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I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Year: 2020
Production Co: Likely Story
Studio: Netflix
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis

It was a given I’d watch this, having come from the mind of the guy who wrote my favourite movie of the 2000s, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I was slightly less interested in the premise, of a woman in a new relationship who's already having second thoughts about it. Jessie Buckley is the unnamed protagonist, a quirky Brooklyner who tells us via a voiceover that she's already unsure about her new boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons), even though she's waiting for him to pick her up so she can go and meet his parents for the first time on their remote farm.

She's quiet and a little bit tousled, he's serious and seems pretty conservative, even exuding a slight air of menace. Their conversation in the dark, forbidding and snowy car trip on the way veers between breezy and casual to stilted and slightly fearful, but in short order they arrive at his folks where Kaufman's narrative and visual off-kilter styles start to take flight.

Jake's mother (Toni Collette) is ditzy, friendly and slightly nervy. His Dad (David Thewlis) has a slightly leery, too-interested quality. Even stranger, Jake is evidently irritated by everything his parents say, slamming the table in a temper at one point and making everyone jump.

You've got no idea why there's such familial discord there and you never find out. It's one of the less-outlandish motifs Kaufman employs to convey a mood more than tell a story (as things progress, they get far more outlandish).

The never-named hero wants to get back on the road because she has to work early the next day, but Jake's family home becomes a surreal nightmare, and as soon as it appears the woman is in some sort of time/space paradox (or maybe she's just fallen asleep in the car and this is all an elaborate nightmare), you realise you're leaving whatever straight track the plot was heading down.

As Jessie makes her way around the house to try and find Jake, his parents show up as much older version of themselves, his mother infirm and needing constant care, his father far more sympathetic to the hero's plight in worrying about the way Jake's behaving.

They get back on the road, stop at a highway-side ice cream parlour run by two young women who knew Jake at school and still titter behind their hands at him and get back in the car. Jake then insists on taking a detour to his old high school, and as soon as they pull up and he gets out of the car to go inside and look around, Kaufman drops any pretence that he's interested in showing you where this is going.

From the janitor working at the high school we've seen snippets of throughout the film to the animated pig walking through the halls, the movie goes full Lynch.

How much you respond to it will depend completely on which camp you usually fall into with movies like this. Many will be frustrated at the apparent intent to from one unsolvable/unsolved riddle after another, some deeper metaphorical point buried so far down you need to excavate (rewatch the film six times) to reach it.

At one point, while discussing a movie, the woman's half of the conversation is comprised entirely of Pauline Kael's written review of it. Every time she sees the family dog around the house it's shaking itself off, as if it's just come in from the storm. She's repeatedly warned not to go into the basement. Portents and omens come into focus like cars skidding into a freeway pile-up, none of them ever leading anywhere except to the next weird idea.

If you're less interested in narrative and get more from image and emotional mood (again, to invoke Lynch, if you're a fan of his), you'll consider it expertly made. There's no doubting Kaufman's chops as a director, it's just that when he's writing but not directing he's much more interested in telling an accessible story with weird affects rather than just drawing metaphor and parable. In films he directs like Synedoche, New York and this one, he's aiming for something else entirely.

It's undeniably Kaufman the auteur, but I wanted to like it more than I did.

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