One has to agree that art movies are influential. Regardless of how many times you have seen your favorite blockbuster movie, there is an epicity to art films that allow you to experience something scarce. Not always understandable, but forever a subject to be studied. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is one helluva arty film that first envelopes you in its artistic beauty and novel storytelling, but once you are onboard, it spins your mind in ways that you won’t like.
Directed by Charlie Kaufman, the revered auteur whose art I have only savored once (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), he is truly a maven to admire. There is immense beauty to how he harmonizes the sound and the visuals. I’m Thinking of Ending Things begins in such a poetic way that you cannot help but immerse yourself into the narrative. The 4:3 aspect ratio gives a beautiful quality to the snowy landscapes and the astonishingly arresting faces of the lead actors.
Based on Ian Reid’s book of the same name, the story is of Jake (Jesse Plemons) and her girlfriend (Jessie Buckley). The pair has been in a relationship for a couple of months. However, there is something very offputting about them. “I’m thinking of ending things…” contemplates the woman, multiple times, particularly when she hops in her boyfriend’s car, en route to meet his parents. Her boyfriend asks what she said, implying he may have sensed her thoughts, but she fails to churn those words out of her mouth. She dwells and dwells further in her perplexing, forlorn sentiments.
We see them make way to the farmland, under thick snowfall, in a very three-dimensional fashion. Their ride lasts unhurriedly for nearly 20-minutes of runtime, as they have general conversations about life, culture, and their daily endeavors. Movies were filmed previously inside a vehicle (Locke, Wheelman) for their entirety, but none was reliant on dialogues and true-to-life conversations. I’m Thinking of Ending Things provides a unique experience altogether.
Like real conversations, there are long silences in between, when we only hear the sounds of the tires and the windscreen wipers unclogging the snow. Their faces, however, continue to emanate emotions that upholds your attention. It is a testament to remarkable filmmaking and phenomenal acting that wholly transports you to the given scenery.
Once they reach their destination and the genitors show up (two powerhouse actors – Toni Collette and David Thewlis), the story suddenly shifts to the fourth gear. Dramatic tension registers as Jake’s weirdo parents create a very uncomforting atmosphere. A brilliant dinner table conversation puts you on the shoes of his girlfriend as she tries to put herself together among the erroneous appearance of events.
It is another elongated act that provides excellent room for the characters to become fully developed. Both Toni Collette and David Thewlis give sensational performances as they creep you out without anything phantasmic. The exchanges remarkably engage you while Jesse Beckley’s acting simply mesmerizes. It is an Oscar-worthy performance, and her work alone warrants a viewing.
However, from this point onward, the narrative quickly goes into a tailspin as a plethora of surreal stuff happens, which creates a lot of confusion.
Who is who, what is real, what is not, what is the motive of the story – there is a lot you get caught up to.
As an actual art film, nothing gets spoon-fed to you. The only option you are left with is to stay with the narrative, trying to demystify its true meaning while unfolding additional multivalent scenes that screw with your mind.
And it is only by the end of it, the oddball climax when you understand the story’s actual implication. It is 100% arty-farty, as you can imagine, and you will despise it if such a cinema agitates you. Otherwise, you will admire its originality and sheer magnificence in bringing together all the pieces of information you have been collecting. And even if you fail to make sense of the film, you will be spellbound by its fantabulous cinematography and incredible acting that connects with you on many levels.
The film has a small cast – merely eight characters – or five if I exclude the brief appearance of three girls working at the Dairy Queen. And each character remains in your memory for a long time. Guy Boyd, as the Janitor, notably is marvelous and leaves a very lasting impression. You will be all praises for his brilliant performance once you experience the film. But patience is what you will require to sit through the film’s over-stretched scenes, which all happen to be in the second half.
I may alter my complaint regarding the said scenes, knowing I have only seen the film once, and the ultimate realization of the story may change my perspective. But a repeat viewing only happens once a viewer is fully satisfied with the first. And I’m Thinking of Ending Things is painstakingly slow in the final act.
There is a lengthy exchange between Jake and his girlfriend that bores the crap out of you.
This entire scene is, once again, set inside the car. However, this time, the pair stop by multiple times, and it clocks for a crazy 30-minutes. Following the meeting with Jake’s parents, you will be left with many questions, and the bulk of the exchange between the pair doesn’t help you get them.
I strongly feel some of the dialogues could have been cut, which would have avoided this well-intended scene to become an endurance test.
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It is a massive bump in an otherwise gripping and artistically wondrous film that mars its greatness by a substantial margin. The ending is audacious and as memorable as the first hour, but it doesn’t redeem the momentum lost in the mentioned snail-paced trip in the snow.
Those who admire Kaufman may find this sequence subtle, but it will likely be a fast-forwarding spree for others.
Nevertheless, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a mostly gratifying experience. It is a weird, albeit visually stunning psychological trip that makes you miss going to the cinemas and renders a worldly message of what it feels to be alone and unhappy.
Even if it is not your cup of tea, I recommend that you see it. There is an inimitable artistic quality to it, which is rarely found in the commercial movie spectrum. And considering its open to multiple interpretations, you might love it more than I did.
Rating: 3 / 5
Have you seen I’m Thinking of Ending Things? If yes, what is your review of the film? Share your opinion below in the comments section.