One of the most anticipated films of 2020 comes in the form of this psychological horror from the genius that is Charlie Kaufman. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Iain Reid with Kaufman adapting the screenplay and directing. Oscar-winning writer enlists Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons as the film’s leads following Buckley as a Young Woman who is hesitant with her new boyfriend, Jake (Plemons). In true Kaufman fashion, the dialogue is complex and layered as the Young Woman’s open voice over is interwoven into the discussions that she partakes in as though the other characters can hear her thoughts. The film takes place during a visit the Young Woman and Jake take to the latter’s parents and the impending mental breakdown that ensues when they are all trapped due to a snowstorm.
Jessie Buckley is brilliant as expected. Proving herself to be a true rising star in the acting game thanks to her turns in Beast (2017), Wild Rose (2018) and the TV drama Chernobyl (2019), Buckley shows off a flawless American accent as the Young Woman who descends into madness as she loses her grip on what she wants and what she should do with her life. Opposite Buckley is Jesse Plemons who has rapidly risen in the acting ranks in recent years. Known to most for his turn on the final season of Breaking Bad (2008-2013), Plemons has built a fantastic portfolio starring in films like The Master (2012) and Vice (2018). It’s refreshing to see both actors lead in a film that is reliant on their performances. The rapport between them is credit to the perfect casting and their ability to bounce off each other naturally despite the complexity of the writing.
In the supporting roles we have Toni Collette and David Thewlis as Jake’s parents who unsurprisingly bring phenomenal performances. Jake’s Mother is aloof and eccentric contrasted with his Father who is opinionated and direct. The casting again is top notch as it is great to see two relative newcomers and two acting veterans bouncing off one another and building onto the tension up to breaking point. Collette is flying high on a streak of brilliant roles she has taken in recent years including her lead performance in Ari Aster’s 2018 hit Hereditary and it’s nice to see Thewlis working with Kaufman again after playing the lead in the 2015 animated masterpiece, Anomalisa.
The dinner scene in which the new couple and the parents break the ice and get to know each other. What Kaufman has always been brilliant at is fleshing out his characters to a point where you know them but at the same time you don’t know everything about them. The characters cannot be fully trusted but because Kaufman writes it this way. These extra dimensions and layers allow the plot to naturally unravel. The film is directed from the Young Woman’s perspective so as she begins to doubt everything that happens, so does the audience. Its depiction of mental and emotional breakdown starts subtle but soon enough, the audience is thrust into a confusing narrative where stories change, the ages of characters change and even the protagonist’s name changes. The audience doesn’t truly know who the Young Woman is and so she could be any of these woman; a scholar, a waitress or an artist but her inner conflict in who she is and what she wants means that the uncertainties that unfold in Jake’s parents’ household are not as peculiar as it may seem.
Another unspoken aspect that is worth mentioning is the brilliant decision made to cut out music from the majority of it so the natural soundscapes provide the background noise. The opening piece composed by Jay Wadley is wonderfully intense underlying the horror aspects of the film as the Young Woman talks about her relationship and her outlook on life as a whole. The ballet sequence later in the film is driven by the musical narrative that Wadley composes and complimented the dancing perfectly.
Kaufman has knocked it out of the park again with his strong direction and distinctive writing and insight into the human condition. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is available on Netflix and I would definitely recommend giving it a watch. The ups and downs of the relationship is reminiscent of Kaufman’s screenplay for the 2004 film Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind while still remaining original and developing its own DNA. I wouldn’t be surprised to see I’m Thinking of Ending Things in discussion when it comes to awards season. Thrilling and indulgent, it is a film that demands to be watched more than once.
Have you seen I’m Thinking of Ending Things yet? Let me know what you think in the comments below!