“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions. Their lives a mimicry. Their passions a quotation.”
The wind’s chiming as I type these words. I hear the chilly hiss just outside the window pane, more devilishly beckoning than it is calming or soothing. It’s below freezing and the spirals of snowflakes outside give each ice crystal a little bit of singularity and an assuring uniqueness, so visually similar to a swirling scourge of thirsty mosquitoes. The same seems to go for a Young Woman (a truly astonishing Jessie Buckley), standing in the street like a child in a schoolyard trying to catch a flake on her tongue. She’s waiting for her basement narcissist boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to pull up and make the drive to his parents’ farmhouse. But there’s something immediately so wrong about this story, and everything so obviously right about this film. i’m thinking of ending things is meticulous, a bit misanthropic, intentionally mucky. And it’s an absolutely hypothermic, IcyHot masterpiece.
Jake and the woman soon become, quite appropriately, two talking heads on a dark and desolate road to nowhere, conversating about history, musicals, poetry, science. All the many things that interest him, all of which she somehow specializes in. Her professions change as often as her wardrobe and accent, and i’m thinking of ending things daringly spends nearly 20 minutes in this stunted and transportive dreamy state early on, using a vehicle to literally drive deeper and dive further into the mechanics of the picture’s precise yet unnerving tone. There are rooms and spaces to be walked and cleaned in this metaphorical memory, and it’s undoubtedly shaped and shifted by external forces of nature, as is clear once they arrive and come inside. These walls talk more than they should though. They practically cry for help.
A quick tour of the desolate farm – to see the frozen sheep, to look at the blood stains from the maggot infested pig – makes the wallpapered interiors of the home all the more inviting, even if they do ultimately become more unsettling. Jake’s manic Mother (Toni Collette) is over the moon to meet his girlfriend while his flippant Father (David Thewlis) offers Joe Schmo quips but little intellectual insight or any interest in things lingering below surface level. They change clothes, ages, personalities over the course of this uncharted meet and greet (with Oscar worthy costuming / makeup & hairstyling), only further confounding the Young Woman and challenging her grip on reality. i’m thinking of ending things might sound confusing, and while certainly structured in a way that’s never motivated to appease audience expectations, it’s also a carefully trimmed hedge maze full of tchotchke details that serve as directional arrows to the ultimate exit. It’s all there hiding for you in plain sight. You just have to be willing to dig, to observe, to listen and look.
Brilliantly adapted by writer/director Charlie Kaufman from Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, and so painstakingly edited together by Robert Frazen, i’m thinking of ending things flashes between two timelines, one with infinite possibilities and the other hampered by the finite restrictions of reality. Everything for Jake is fluid, lucid, flexible depending on his mood. Interspersed throughout are shots of a Janitor (Guy Boyd) roaming the halls of the school he cleans, mumbling unintelligible words under his breath. He’s sad, lonely, and so clearly disillusioned with himself. Many of his moments are tied to Jakes; it is no coincidence that Jake refers to a pair of slippers as “mis zapatillas” minutes after the Janitor cleans a Spanish classroom. They’re connected in some way, and while it may be too obvious to the average cinephile, the film still manages to stoke intrigue and genuine consternation. It also helps that Jay Wadley’s fairy tale score only further enhances the atmospheric qualities of the picture.
As a schizophrenic soliloquy trying to make sense of a total dissociation from any semblance of reality, the film explores the confines of interior spaces. Cars, homes, schools. The traps of the pivotal places which form our inner trappings. As is the case with every Kaufman picture, that space is the head, and even more specifically the health of the psyche. i’m thinking of ending things is a war film which takes place in a fractured identity, with an embattled mind constantly fighting between wanting to wave a white flag while accepting the title or forcefully trudging farther into the storm until there’s no looking back or forward or around. Until you’re simply stuck, engulfed, and entombed by cold sadness. By a sad life gone unfulfilled. By the horrors of saying “what if?” one too many times. These emotions are amplified by the cinematography from Lukasz Zal, whose 4:3 aspect ratio forces the audience to focus in on the frame. It’s like when you’re late for work on a wintry day and only have enough time to chip away a small spot on the windshield; shrinking the image enhances our attention on the blurry, fuzzy narrative unfolding in front of us.
i’m thinking of ending things navigates neurosis and baseless realities laden with false hopes, wishes, dreams. There, in deep retrospection, might we dwell on some kind of self-preservation. To create a head space where the “coulda, shoulda, woulda” gets a garden to root. This is a conscientiously crafted, written, performed and directed piece of work, and one of the decade’s first masterpieces. I’d say that i’m thinking of ending things borders on being infectious, hostile, and even exactingly impersonal if it weren’t so heartbreakingly beautiful and vulnerably human. It’s one of the few films that not only demands multiple viewings, but actually rewards the audience for putting in the time and effort of doing so. It offers plenty of serious commentary on society’s unhealthy appetite for and dependence on art, and the striking sendoff resonates. An earlier scene sparked conversation between folks who couldn’t see themselves in a landscape portrait, let alone consider the interiority of the work. i’m thinking of ending things uses surrealism to tell its suicidal story, to bravely walk flickering corridors dimmed by dementia, and gives the audience a final image in which they can finally see themselves on the canvas. Or perhaps, on an even higher level, be the one doing the looking and the painting. That’s the real power of gripping art.
“It’s good to remind yourself the world’s larger than the inside of your own head.”
Rating: 5 out of 5