Despite second thoughts about their relationship, a young woman (Jessie Buckley) takes a road trip with her new boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to his family farm. Trapped at the farm during a snowstorm with Jake’s mother (Toni Collette) and father (David Thewlis), the young woman begins to question the nature of everything she knew or understood about her boyfriend, herself, and the world.
You may read that synopsis for Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things and think that it sort of sounds like a movie that’s been done a million times. It seems like a generally simple plot, but I assure you – the eighth film from the highly acclaimed filmmaker is not only the best film of the year but one of my personal favorite movies since Ari Aster’s Midsommar.
Kaufman is a director that is widely known for crafting some of the most insanely dark and bizarre films out there, which, to me, feels like an understatement. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is definitely trippy and makes you look upon your life in a totally different way after watching it and Synecdoche, New York is definitely one to make you wonder as well, but I’m Thinking of Ending Things just may be his strangest movie to date.
Going into this film, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know who was in it or what it was about. All I saw regarding this movie before I went ahead to watch it was the official poster. That’s it. If you haven’t yet seen any trailers for the film and are curious to check it out – keep it that way. This is one-hundred percent a movie that is best experienced if you don’t know anything about it.
So many people are going to watch I’m Thinking of Ending Things and say that, in the grand scheme of things, nothing happened. It’s absolutely not a film that was designed for mainstream audiences to enjoy. If you are just a casual moviegoer, you will more than likely hate Kaufman’s newest project, but if you are willing to sit back and watch a thriller that is almost unbearably uncomfortable, you’re in for a treat.
Even though the film is insanely difficult to fully understand and examine, it’s so much fun to try to put these puzzle pieces together. The tension in this film is unbelievably strong. There is one scene, in particular, involving a family dinner that was easily the most suspenseful scene of the whole year, and really, when you boil it down, it’s just people talking to each other at a dinner table. But what makes it so unnerving and borderline frightening to watch is Kaufman’s excellent directing. He feels in complete and total control the entire time and really places you into this world that you’re not sure of what’s going on inside.
In the beginning, things feel rather simple as we watch Jessie Buckley’s character get picked up by her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to drive down to meet his family. What ensues from this point onwards is a twenty-five-minute unbreaking scene of the two of them having a semi-awkward conversation with one another which really sets the tone and the atmosphere for the rest of the journey ahead. The film fools you by making you think that it’s going to be relatively simple and perhaps a little bit creepy, but that’s it. That’s what I thought during the first act, but I was dead wrong. This is the most stress-inducing movie since the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems.
Even scenes where our lead characters just go to get ice cream late at night are filled with a sense of unease and impending doom. You really get the feeling that something extremely bad is going to happen just around the corner and it’s a testament to how masterful Kaufman is at his craft. It’s also due to the absolutely mesmerizing performances from everybody really, but mainly Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons.
The two of them are incredibly nuanced and quiet in their roles and together, they deliver the two best performances of the year so far. Buckley’s character always feels like the odd-one-out. While she is meeting Jake’s family, she always feels like an outsider, and like she isn’t necessarily welcomed, for reasons that she can’t really think of. Her character is so real and so grounded that, at times, I genuinely forgot I was watching somebody acting. Plemons’ character Jake feels somewhat like a ticking time tomb at times. He is, for the most part, a relatively calm and collected man, but he gives off a feeling of creepiness that lingers throughout the entire movie. The small things he does throughout the running time greatly adds on to the uncertainty of his character.
When you boil it down, everybody in the film feels a tad bit uncertain. The screenplay here is one of the most impressive in years. The direction the film eventually took shocked me and left me in a state of confusion and paranoia in all the best ways. The final hour of I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a riveting and beautifully bizarre descent into madness and will leave you wanting to rewatch the film numerous times over just to fully understand it. That’s what I may do. When a movie is this good, sometimes, you just can’t help yourself.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the best movie of the year so far. It’s a quiet but ever-so chaotic descent into madness and is yet another beautifully bizarre film from the twisted mind of Charlie Kaufman.
Overall Grade: A+
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: September 4, 2020
Running Time: 134 minutes