What to Watch Verdict
‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ holds nothing back as it plunges deep into the human psyche and refuses to leave the wrinkles of your brain.
💔Horror found in the banal through masterful editing.
💔Amazing performances, particularly from Jessie Buckley.
💔The third act is majestic, surreal, and heartbreaking.
💔It might take more than one viewing to fully parse what you just watched.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things has been marketed as a horror film, but I’m not sure that tells an entirely accurate reflection of what viewers have in store for them. Not because it doesn’t ultimately deal with some horrific subject matter but because Charlie Kaufman, true to his own unique style, has crafted a story that involves so much more.
Dread and terror might be the most generalized of emotions that are delivered through this story, but it’s also full of comedy, tragedy, animations and even its fair share of musical theater. While a lesser filmmaker might fumble such ambitions under the incongruous clashing tones and jarring transitions, Kaufman has crafted a film of awe-inspiring poetic majesty. The film holds nothing back as it plunges deep into the human psyche and refuses to leave the wrinkles of your brain.
A young woman (Jessie Buckley) is thinking of ending things with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) after about six weeks together. He’s driving them to visit with his parents, and the pair ruminate over shared points of their college education and philosophy as a snowstorm threatens to make it difficult for them to return home that evening. Meanwhile, for reasons not readily apparent, scenes of a high school janitor (Guy Boyd) going about his duties are crosscut into the conversation.
Mysterious janitor aside, I’m Thinking of Ending Things opens innocuously enough, though attentive viewers will start to notice strange oddities — like a tendency for Jake to respond to his girlfriend’s voiceover narration rather than what she’s saying out loud, or that the pair seem to have an eerily similar set of scientific reference points that they draw on, despite studying different subjects at school. Their conversation doesn’t so much feel like shared dissections of mutually appreciated works as cold recitations that show off their knowledge.
Then things get even stranger. You aren’t sure you even know Jessie Buckley’s character’s name and sure enough, it seems to change every few minutes. The editing feels disoriented and frantic, an astounding feat within the limited space of a car. Once the couple arrives at Jake’s parents’ house, everything about his mother (Toni Collette) and father (David Thewlis) feels more than a little off, not only in how they are completely socially inept but in how Jake suddenly seems like he wants to be anywhere but there. Continuity between shots and plot points starts to break down and the very reality you think you’re experiencing comes into question.
It’s an extremely unsettling experience to sit through, and it only becomes more intense as the film not only toys with your expectations of how that escalation will resolve but whether it will even escalate in the manner you're expecting. Throughout this existential journey, Collette and Thewlis are easily the show-stealers, swinging moods with vicious intensity. Plemons conveys a world-weary weight on his shoulders that belies much more than his college-boy persona would lead you to expect. It’s Buckley who deserves the most praise as a character who is simultaneously trapped in a world that makes less sense with each passing moment and yet is constrained by social convention.
The film’s third act fully manifests into the kind of genre-defying work we'd expect from Charlie Kaufman. It is a devastating ode to the fragility of memory, the pain of regret, the beauty of human connection and the power that stories hold over our lives. I suspect that many viewers will want to rewatch the film fairly quickly, to piece together the pieces of meta-narrative that are sprinkled all the way through and to make full sense of the vague ending. This even goes for readers of Iain Reid’s novel (from which this is adapted) as Kaufman’s liberties with the narrative provide some interesting wrinkles worth exploring. Even after one sitting, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a raw, emotional masterwork that cuts to the core of the human condition and leaves you pondering your priorities. Make sure you have some comfort food on hand for when the credits roll. You’re going to need it.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is available to stream on Netflix.
Leigh Monson has been a professional film critic and writer for six years, with bylines at Birth.Movies.Death., SlashFilm and Polygon. Attorney by day, cinephile by night and delicious snack by mid-afternoon, Leigh loves queer cinema and deconstructing genre tropes. If you like insights into recent films and love stupid puns, you can follow them on Twitter.