Kaufman’s newest film puzzles and perplexes


Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.com.

Something’s amiss in Charlie Kaufman’s newest film I’m Thinking of Ending Things. And you may have to watch it more than once to find out what that is. 

It’s a feeling that never escapes you, almost gnawing at the back of your head. You notice things that pass by as soon as they appear on screen. Inconsistently aged actors. Characters that don’t look others directly in the eye. Frequent cuts to seemingly innocuous parts of the scene. Each feels like a puzzle piece for the larger picture Kaufman is crafting. 

The tone jumps from humorous to horrifying almost at the drop of a hat. It’s confusing, but the feeling of unease and message never gets lost within the chaos. 

Part of the magic of this film is owed to the cast’s fantastic performances. Jessie Buckley as protagonist Lucy is the standout of the film. I hadn’t been familiar with Buckley in the past, but seeing her disappear into this character was truly something spectacular. 

In one of his more mysterious roles, Jesse Plemmons plays Lucile’s boyfriend, Jake. You always get the feeling his character is hiding something and the way he interacts with his parents (David Thewlis and Toni Collette) contributes to this suspicion.  

As an adaptation, Ending Things succeeds at looking like its original material, while simultaneously being a wholly original Kaufman product. Fans of the book will undoubtedly be disappointed if they’re looking for a direct adaptation of Iain Reid’s original novel. Admittedly, a direct adaptation would most likely fail, as the novel’s strength comes from the medium the story was told in. In my opinion, Kaufman’s changes made the film feel as unique as the novel felt.

The film is very dense and does not hold your hand at all. While this is expected by fans of Kaufman’s previous works, newer viewers may be driven away by its inaccessibility. More so than his previous films, Kaufman leans heavily into surrealism and metaphor. A lot of subtext is left for the audience to pick up. While some metaphors drag — one segment of Luna explaining A Woman Under the Influence goes on longer than it needed to — others will give the viewer a rush of excitement when discovered. 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the kind of experimental cinema that should be more prevalent. I want to see more films like this being made, and thankfully Netflix has done a great job of giving artists like Kaufman a blank check to do whatever they please. 

I could go on and on about the little details peppered throughout the narrative, but it’s best experienced by actually watching it. This is my favorite film of 2020 and hopefully, others feel the same way.