Review: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is distressing but brilliant

As the weather gets colder, many couples become inclined to stay inside and snuggle together with a warm, romantic flick about the beauty of life as we know it. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is not one of those movies.

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” released on Netflix in early September, is written and directed by Charlie Kaufman. Based on the 2016 book by Iain Reid, the story is a psychological drama that comments on such profound themes of time, memory and the human experience. At its surface, the film follows a young woman accompanying her new boyfriend to see his parents at their secluded farm in a blizzard. 

Kaufman has written celebrated mind-benders “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation.,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Synecdoche, New York,” also directing the last.

Jessie Buckley plays the young woman, a learned student passionate about art across different mediums. Jesse Plemons plays her boyfriend Jake, a socially-awkward but opinionated man bent on maintaining their relationship. From some of the first lines of the movie, the young woman (and later the audience) struggles to see why the two are together.

Once they arrive at the house, both Toni Collette and David Thewlis turn in chilling performances as Jake’s parents. At first, the audience may recognize the inelegance that might come from meeting a partner’s parents for the first time. However, identification with the characters does not last long, as logic soon escapes as the plot lurches forward.

Including elements of horror and surrealism akin to the twisted style of David Lynch, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is an unsolvable puzzle, with pieces floating in and out of time with nothing quite fitting together. That being said, it is a thought-provoking discussion about life’s meanings (or lack thereof), explicitly shown by long conversations between the two leads driving through the blizzard.

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” may have absolutely no comfortable moments for some viewers, however, it may also be the most satisfying cinematic experience of the year at the same time. It is impossible to clearly navigate the events of this film, as characters completely transform into personalities they were not at the beginning of a scene, all of which feel a bit too long by design.

What begins as a confusing, cold experience ends with piqued curiosity and the urge to rewatch. Kaufman has been known for pushing the boundaries of how to tell stories on the big screen, and “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” does just that.

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