I'm Thinking of Ending Things is about... well, that's a pretty loaded explanation. I'll stick to the opening premise. I'm Thinking of Ending Things is about a young woman who is driving with her boyfriend, Jake, to visit his parents. Though, she feels awkward taking this step with him, the woman, who is called by many different names and is only credited as Young Woman, is contemplating whether or not she should break things off with Jake. When they finally reach the house, there's something off she can't quite put her finger on that distracts from her desire to end things. The film stars Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd, Abby Quinn, and Oliver Platt. The film is written and directed by Charlie Kaufman.
As I struggled at the top to describe this existential horror film, I struggle to come up with a reason to like it. The story plays on memory. It hinges on the reminiscing of the man, Jack, while attempting to put us in the shoes of the unnamed Young Woman, which is a disconcerting place to be in because she has no idea what's really going on and she has little will to figure it all out. The Young Woman seems unperturbed at times by the shifting surroundings in Jack's childhood home. The Young Woman is also not real. She's an amalgam, a woman who is alternately and simultaneously a poet/physicist/artist/waitress/film critic.
This is the strangest part of the storytelling for me. Why center a character who is so much an abstract and ultimately a construct of the true main character? Even as she figures out the nature of her existence in that world, she immediately drops the concept. She's attempting to escape this loop, this conjured reality, but she's not trying very hard at all. There's nothing she's fighting against because she's not real. She even slips into the erudite, incomparable persona of film critic Pauline Kael without missing a beat or commenting on the strangeness of the situation.
If Kaufman is going to attempt an alternate examination of material he's already tread, why would he choose a source text with none of his charm? Kaufman's script for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York revolve around these ideas of idealized memory and life examination from an outside perspective and they do it with far more clarity of purpose and a commentary on the oddity that is the reality in which the characters find themselves. The metatextuality of Kaufman's script for Adaptation also contains similar themes and elevated thought, but this film fails to move completely into its premise. This film is devoid of Kaufman's skewed, but ever present humanity. I'm Thinking of Ending Things, is missing any charm or whimsy, but it's also missing all it needs to shift into the horror film it desperately wants to be.
There is one scene that nearly saved the film for me. It happens near the end. The Young Woman and Jake are in the abandoned high school and in a movement, they are replaced by a pair of dancers. The sequence gets more elaborate with the couple working out courtship, marriage, love, betrayal, and the death of the relationship. It's an elegantly crafted sequence and reminds me of how much I was sighing at the bland story and music of the classic, An American in Paris, but perked up at the awesome power of that film's final, dialogue free dance sequence. Yet, like with An American in Paris, I wish I'm Thinking of Ending Things had nothing after its sequence. It was the only sequence in the film that really made me feel anything.
The film features a performance by our new scream queen, Toni Collette. Collette is firing on every cylinder she has. The lopsided, dreamworld she inhabits within Jake's childhood home gives her beautifully off kilter performance a perfect setting. She takes over every scene she's in and makes you want to watch more. Collette's scene partner David Thewlis is also teetering toward a fabulously off kilter presence.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things is absolutely Kaufman lite. It has the DNA buried deep within it, but it fails to make a commitment. It teeters on several cliffs, but never plunges. There are a ridiculous amount of endless scenes of the two main characters in the car, which I might have enjoyed if there was something interesting to look at, but there's not. I would have appreciated more if the film could have leaned into the horror genre it kept teasing us with. Unless you have two plus hours of extra life, maybe skip this one and revisit the many brilliant films that have been previously made out of Kaufman's original ideas.