Monday 14 March 2022

Movie Review: I'm Thinking Of Ending Things (2020)

A surreal drama, I'm Thinking Of Ending Things explores relationship pitfalls through a warped lens.

A young woman (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) have been together for about seven weeks, and are now on a long drive in snowy weather to his parents' farmhouse. Although the young woman finds Jake interesting and smart, she has doubts about the relationship and is thinking of ending it. Tonight she will meet his parents for the first time over dinner. The snowstorm is expected to worsen, and the young woman is eager to return home afterwards to prepare for a busy week.

At the farmhouse, Jake's parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) exhibit strange behaviour, including showing up late to greet their guest. Then the young woman experiences bizarre shifts in time, the parents appearing at various stages of aging. In parallel scenes, an elderly night janitor mops the floors at a high school, while students rehearse dances from the musical Oklahoma!

An adaptation of the Iain Reid book written for the screen and directed by Charlie Kaufman, I'm Thinking Of Ending Things is an introspective and abstract reflection on expectations across time. In equal doses mesmerizing and maddening, the film meanders through an obtuse labyrinth dreamily detached from reality, enlivened by a pseudo-Gothic style hinting at horror but content with the joy of empty threats.

Kaufman weaves an often claustrophobic pattern unconcerned with familiar narrative rules. Before and after the dinner, plenty of time is invested in the car trips, and other than the incessant snow, the passing scenery is of no consequence. Instead, the young woman and Jake engage in long, often tediously self-conscious intellectual conversations and debates, the cameras zoomed in on the couple within the intimate 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

Interrupting the two in-car segments is the dinner with Jake's parents, and here Kaufman reveals, in a nonchalant manner, the hallucinatory elements. A lot more is going on than just a young woman thinking of breaking up with her boyfriend, and most of it is inaccessible. The clues to the arcane psychological puzzle start with a title open to interpretation, and include cryptic fragments scattered inside the house and within the dialogue. Attempts at assembling a rational picture are doomed to frustration by intentionally convoluted perspectives.

Later, a pit-stop at an ice-cream stand prompts a detour to Jake's old high school. The couple's fraught adventure merges with the night janitor's experience, and Kaufman audaciously introduces new sharp and weird turns in both content and presentation. 

Rather remarkably, the 134 minutes of running time pass by quickly, the edge of unease amplified by cautiously agitated performances from Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons. As the parents, Toni Collette and David Thewlis stretch into nervy territory.

Themes of compatibility, loneliness, regret, self-doubt, self-worth, and dominant cultural imprints intermingle. Ambiguously stimulating, I'm Thinking Of Ending Things welcomes free-form interpretation, with all the associated exasperation.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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