The Daily Gamecock

Review: 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things' is 2020 brain teaser we need

Movie: "I'm Thinking of Ending Things"

Release Date: Sept. 4, 2020

Director: Charlie Kaufman

Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes

Genre: Drama, thriller

Rating: B+

Charlie Kaufman is one of the few cinematic voices we have right now that always seems to be reinventing the wheel when it comes to representing just how creative and imaginative you can make a story. With an impressive writing career that includes the likes of "Being John Malkovich"and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Kaufman's sheer artistic brilliance has been fully established on paper.

Now, "I'm Thinking of Ending Things," Kaufman's third work as a feature film director, is a great relationship drama that meditates on deeper levels of the human condition.

While the plot of "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" sounds simple, there's a lot of meat on its bones. Jake (Jesse Plemons) takes his unnamed girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) to meet his unnamed parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) on an isolated farm during a blizzard. From there, many wild and crazy events recontextualize everything that has previously taken place.

Although based on the novel of the same name by Iain Reid, Kaufman's style is alive and kicking in this movie. It marries quirky characters with an equally quirky story, a balancing act to say the least.

This is one of few Kaufman projects that focuses heavily on the dialogue rather than the story. While it can meander a bit, the conversations are fascinating on an intellectual and emotional front. The opening conversation on the way to Jake's parents' farm is fantastic, and they keep getting better, particularly about midway through when Buckley's character goes on a rant about the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" written by Frank Loesser.

"I'm Thinking of Ending Things" is stunning from a technical perspective. The set design of the house is a magnificent blend of tackiness (i.e. the wallpaper) and claustrophobia, putting the viewer into the mindset of Buckley's character.

The cinematography is also impressive. It was shot by Łukasz Żal, who has worked on films such as "Ida" and "Cold War." In the vein of those films, "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" paints a bleak and frosty portrait, representative of the doomed relationship at the heart of this movie. It's a chamber piece, but Kaufman shows off some neat directorial flourishes with a cool approach to mixed-media formats.

As for the meaning behind it all, it's not easily digestible in just one sitting. On the surface, it can be viewed as the souring of a relationship over a short period of time, but the main character is up for debate. Whether you view the movie from Buckley's character's point of view or Jake's, you're not wrong.

At the end of the day, it's a giant metaphor for crumbling relationships. Anxiety, consternation, blame and more make up the tension surrounding the main relationship. The visual representation remains just as abstract. It leaves the door wide open to interpretation.

Besides a few pacing issues and a heavy reliance on dialogue over story, "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" might be one of the most thoughtful films of the year. Kaufman recently stated that after the commercial disappointment of "Anomalisa," he "stopped caring" about directing, but hopefully he continues making strides to beef up his career. 

Kaufman's output of films is few and far between, but when they come out, it's always with a bang. The performances are wickedly good, the stories are mysterious and creative and the dialogue is profound and insightful. The phrase "put your thinking cap on" couldn't be more of a compliment in this case.