A young woman is thinking of ending things.
Whatever there is between her and her boyfriend, at least.
They’ve been together for eight weeks now, but it feels longer than that. Yet they have no connection with one another. No spark. They’re competing Wikipedia articles going at it. Two acerbic conversation burrowing from one rabbit hole to the next.
He’s taking her to meet his parents, who live somewhere far enough that time itself becomes irrelevant. A snowstorm is coming. His parents are pleasant but intrusive. Their house is a mausoleum of missed opportunities and better days.
She’s thinking of ending things.
Time vexes Charlie Kaufman.
But more than time, he thinks about memory. How we lose ourselves to it, or don’t trust the personas we create. How memory is elusive, yet contains our shared reality. His previous film Synecdoche, N.Y., elegises the withering self. How we accept the fact that one day no one will remember us.
His latest is all about refusal. It’s about the past we can’t let go. The weight of memories that anchor us to a fixed point in time. How, eventually, entropy settles in the soul.
Eventually, memory, fantasy, and regret meld together. Thoughts escape like a flowing river. Love withers until its memory violently roars back. Names change mid-sentence as we forget those we’ve loved. Even as we vividly recall their scent. In Kaufman’s mind, our identity is more fragile than the crafted fantasy of personal memory.
It’s a film of conflicting emotion and unreliable logic. It asks for patience, understanding, and empathy. Not just for the art, but towards ourselves. Kaufman’s holds up a mirror, and loving the reflection is not always easy.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is self-centered the way someone with anxiety is self-centered. Not intentionally malicious, but it is tiring. Self-doubt and self-pity flow together from painfully sad to unbearably obnoxious. It’s a storm without a center.
The film rests on the shoulders of acting giants Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis. Each at their career-best. Buckley and Plemons are extraordinary in parts requiring them to unravel personal identity throughout the ages.
The house itself is a triumph of set-design. It takes shape and form of whatever its occupants wish they could have been. Buckley is a revelation as the embodiment of every potential sweetheart and stranger we wish we could have befriended. She shoulders the expectations of desperate love. The kind accessible to those who lack the language to express it.
Plemons carries the torch of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He, too, possesses an innate ability to convey charm in sorrow, and vice-versa. Here, he’s the personification of yearning. As suffocating as he is pitiful. He kicks himself for failures both perceived and real. The bar he’s raised for himself only sets up failure. Disappointment is so familiar, it’s practically a friend.
“Memory isn’t objective,” Plemons opines as he and Buckley drive through an endless storm. Kaufman can’t help but encapsulate his work in the process.
The further they journey into the past, the more Buckley realizes how little of herself she remembers. Perhaps she’ll figure it out when they get to their destination.
Kaufman bluntly, but not unkindly, observes our silent agreement to personal narratives. We reinvent ourselves to be more agreeable with those we want to love. Our history is a lie agreed upon.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things doesn’t care if it’s divisive.
It’s dense and theatrical, and it draws attention to it. But it’s also quietly literate at the same time. Using minimal sets and cast, Kaufman creates a shared a life with everyone on screen.
The tender script captures indescribable feelings. Those that have names only in Latin and French. Like the sensation of knowing you won’t meet someone again, so you daydream how their life will turn out. Here, that intuition stretches into hours, days, and years. What lies beyond is a land painted in melancholic nostalgia.
Kaufman frustrates and awes equally. This is a masterclass in unease. Some shots appear symmetrical, while others drift askew without warning. As if the camera itself would rather be somewhere else. Some trails lead nowhere. Arguments break out in repetitive cacophony. Friends and lovers scream into the void, hoping someone will not just hear them, but recognize that they matter.
There is a persistent feeling that you won’t leave a mark in this world.
But that’s life.