Charlie Kaufman. What an idea. The Oscar-winning writer has stamped his mark on Hollywood like no-one else in the last two decades, taking us on flights of fancy we never envisioned, and in ways, we had never even fathomed and for that, we should always be grateful. If we enjoy them or not is up to us as his complex, bewildering, and often unfathomable stories leave many scratching their heads as to what the hell just happened but for those that can
penetrate his strange worlds, wonders await and not least with his new film, which sees him adapting someone else’s work for the screen.
Said work is the novel by Iain Reid called I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a celebrated book from 2016 that was described by many as a psychological horror-thriller about a new couple and their road trip to meet the boyfriend’s parents for the first time. Think Midsommar in winter and you’re kind of on the right track, minus the blood and guts and bears. Anyhow, Kaufman’s film sticks with the premise: opening on a female-voiced narration that starts “I’m thinking of ending things”, the tones are those of Lucy (Jessie Buckley, magnificent), the new girlfriend of Jake (Jesse Plemons, equally magnificent) for whom she is about to go through the wintery conditions with to meet his parents for the first time.
The drive seems everlasting, meandering and winding through the snowy elements as they fill the time with talk of their relationship, their future life together, and the surrounding landscape. On and on through the white winter, they drive until eventually, they reach his childhood home and the warm embrace of both a softly heated house and Jake’s parents (a wonderfully eccentric Toni Collette and David Thewlis, both also on superb form). From there, everything – as you would expect – gets a little strange, a little surreal but also a little wonderful.
Entering into the labyrinth that is I’m Thinking of Ending Things you are immediately struck by its design and look. Fraught with intrigue and tension, it’s awash in brilliant colours and exceptional detail, with Kaufman and his collaborators Lukasz Zal, Robert Franzen, and Molly Hughes combining to create a beautiful yet haunting journey down the rabbit hole with each moment different from the last with spellbinding precision and strangeness as the
camera plunges turbulently yet delicately into this dense mystery.
Don’t let the psychological thriller or horror aspects put you off: sure, this is a sombre piece that tries to dissect the delicacies of human relationships, be they love, family, or friendship, how we interact and reflect on them in person and in our mind and the explosion of thought patterns therein. Kaufman, always fascinated with the human mind, delves deep again, asking us to look and feel deeper into our own psyche and that of others and ask what they are truly thinking; what bizarre yet wonderful concoctions of feelings, whether of pain, loss, anxiety, depression or life itself, are mixing together up there. All touchingly – and more importantly, impressively – brought to the screen in ways only said writer can.
Is it indulgent? Of course, and some of the sequences on show may struggle to resonate with the most ardent of fans but in there is a complex, moving and unforgettable story of, well, life and in Kaufman’s hands, it’s wholly and uniquely original. Couple that with four outstanding performances, with Buckley immeasurable exceptional throughout, and it’s one of the most extraordinary experiences of the year. It won’t be for everyone, but then does it really need to be?