“It’s like a therapy session for the viewer, the characters, and the writer. Kaufman’s signature internal monologue is fully on show, giving events a dreamscape quality that keeps you guessing for better or worse.”
Writer and Director: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jessie Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Taking the directorial reigns for the fourth time in his career, Charlie Kaufman turns to Netflix for his latest feature project; I’m Thinking of Ending Things. based on the Iain Reid novel of the same name. Jessie Buckley takes the lead as an anxious young woman who agrees to visit her boyfriend’s parents at their secluded farmhouse. Along the way, she begins to question her own ideas of her partner, as she slowly comes to realise more about his past.
And how does that make you feel?
As with any Kaufman project, there’s a lot to digest and dissect some of it interesting, some of it not so much. Buckley’s character has no name and is simply referred to as Young Woman in the credits. We follow her as she takes the long road trip with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to Oklahoma. Kaufman allows us to witness large chunks of their trip, and gain an insight into the Young Woman’s thoughts as she weighs up her relationship with Jake. It’s an intriguing sequence, as we watch conversations played out in full, moving organically between seemingly meaningless observations to moments of existential crisis and philosophical debate – classic Kaufman. All the while giving the audience access to how The Young Woman perceives her surroundings. It’s like a therapy session for the viewer, the characters, and the writer. Kaufman’s signature internal monologue is fully on show, giving events a dreamscape quality that keeps you guessing for better or worse.
Letting the moment play out
Kaufman plays with time and pace from the start, letting scenes naturally unfold and then skipping at random moments with seamless transitions and camera pans. Conversations and sequences are used to mask the transition of time, in which the location remains the same but minor details change. It’s subtle at first but gathers momentum as events unfold. The introduction of Jake’s parents is a key moment, and Kaufman builds towards it masterfully. We watch as Jake shows his girlfriend around his childhood home, waiting for his parent’s arrival. Kaufman plays the scene out with minimal cuts and lots of awkward pauses. It’s a scene that works really well, creating apprehension between the two main characters, whilst introducing a key location. When Jake’s parents finally do show up, it’s worth the wait because things begin to take a turn, and you start to notice how askew this world really is.
It’s not always what you think it is
There’s a concerted effort to make sure the audience notices the most minor of details. Everything is brought to focus, objects, settings, and character reactions are over-emphasised, forcing you to question whether they are significant to the moment. It’s all very nuanced. Moments of dread and paranoia quickly turn into moments of laughter and joy. You think you’ve acclimatised to the tone, and then it pulls the rug from beneath you. Kaufman consistently draws your attention to the subjectivity of events and ponders how the brain “tinges” our experiences. This isn’t initially obvious and only becomes more apparent through character dialogue.
“We’re coloured by mood, by emotion, by past experience. There is no objective reality. You know there’s no colour in the universe right? Only in the brain, electromagnetic frequencies. The brain tinges them.”
Every Frame a Painting
It’s like an interactive play, set in a 4:3 viewing box. The choice of this aspect ratio gives the film a sense of being even further removed from our reality as if it were a film within a film, adding to its dreamy nature. Equally the set design and costumes are wonderfully crafted, adding to the film’s play-like quality, and works perfectly alongside cinematographer Lukasz Zal’s vivid visual choices. Each shot is framed by the reduced aspect ratio and presented as a work of art.
A cast with real range.
The cast is perhaps the strongest aspect of this film. Small in number but mighty in talent. Each demonstrates their range throughout, making it difficult to pick a stand-out performance amongst them. Toni Collette is the gift that keeps on giving, whilst David Thewlis gives a theatrical performance that fits the tone of the film. Jessie Plemons continues to show why he caught our attention in Breaking Bad, initially giving a nuanced and understated performance that expands as events unfold. Jessie Buckley once again proves why she’s building such a strong following, and this role showcases the understanding she has of her craft as well as her ability to make something out of nothing. This is a film that constantly shifts in tone, and the cast seamlessly shifts with it making it hard to look away for even a moment.
If you’re a fan of Kaufman’s work then you have some idea of what to expect from I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and likely you’ll enjoy the film or gain some greater insight from its’ messages and intellectual conversations. There’s a fair amount of self-indulgence along the way and the plot is used more as a framework for grander ideas than a logical linear story that you can follow coherently. Lukasz Zal’s visual style works perfectly to incapsulate Kaufman’s off-centre ideas, bringing life to his complex themes and the inner psychology of his characters. The cast is top-draw, and they all manage to effortlessly shift their performances in time with the fluid tone of the film. For many, this won’t be enough to warrant a runtime over the 2-hour mark, for a film that asks more of its audience than they may be used to. For those that are willing, they will find an intriguing film with an artistic flair and some strong performances, but one that perhaps loses its way further down the line.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is now streaming on Netflix UK*