“A screenplay is an exploration. It’s about the thing you don’t know. To step into the abyss.”Charlie Kaufman
I’m Thinking of Ending Things, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman and released on Netflix on September 4, is many things, but it is one thing especially—a step into the abyss.
The movie is ostensibly about a young woman who visits her boyfriend’s parents in rural Oklahoma during the dead of winter, yet, throughout the film, I wasn’t sure what was happening. There are strange noises, sudden shifts and contradictions in the lives of the characters, and a disregard for chronology or even the very idea of time itself within the movie. We see things that don’t make sense, and there’s no catch, no “it was all a dream!” It doesn’t make sense, yet on a certain level, it doesn’t have to.
The actors in the movie are, in short, terrific.joey kauffman ’23
The film is shot beautifully, and it feels as though meticulous effort went into each shot, line of dialogue, and plot point. However, the movie is startling; it doesn’t follow any formula or convention found in most films. There is no inciting incident, no climax, and no resolution. There are simply people—people who struggle, people who grow—but at their core, just people, not pawns in a story arc.
The actors in the movie are, in short, terrific. I almost didn’t notice the actors’ performances at all. Why? Because they didn’t feel like performances; they felt like life. This is much easier said than done. I’m sure many movies strive for authentic-feeling characters, yet few actors ever feel that way on screen. Toni Collette and David Thewlis, who play the parents in the film, portray strange characters themselves, yet they never feel overly dramatic or forced. Also, Guy Boyd, who plays the janitor, has a smaller role in the movie, yet he delivers a surprisingly emotional performance that strangely ties the film together.
The quote at the beginning of this review is from the BAFTA Screenwriters’ Lecture Charlie Kaufman gave in 2011. In that lecture, Kaufman talked about why he makes movies. “Say who you are. Really say it in your life and in your work,” Kaufman said. “Give that to the world rather than selling something to the world.” For better or worse, Kaufman says who he is in his work. His movies can be confusing, self-centered, and neurotic, but that’s because he is all of those things, as indeed all of us are.
In I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which Kaufman adapted from a novel of the same name by Ian Reid, Kaufman creates a story that is mercilessly tiring but is, in the end, a truly heartwarming and hopeful movie. He uses the cinematic landscape of a film—the camera movement, the music, the lighting—to evoke all that makes us human, creating a truly moving experience for the viewer that reminds us why movies are such a great platform to tell stories.
To those who are reluctant to watch a film described as tiring, I say give it a chance. Don’t judge it because it’s confusing. I’m Thinking of Ending Things, when all is said and done, is a beautiful work, and beauty doesn’t need to make sense to be true.