“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” – a film review by Gary Chew
Why do I often like Charlie Kaufman movies? It certainly isn’t because the writer/director makes them easy for you. Perhaps it owes to his eschewing connections with commercial picture making. Synecdoche, New York, Being John Malkovich and Anomalisa were the first noncommercial three to pop in my head. There’s a bit of Rod Serling in Kaufman too, but Charlie hangs at a higher altitude. For sure, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive squares with Mr. Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
For characters, we have a newly-met boy and girl on their way to Jake’s parents farm for a first meeting and a home-cooked dinner. Jake is played by Jesse Plemons. Lucy is done by a newer face to the screen. Her name is also Jesse, but Buckley is the actress’s last name. You might recall her as Rosalyn Wilder, the production assistant/confidant of Renée Zellweger’s Garland, in Judy. Buckley’s Lucy narrates … I think. But it might be Jake who’s really the narrator. You must watch and listen closely.
Driving in heavy snow to Jake’s folk’s place, their conversation, after small talk, rises to a more intellectual level. They dissect their feelings to each other about the motion picture Woman Under the Influence as well as John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. Jake and Lucy’s chat also gets well down in the weeds on other topics; all of them damned didactic.
Just so you know: this opening scene motoring to the old farm goes on for freaking ever. That’s why you need a shot at what’s on the bill for later acts of Ending Things. So, if you will now, please read what Lucy says to Jake as he navigates winter’s elements.
“People like to think of themselves as points moving through time. But I think it’s the opposite. We’re stationary, and time passes though us… blowing like cold wind… leaving us chapped and frozen dead.”
To a convoluted extent, that’s what happens later. The couple makes it to Jake’s parent’s place where it becomes painfully clear how “different” his mom and dad are. Toni Collette plays mom and David Thewlis is dad. Both make Lucy very uncomfortable, and they’ll do the same for you. The family greet up takes on a party scene atmosphere like when Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell go full-bore freaky spooks in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
As the story has it, mom and dad suddenly get older from one scene to the next… and then, quickly retreat to being younger. Whatever age they seem to be, their bizarre behavior stays the same. Toni and David give a tour de force job acting totally weird, but Lucy and Jake maintain their years lived, although Jake’s rage increases. Maybe it’s because he was raised by his parents.
Some say that Plemons is thought to be a lookalike for both Matt Damon and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Plemons was cast in All the Pretty Horses as Damon’s character (Grady) when a child. He also played the young son of Hoffman’s character in The Master. I’m not convinced that Plemons looks much like Damon or Hoffman, although an almost common complexion and hair color among the three are noted. Plemons has an intense stare, making him nearly perfect playing a stressed fellow whose parents are well beyond being unfathomably weird.
It could be the reason I usually enjoy films associated with Kaufman is due to his easy penchant for playing-to-the-wings where his colleagues, I guess in the case of this Kaufman movie… lurk.
Oh, two more things: I haven’t mentioned the old, gray-haired janitor who cleans and mops up after hours in the classrooms and hallways of Jake’s rural high school he attended long before Jake ever laid eyes on Lucy. The final thoughts go to why the young not-quite-yet-lovers stop during a driving blizzard to purchase curly cones at a tasty-freeze-like drive-in sitting all by itself in the dark… not to mention why Mr. Kaufman has given the icy stop-by creamery biz a name like “Tulsey Town Curly Cones.”
Since I spent decades of my life in Tulsa, Oklahoma — a nice city initially named Tulsey Town — I need an explanation. This one is too hard for me to figure, Charlie.
Now I close with my own penchant for playing-to-the-wings, saying: if ever Pauline Kael and Gordon MacRae were to have seen this movie, they’d surely be turning in their graves.