I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Writer: Charlie Kaufman, Iain Reid, based on Iain Reid’s book of the same title.
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd, Hadley Robinson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/9/20
Opens: September 4, 2020
A surreal film associated with Charlie Kaufman’s wild imagination comes from a director whose “Anomalisa” hones in on a man who cannot continue tolerating his mundane life, whose “Synecdoche New York” find a man’s creating a life-size warehouse of New York City, and whose script for “Being John Malkovich” lauds a puppeteer who finds a portal leading into the head of the title actor. All are works of a fervent imagination, but perhaps no other film of his has issued such a large amount of moviegoer puzzlement than “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.”
With that as the case, here is a disclaimer. This is my interpretation, one that may be attacked by critics and normal people as too easy; that Kaufman must be traveling a larger road.
Here is a way to think about the picture. Many say that folks on their deathbeds asked for their regrets will never say “I wish I had more time to spend in the office.” Real regrets are far more serious, as illustrated by this film. Here, an elderly janitor (Guy Boyd), a man who is surprisingly well read for someone in his low-skilled trade, may be facing his mortality. He puts down the mop, casts aside the pail, and, being the only character in the hallway of a large high school, he has the time to reflect.
Some of his regrets may be strictly a segment of his imagination. I believe that, allowing for some embellishment, his thoughts run to actual events in his life, something like those of Guido Anselme in Federico’s 1963 classic “8 ½” who retreats into his memories and fantasies. In his younger days he probably dated a number of women, all of whom congeal into the shape of Lucy (Jessie Buckley), or Lucia, or Young Woman. To prove that she is a composite, she is introduced as a painter, a poet, a physicist. The janitor, now in the guise of young Jake (Jesse Plemons), is driving his girlfriend Lucy to the farmhouse of his parents, Mother (Toni Collette) and Father (David Thewlis). It’s a long drive, it’s snowing heavily, the wind is biting. It’s the kind of night that may be part of Jake’s imagination, because what woman is willing to take her chances in such inclement weather when the trip could have been set for another day? What’s more, this may be the last time Lucy sees Jake, her boyfriend for only a few weeks, though he is a man who is mostly self-educated as shown by the books and movies in his childhood room. He is able to discuss Wordsworth and analyze any 19th century poem.
She is smart and well educated, able to respond to him. You might think, then, that they would wind up marrying but though Lucy sees Jake properly as an intelligent person, a nice guy, he is stiff, a bore, a man who probably could not see himself laughing out loud at a joke or telling one himself. Furthermore Jake’s folks are a bizarre couple. Mother laughs too loud and too long. Lucy reports that “Jake told me a lot about you.” She replies, “And you’re willing to come anyway Ha ha ha ha!” Father takes a lesser role in the conversations but like Mother, he disappears into old age and back again, while Mother in one scene is on her bed, wrinkled, taking her last breaths or already dead.
Since much of the movie is a road trip filled with both high-level and vapid conversation, we get to meet three women tending an ice cream bar, two bimbos and one who advises Lucy to “go forward.” In a scene near the conclusion, Jake is thanking everyone in a theater audience for being part of his life, including Lucy, above all, who now appears decades older, and even the bimbos from the ice cream shop are in attendance.
Some moviegoers might say, if this is a dream, I can tell you a weird one I had myself last night. But though fantasies hover around the truths, these are actual people in his life, important ones, also those he conversed with for only minutes. However, what makes “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” on a quality level of classics like “8 1/2” aside from the script, the prescient editing, the spot-on direction, is the performance of Jessie Buckley, who dazzles throughout in this too-short, 135-minutes’ drama. She has wowed the movie audience playing Queen Victoria with authenticity in Stephen Gaghan’s “Doolittle,” a troubled woman controlled by her family while at the same time fascinated by a man who could be a killer in Michael Pearce’s “Beast,” and a major role in Rupert Goold’s “Judy.” Her dynamic range includes song, as shown in Tom Harper’s “Wild Rose,” as a Glaswegian dreaming of becoming a country music star in Nashville.
With such talent all around, it’s no wonder that “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is my choice, so far, as best movie of the year, with Buckley as best actress.
134 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – B+
Overall – A