A road trip to meet a significant other's parents fractures the relationship and time itself.
Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Starring Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons
Review by Jon Kissel
I’m not going to pretend that I have much sense of what all of this film’s strangeness is for. I don’t even really know what’s happening. Kaufman’s two previous films, Synecdoche New York and Anomalisa, both started from a diagnosis of some perception-altering mental disease and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same held true here. Discussing David Foster Wallace so much tips what’s on Kaufman’s mind, as Wallace wrote a lot about the ability of culture, specifically television, to warp one’s perception of the world and what to expect from it. A lot of the film discusses the comfort of inertia instead of doing the hard thing, like the title suggests. The relationship between Jake and Lucy is no great thing as depicted, but it’s easier to be polite than it is to break it off. Whatever’s happening with time or with the janitor (Guy Boyd) is a mystery that would require repeat viewings.
Of all things to watch again, however, it’s hard to imagine returning to this. It’s not like there aren’t some pleasures to be taken from it. Buckley and Plemons are great considering all that is asked of them, and Toni Collette and David Thewlis as Jake’s parents are also delightfully weird. Both Jake and Lucy are interesting types, with her as a capable person across multiple disciplines and him as a reasonably competent man that’s still deeply affected by an unhappy childhood. It doesn’t hurt that I recognize a lot of what the film is talking about, making me feel like I might do alright at the Genus Edition of Trivial Pursuit. On the other hand, I can’t imagine how irritating the film would be without the small toeholds I was able to find for myself. This is a film that vacillates between total uncertainty of what’s going to happen next and impatience over when this or that interminable scene is going to end. Fascination and boredom live side-by-side here, and that combo is rare enough that it has to be seen to be believed.
If I had come across I’m Thinking of Ending Things during a period of time when I wasn’t experiencing a steadily declining attention span, I might think more highly of it. Instead, after six months of drastically reduced time in public and no theater screenings since March, I had a hard time getting through this brain teaser of a film. I don’t really go to movies for puzzles (see my impatience with Christopher Nolan exposition or my dislike of Primer), and this is a puzzle. As indulgent as this is, I don’t think Kaufman has it in him to make an actually bad film, but this is easily my least favorite of anything he’s put his name on. A little creative second-guessing can be a great thing. C+