“I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” director Charlie Kaufman’s adaptation of Iain Reid’s 2016 novel, premiered earlier this month on Netflix to positive reviews. Readers of the novel and fans of Kaufman’s work likely had an idea of what to expect from the film; viewers unfamiliar with either may have found the movie less accessible. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a cerebral, unsettling film with surreal elements that is true to the spirit — if not all the details — of the novel, but may not provide enough scares for some horror fans.
The premise of the film appears straightforward: a young woman (whose name is never confirmed, even in the end credits) goes with her boyfriend, Jake, to visit his parents’ farm. As evidenced by the film’s title, the woman is ambivalent about the relationship, and ponders it throughout an awkward car ride with Jake.
The young woman’s extensive internal monologue and the lengthy dialogue of the first half of the film will be familiar to readers of the novel. The actors are skilled at expressing their emotions subtly (especially lead actress Jessie Buckley, whose ability to summon a tear or two on command is impressive). Those who haven’t read the novel, however, may be surprised and frustrated at just how slow this “slow burn” can be. Even as someone who enjoyed the novel, I found myself impatiently waiting for Toni Collette to show up.
When Jake and the young woman eventually reach the farm, things take a stranger turn. Kaufman gives us a decrepit barn and some gruesome anecdotes about deceased animals; an unsettling, shifting portrayal of Jake’s parents by (finally!) Toni Collette and David Thewlis; and a foreboding basement that manages to make laundry look sinister. As the young woman becomes desperate to return home, things begin to fall apart in a way that truly disconcerts the viewer. A stop at a creepy ice cream shop — in the middle of a literal blizzard — paves the way for the film’s climax.
The gradual denouement of the film (which runs over two hours total) has already been dissected online by viewers and critics. I will not include plot spoilers here, but Kaufman has used a bizarre combination of art forms — ballet, musical theater, even an animated talking pig — to bring the story to an ambiguous conclusion. Even those who have read the book will likely be confused; the film’s ending deviates from the novel’s details, though the ultimate reveal remains the same. The tension and fear present in the book are dissipated by Kaufman’s fragmented yet surprisingly compassionate vision, which focuses more on exploration than exposition.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a painstakingly crafted, well-acted film that will appeal to viewers who enjoy puzzling over a film’s interpretation and symbolism (for example, I’m convinced the elaborate wallpaper is a reference to “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman). Those after outright scares, however, will probably look for more intense fare in the upcoming spooky season.(3.5 / 5)