By Nadia Dalimonte
Jessie Buckley in I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
Nothing is as it seems in writer-director Charlie Kaufman’s mind-bending new movie, I’m Thinking of Ending Things. The plot centers on a woman named Lucy (or is it Luisa?) who joins her new boyfriend, Jake, on a snowy road trip to meet his parents at their remote farm. Lucy (Jessie Buckley) is experiencing second thoughts about her relationship with Jake (Jesse Plemons). Deep down she already knows they are not going to last as a couple. As far as she’s concerned, this road trip will likely be the last time she’s in a car with him. Lucy is thinking of ending things. Deep down, perhaps Jake knows. Perhaps he’s known for as long as Lucy has.
The first chunk of the movie takes place inside this car on the ride to nowhere and, evidently, everywhere. From the very beginning, Kaufman plays on time, thoughts, and memories. He grapples with longing and regret in a way only he can, and yet it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Everything about this movie is unexpected. The screenplay weaves in and out of past, present, and future frames of the characters’ minds. As if to capture fleeting feelings in a bottle.
Lucy’s uneasiness only grows when she and Jake arrive at his parents’ farm house. Something’s just not right. There is a sense of fear mounting from the deliberately prolonged official entrance of mom and dad. We see a glimpse of mom (Toni Collette) waving through the window when the car pulls up. She keeps waving, more than one normally would, as if to say hello and goodbye within the same frame. In that one tiny moment, a testament to Collette’s talent, I just know she is cracking open the window just a sliver to say that something magnificent is coming. She’s terrific in this movie. Her performance gave me the feeling of journeying through time in someone else’s shoes.
Once Jake officially introduces Lucy to his mom, and dad (David Thewlis), there really is this feeling that the four of them somehow melt into one. As if they’re all sharing the same mind, which is reflected quite strongly in the dinner scene. One of the characters can’t be untethered without it affecting the others. Side note: dinner with Toni Collette sounds fun, doesn’t it? All the performances are pretty fantastic. Buckley is completely in control of and committed to her character, while also being able to throw that all away and give herself to the unexpectedness of her surroundings. Plemons plays someone who has a rollercoaster of a journey, and his performance certainly feels that way. Unassuming from the start, then slowly unravelling into territory where you don’t know what’s going to happen exactly. Thewlis does physicality well; I could feel the wears and tears of his life experiences in the way he carries himself, how he speaks and moves around.
Once dinner ends, and the snow keeps falling, and Lucy’s cell keeps ringing, and the uneasiness keeps growing, Lucy really needs to get back to the city. She’s told Jake countless times from the beginning that she had to get back home that night, in time for work the next morning. And then the movie takes another turn, and this time it’s absolutely bizarre. To say the least. Kaufman goes down a rabbit hole of warped time. I’m nowhere near close to understanding what I watched, and yet there is something about Kaufman’s narrator that pulls me in with a desire to rewatch and repeat the experience. There’s so much going on in this blend of fiction and non-fiction, of live action and animation. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an intriguing, head scratching, fill-in-the-blanks mind trip.