Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

Director/Screenwriter: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd
Genres: Drama, Comedy, Thriller
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references
Release Dates: 9/4/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 2h 14min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Where to Watch: Netflix
Oscar Nomination(s): Possible–Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design; Long-Shot–Picture, Actress (Buckley), Supporting Actress (Collette)

I’m thinking of ending things — and yes, it’s written this way, with no real capitalization — is a very difficult film to review. It’s one of those divisive movies that has devoted, passionate fans; those who detested it, for some reason or another; and those in-between, who feel as though it’s an expertly-made film featuring great performances that is too niche, too esoteric to be be praise-worthy. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the film, and it certainly has some amusing, laugh-out-loud, and otherwise entertaining moments; rather, there’s just too much work that needs to be done on the part of the audience in order to even have an inkling of what’s going on. And, I’ll admit, I needed to look on IMDb and listen to a podcast in order to get a better understanding of the film — and I’m no dummy. 

Honestly, sometimes I don’t mind watching movies that really make me think; that’s why I’ve enjoyed the films of Chris Nolan, although his latest, Tenet, was a bit too puzzling even for me. That said, I’m thinking of ending things is even more confusing, if that’s possible. I’ve heard that the film is more accessible for those who have read the book, which shouldn’t be a requirement for watching the movie. Film adaptations that are well-done shouldn’t require homework, just an open mind. And, while things do start to come together in the final act of the film, when you realize the essence of the story — which is open to interpretation, for sure — it’s too little, too late. 

That said, as I mentioned earlier, it is a very well-crafted film that cinephiles like myself can easily pick apart. Director Charlie Kaufman wrote the adaptation to Ian Reid’s novel, and put his own signature quirky spin on it. If you’ve seen any of his previous films, such as Anomalisa and Synedoche, New York, then you know his oeuvre has a distinct style (and frequently a very meta feeling). From the purposeful editing choices to the impressive cinematography, I’m thinking of ending things is truly a beautiful film. Kaufman surely knows exactly what he’s doing with every moment, character interaction, and line of dialogue. I only wish he’d made certain things clearer and more accessible. He has the ability to make a film that’s complex and brainy that is more understandable, as we’ve seen in his past work. 

I’ll avoid spoilers here, as I want people to see the movie and come up with their own opinions. (I will mention that there is a mid-credits scene that gives the story a cliffhanger-like ending). To focus on some of others aspects of the movie I liked, I can’t forget the outstanding work from both Jess(i)es here: Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons have seen their star rise in the last few years, although they’ve had limited opportunities in starring roles. (Buckey’s starring moment was in Wild Rose and Plemons’ in one of the best episodes of Black Mirror, The U.S.S. Callister). It’s wonderful to see what they do here, especially considering the heaviness and esoteric nature of the material. In a less-crowded year, I’d like to see them both obtain Oscar nominations, but that seems unlikely. 

I also need to shout out Toni Collette and David Thewlis is terrific supporting roles, as Plemon’s character’s parents. They both fully embrace their characters’ oddities, and make the best use of their fairly limited screen time. I actually wanted to see more of them, although their place in the story is deliberate. The scenes with the four actors are the best, in my opinion, and they be because they’re the least confusing. 

On another note, I’m not sure it was necessary to have two long, unbroken car scenes (with just Buckley and Plemons). The first one was long and drawn out enough to give us insight into the characters (although still puzzling), so the second one felt unnecessary, and maybe even pointless. 

I’m thinking of ending things is, at its heart, a story about death, longing, and relationships (or lack thereof). It’s actually quite sad, and not the comical film it appears to be in the trailer (although, as I mentioned, it is funny sometimes). I’m not sure I could watch it again, because it is so long and slow at times, but I’d be interested to see it with the knowledge of what it’s [supposedly] all about.