January 19, 2021 – Charlie Kaufman's movies are not always the best, but never the worst, and always thought-provoking and quotable. His latest film is easily the most quotable and thought-provoking film of that dumpster fire of a year, 2020.
Based on Iain Reid's book of the same name, “I'm Thinking of Ending Things” starts out like a road movie, in a car with a young woman (played by Jessie Buckley of “Wild Rose”) saying to her boyfriend that this road trip is good because “It's good to remind yourself the world is larger than the inside of your own head.”
But that is misleading because this movie, like most Charlie Kaufman movies is all about the inside of Charlie Kaufman's head. Most movies are about external events, how they impact people and how people react to these events. Kaufman's movies are about the life of the mind, about how people perceive themselves, how they perceive the universe, and most importantly, how people think that they fit into the universe.
The woman in the car is thinking about ending things with her boyfriend, Jake (played by Jesse Plemons of “The Irishman”). She has made up her mind that she will avoid him after this road trip to meet Jake's parents at a distant farm.
The central theme of the movie is encapsulated in a poem recited by the woman in the car, “Bonedog” written by Eva H.D. (according to those who seem to be in the know, this particular poem, easily found on the internet, is not included in Eva H.D's book of collected poems, “Rotten Perfect Mouth,” but the book is probably worth reading anyway).
Bonedog is a beautiful poem, but so depressing that I would not have been surprised if the author had committed suicide right after writing it (she did not). The poem opens with this cheery observation:
Coming home is terrible
whether the dogs lick your face or not;
whether you have a wife
or just a wife-shaped loneliness waiting for you.
This sentiment permeates the film. At one point, the woman says to Jake, “It's a uniquely human fantasy that things will get better, born perhaps of the uniquely human understanding that things will not” and “I suspect humans are the only animals that know the inevitability of their own death. Other animals live in the present, humans cannot. So they invented hope.”
Like Billy Pilgrim in “Slaughterhouse Five,” Jake's girlfriend becomes unstuck in time, within a matter of minutes she sees Jake's parents, played by David Thewlis (“Wonder Woman”) and Toni Collette (“Knives Out”) sometimes as very elderly, sometimes decades younger. A short time later, she even sees Jake as an old man.
Being unstuck in time is an idea related to the nature of time itself, which can be viewed as fluid or fixed. The young woman in the film (who is a physicist and a poet) puts it this way:
“People like to think of themselves as points moving through time, but I think it’s probably the opposite. We’re stationary and time passes through us. Blowing like cold wind, stealing our heat.”
I have my own ideas about what this all means, but I feel it better to express these ideas as a series of questions:
Does this young woman in the car even exist at all, or is she simply the imagined girlfriend of Jake, who is actually a lonely old high school janitor (played in the movie by Guy Boyd of “The Report”). Did the high school janitor get the idea for this imagined girlfriend from a movie he watches in the school cafeteria? (More about Jake thinking other people's thoughts below.)
Are Jake's parents alive or dead, younger or older?
Does Jake exist at all, or is he just the imagined boyfriend of the young woman?
Is any of this real, or is it all just a dream by either Jake or the young woman?
Does any of this really matter? Maybe the important thing is to simply consider the ideas expressed in the movie on their own merits, rather than to try to decide whose reality is real, since we know that none of the characters in the movie exist anyway.
Kaufman even includes a warning about thinking any of this is “real” in the film's dialog. The young woman says, “It's tragic how few people possess their souls before they die. ‘Nothing is more rare in any man,’ says Emerson, ‘than an act of his own.’ And it's quite true. ‘Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.’ That's an Oscar Wilde quote.”
This movie is wonderfully imaginative, and is well-acted. The characters are fascinating. The plot has many twists and turns. At one point, it shifts suddenly from a melancholy meditation on life, to a lively dance number. Later, Jake performs a nice rendition of, “Lonely Room,” a song from the stage musical, “Oklahoma.”
In the audience for this song, are all the people Jake remembers from the past and present, carefully made up to look both young and old at the same time. It is not real, but it is a pleasant escape from reality for Jake to think it is real. This film rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.