Exit Poll is a series exploring the good, bad, and outright deranged films and events our editors are attending. This week: Shanti Escalante evaluates the film that defies genre, space, and time: Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
Charlie Kaufman has made some of Hollywood’s weirdest over the span of his long career, with films like Synecdoche, New York, Anomalisa, and his magnum opus, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His latest, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix), an adaptation of an Iain Reid novel of the same name, follows a young woman (Jessie Buckley) known as Lucy (or is her name Cindy, Louisa, Amy, Yvonne?) Lucy is on a road trip to visit the parents of her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons), even as she contemplates breaking up with him when they get home. There’s a snowstorm, a dark basement she’s supposed to avoid, stuttering, ailing parents, and all of the horrors that farm life has to offer. Scary stuff, none of it used in predictable ways, because when has Kaufman been predictable? You’re never quite watching the movie you thought you were watching.
You don’t have to understand I’m Thinking of Ending Things to enjoy it. As we follow characters whose personalities and backgrounds seem to be constantly shifting, the story also morphs, modifying theme and plot while picking away at the borders of genre and medium. Yet, a common thread makes the film feel intuitively right, even as what’s happening on the surface continues to baffle. Kaufman’s film deals with deeply humane complexities: the passage of time, aging, loneliness, the sensitive psychological dynamics of the family, individual neurosis. We are all the young woman, hoping to break out of the emotional baggage that has become too much or too little, begging to go home, to find comfort however we can, but Kaufman demands confrontation by keeping his audience on their toes. At a time when “entertainment” is our collective security blanket—I mean, how many times did your depressed ass watch Schitt’s Creek?, Kaufman renders the medium with the intensity of life, at once a refuge and a mode for interacting with its meaning. The dance scene, the talking pig—no more spoilers, promise—I’m Thinking of Ending Things is at once transcendent and grounding. In typical Kaufman fashion, we can go for a ride on his movie, but we can’t settle into it.