At the Movies with Alan Gekko: I’m Thinking of Ending Things “2020”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Psychological Drama/ Stars: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd, Colby Minifie, Jason Ralph, Ashlyn Alessi, Abby Quinn, Hadley Robinson; Voice of: Oliver Platt/ Runtime: 134 minutes

I think it is safe, if not quite appropriate, to start this review off movie goers by letting you know that when you decide to embark on a cinematic adventure courtesy of viewing a film made by the auteur that is Mr. Charlie Kaufman, then you must also be absolutely ready to turn your thinking cap on to its fullest possible power level. I say this because from the onset of his time working in the movies, with a huge push being provided courtesy of his absolutely incredible script for the film that became Being John Malkovich, this is one member of the filmmaking community whose work has become recognized for containing quite potent themes, a riveting examination into ideas of an abstract nature, a quite surreal style towards filmmaking in general, and for making movies that practically all but beg on their hands and knees for anyone who chooses to watch them to analyze and exam them instead of just existing to entertain them. Suffice it to say then that Kaufman truly is one of those distinct yet noteworthy auteurs who really seeks to challenge his audience as much as humanly possible. Yet even though this can, with all fairness, really be quite the struggle for some audiences to get behind, it can also by the same token be quite the rewarding experience should you be able to get in sync with his very peculiar level and engage with the intriguing perspective that he provides you with. Suffice it to say then that the man’s particular cinematic flair has only become that much more refined since he started helming screenplays that he also wrote thus giving us a kind of untampered with look into his psyche as it were. Yet even though it has been over 10 years since his last live-action cinematic offering, a film known as Synecdoche, New York, I think it is safe to say that his latest film has just managed to showcase that Kaufman is still just as on point and intriguing as he ever has been. Indeed I say this because, based on the novel of the same name by a man named Iain Reid, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a truly unique movie that I feel only Charlie Kaufman could have brought so vividly to life. Indeed here is a film that, in addition to being wonderfully helmed and performed by a terrific cast, on the outside may give off the vibe that it is a thriller of the slow build variety, but which by the end will ultimately show you that it is more of a unique yet quite thought-provoking analysis on the concept of identity based on our own self-perception and reflection that I promise will most assuredly have you really scratching your head and pondering its themes long after the final credits begin to roll.

The plot is as follows: So our movie begins with a sight that is both simplistic yet should be familiar to about 99% of the people watching this film as we witness a young woman making a plan with her boyfriend by the name of Jake to take a drive and go out to his parents’ farm for dinner one snowy day. Yet right off the bat, we can tell, courtesy of voice-over that all is not quite as rosy as it may seem. This is because, as we soon learn, our intrepid young heroine is emotionally at a crossroads of sorts in regards to where this relationship with Jake is going to the extent that she is even considering ending it, hence the title, and wondering if it is really the best idea to be going on this outing despite consistent awkward interruptions courtesy of Jake. Yet upon arrival at his family’s out of the way farm house, things go from awkward to just plain weird courtesy of Jake becoming reluctant to introduce our heroine to his parents, some delightful stomach-churning tales about things that have gone on in the family barn, and one seemingly always wet and shaking puppy. At long last though everyone comes together for dinner, but as the night goes on and the roaring snow storm continues to worsen things go from weird to just plain Twilight Zone-levels of strange in ways that I will just leave for you to discover for yourself. One thing I can tell you for sure though is that for our young heroine this night is one that I can assure you she, nor you the viewer, will truly ever forget….

So even though I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is the first ever entry in the filmography of Charlie Kaufman to head directly to one of the titans in the streaming industry, in this case Netflix, I really do feel it must be said that this is not a film that you can just put on if you aren’t prepared to sit through it without, bathroom breaks notwithstanding, occasionally pausing it to go and refill your popcorn, text your friends, or even to take that call from your mom wanting to know what your dinner plans are (hint: if they are anything like the one in this film just politely decline or offer to reschedule). I say this because the finest aspect of what this cinematic adventure has to offer to you movie lover can be located in the intricate details of both its continually evolving existence and in its intriguing dialogue. As such the best way to really take it all in is very much all at once like a sponge, though not one named Bob. The reason I tell you this dear reader is because this is a film that has no really strong desire to give you concrete answers to all the questions that it conjures up by the end. Rather, this is one of those films which challenges you to try and figure things out for yourself and as such doing so is much more feasible when you are 110% locked in to the material from beginning to end. Yet in the name of fairness, I will also concede that this film, should you watch it with friends, does give you quite a bit to friendly debate and go back and forth on once the film is done. Plus it almost certainly doesn’t hurt that, due to being on Netflix, you can immediately rewatch time and time again should you choose to do so. Trust me when I say that you just might since this film is one of the latest entries in that collection of films that require rewatching at least one more time in order to get all the pieces necessary to figure out the main intriguing and entertaining puzzle at the heart of the film.

Now I think it is safe to say that the concept known as surrealism is one that Charlie Kaufman is extraordinarily gifted in working with, but in this film he takes it to intriguing new levels. Indeed, right from the get-go it feels like, Kaufman operates with surrealism almost as if it was one of those goofy mirrors that you might stumble across at a fun-house. Indeed not only does Kaufman utilize surrealism in order to alter your perspective of everything going on in order to help you acquire a deeper comprehension of the true reality within the film, but also, and less philosophically, because it helps to make this film both more intriguing and oddly amusing in a way. Indeed you will most likely find yourself both bemused and quietly saying “what in the heck is going on here?” as not only do you start noticing little things that are off in regards to the young couple at the heart of this story, but also as we witness both a second narrative involving a high school janitor as he does his day-to-day, but also the tail end of a faux Robert Zemeckis-helmed romcom among other….surreal yet absurd moments. Yet despite the absurdity at play, this same ingredient that is key to this film’s success also possesses the terrific gift of always keeping you riveted to the screen. Indeed this is because when what you thought you knew, and reality itself it seems, isn’t really what you thought it was, there is a vibe that is conjured up where you can honestly say “just what in the wide world of sports is about to happen next?”. Suffice it to say dear reader that this is exactly what Kaufman wants you to be thinking at all times in this film and as such his utilization of the slow-burn effect here is positively brilliant in all the best ways.

Of course, there is a caveat to the success of that kind of mood and atmosphere. That is the fact that it will not work nearly as effectively if the thespians involved do not give performances that are in sync with the surrealism of everything going on yet also grounded and seemingly realistic. To that end, I am pleased to let you know dear reader that this surreal outing manages to get exactly those kind of performances from everyone in the cast, all of whom understand just what exactly it is that they are playing with so to speak, and they are all truly terrific in their respective roles. Indeed in the lead role of our intrepid heroine we get Jesse Buckley, fresh off proving herself a star to watch in Wild Rose from last year, and here she does truly riveting work in the role of our guide through this strange landscape of which she has found herself a participant in and which she would very much like to get out of sooner rather than later. As the yin to her yang, we get Jesse Plemons who is both odd yet also to some degree sympathetic and also relatable in the role of the heroine’s boyfriend Jake. Indeed this is perhaps the most crucial role in the film, for reasons I shan’t spoil, but suffice it to say that Plemons does a truly wonderful job at playing the part in just the right manner. Ultimately though the people who seem like they are having an absolute blast with this material is the dynamic duo that is Toni Collette and David Thewlis as Jake’s parents. Indeed these are a pair of quite intriguing roles that could have been played a wide variety of different ways and with a variety of different mannerisms. Props then to Collette and Thewlis therefore for putting on as many hats as possible in order to try and capture as many of those mannerisms as two people possibly could. Suffice it to say that this pair is the very textbook examples, for a while at least, of the surreal that the entirety of the film is endowed with. As such they are blessed with a certain degree of unpredictability which means that once either of these two has come on the screen you will find your eyes rooted on them to see just what captivating, intriguing, or even comical thing they are about to do next.

All in all I think it is safe to say that in the 20-plus years that they have gotten the opportunity to engage in the art of watching movies brought to life by Mr. Charlie Kaufman, audiences should by this point in the ball game already have at least the beginnings of a fairly good idea on just whether or not you and your viewing sensibilities are going to mesh well with his style of filmmaking or if it might be time to just walk away amicably and just end things right then and there so you aren’t disappointed by what you may find. With that friendly word of caution out of the way however I definitely am pleased to say that if you are amongst those people in existence who do consider themselves to be a fan of this genuinely one-of-a-kind auteur and the work that he manages to create then you are most assuredly going to cherish and embrace with open arms I’m Thinking Of Ending Things. I say that because here is a film which is a brilliant showcase of just what strengths this truly iconic film auteur does as well as few others in the business do whilst also wrapping itself around you as you attempt to use your little grey cells as one of my favorite detectives is prone to calling them to figure everything out. More than that however, this is a truly exemplary movie that, even with the caveat of additional viewings being a requirement, is one that, in a year that has been the very definition of topsy-turvy if not downright uncertainty, will be seen as one of its finest cinematic offerings. On a scale of 1-5 I give I’m Thinking of Ending Things a solid 3.5 out of 5.