"Everything is the same when you look close enough."
She is thinking of ending things. Whatever her name is. Lucy? Louisa? The details of her very existence change with the wind, which is hollowing thanks to an impending blizzard set to descend upon her and her boyfriend Jake - always Jake - as they set off on a quick road trip to visit his parents at their lonely, deserted farmhouse. The pair have only been dating for about seven weeks. Or is it six? Like the Young Woman (Jessie Buckley), we'll say seven. But seven weeks can be its own version of forever. At least forever enough to get the feeling that the real forever isn't a realistic possibility.
In more ways than one, Iain Reid's 2016 novel "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" is a piece of literature that beckons the handling of cinematic mastermind Charlie Kaufman. An unusually intense look at the fractured relationship between the life of the mind and the world that shapes it, the board concept is heavily rooted in Kaufman's known style and approach. The writer/director's decision to adapt the piece is a surprise to no one, though the final result will likely split his admirers.
In short, I'm Thinking of Ending Things is intentionally awkward and claustrophobic as it toys with your mental state, forcing you to question the validity of the story's events. A long, drawn-out car ride riddled with literary references showcases two people who equally rely on art sophistication to, in some distinct way, warrant the moment, thereby justifying their place within the confines of Jake's (Jesse Plemons) car.
It's a unique situation really, as the dialogue is both unnatural and forced, adding to the tension as a substantial amount of voiceover fills the audience in on the internal thoughts of our Young Woman. But even with our inside advantage, her inability to come to terms with her decision eventually exhausts our interest. Though that might have been the point, the constant question is distracting as the end seems more fact, not a result of reason.
On that same note, seem is a word you must often repeat when describing the film. Never entirely forthcoming, I'm Thinking of Ending Things lives within the world of assumptions while immersing itself in the art of time in a truly unusual way, most noticeably when the couple visits Jake's parents, where we witness them at different points in the aging process.
At one point, Jake's mother, played brilliantly by Toni Collette, is young and vibrant, whisking around the living room collecting childhood toys, while the next, she is strapped to a wheelchair, being fed mashed up food by her son. The same goes for Jake's father, who, in one instance, has dementia and a bandage on his forehead only to lose both moments later. It's equally fascinating and confusing as we witness the entire sequence through the Young Woman's eyes, made even more compelling by her inner reasoning for the visual change.
The car ride back, amid heavy snowfall and the loud, at time unpleasant bellowing of the car's windshield wipers, escalates the couples' interaction to a degree of unmistakable discomfort. Kaufman's fascination with the critique of the arts is featured heavily on the return trip as our Young Woman shows a keen sense of film criticism, particularly regarding her opposition of John Cassavetes's A Woman Under the Influence. The scene is impressive, if for no other reason than Buckley's precise delivery. Jake, working to be a gentleman, always agrees with his travel mate, though his occasional outbursts of anger and frustration make you question his cognitive mental state.
A quick stop off at an ice cream shop where a familiar face upsizes their order leads them to Jake's now deserted school. It is here that the film comes seemingly full circle, though many will have already pieced together the cutaway clues Kaufman provides throughout. And as our Young Woman continues to question the arts of time and the many states of being, you can't help but self reflect on your own purpose - even if it is all a bit extreme given the film's presentation.
In reality, few surprises lie within I'm Thinking of Ending Things. A decent though not profound reimagining of the highly praised novel successfully stands on its own merit, even if the film's individual parts prove better than its collective composition. Buckley's brilliant performance shouldn't go overlooked, especially given the range of emotions on display throughout. Smart, chilling, and thought-provoking, Kaufman is fine form, but this one is too convoluted to be considered one of his best.
*This film is streaming globally on Netflix.