to satisfy your curiosity. If you’ve not read the book, I probably wouldn’t advise watching this movie. Not for most people, at least.

The film is very much attempting to be “high art.” It is somewhat pretentious. It’s the kind of movie that will have people saying things like: “If you don’t like it, then you just don’t get it, man!”

The film is very intriguing in the first three-quarters, but it really falls apart after that for me. It is all build up, with no conclusion. I literally had to read the synopsis of both the movie and the book on Wikipedia in order to understand what even happens at the end. It’s so intentionally vague. Now, I can appreciate subtlety. I like movies that have layers. I like when I’m left with things to think and ponder about (Eternal Sunshine is the poster-child for this type of film).  This movie didn’t leave me thinking. My only thought initially after watching it was, “huh.”

I don’t want to dissuade anyone from watching it if it sounds interesting to them. It is very possible that you’ll get more out of it than I did. If you really like films that try to be “high art,” then you’ll probably like this, and I certainly do not begrudge you for it. But for everyone else, I think this might be a skip.

The rest of this review will have full spoilers.

I have to say that I really loved the dance number. The ballet in the school was absolutely marvelous. Highlight of the film. That’s the last positive thing I have to say about the movie, sadly.

So, that ending, huh? The movie just ends. Nothing is answered. Nothing is resolved. As I said before, Wikipedia had to help me understand what even happened. Apparently, the entire movie was in the janitor’s head this whole time. And he may or may not have killed himself at the end, which I guess explains the strange title of the film.

This movie is all build-up and no payoff. It creates such a compelling mystery, and then doesn’t even bother to solve it. We don’t even get an unsatisfactory solution. We’re left with nothing.

It is a terrible balance of mystery and resolution. If you’re going to create a mystery, the answer needs to be at least somewhat as compelling as the question itself. Otherwise, you have done your audience a disservice.

Imagine you board a rollercoaster. You start with your car being pulled by a chain, slowly, up a hill. It climbs, and climbs, and climbs. You’re so high up! And you just know that once you reach the peak, you’re in for a thrill as you hurdle back to Earth at frightening speeds. Then you get to the top, and the whole thing just levels off. The coaster levels off, comes to a stop, and you debark. That is how it felt to watch I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

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