If it is consistency one looks for in the new works of a filmmaker, it is consistency you will get from Charlie Kaufman. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is Kaufman’s latest film, premiered in theaters in August of 2020 — but really paid attention to a month later, since coronavirus pushed for a more “Netflix and chill” mood than ever. After its Netflix release on the 4th of September, the film has sparked countless Reddit discussions and YouTube analysis surrounding its many symbolisms and meanings. Nothing like a deliberately cryptic plotline to point the algorithms in your favor; it is no secret that the internet loves a good puzzle (scholars even developed studies about it). In a few cases, however, the overcharge of symbolism translates, ultimately, in good old self-indulgency.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things’” script was based on Ian Reid’s 2016 novel with the strong cast of Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette and David Thewlis. It is a horror-ambianced puzzle film about a college girl who goes to her boyfriend’s hometown to meet his family — although repeatedly implying to be “thinking of ending things”. In between a signature mix of self-paced dialogue and uncomfortable silences Kaufman enjoys bringing to the table, we accompany this journey mostly by the perspective of Buckley’s [insert preferred name] character. Her lack of a real name (the characters call her different names throughout the narrative) is a great indicator of what she seemingly represents in the film; Kaufman’s tool for redemption.
His several alter-ego characters spread across his work (from 1999’s Inside John Malkovich to his greatest hit, 2004’s Eternal Sunshine Of a Spotless Mind) never failed to reach for the women’s approval he seems to long for. The great difference of 2020’s version is his bluntness, starting from the title — one that already contains his fatal destiny towards “a certain woman’s disappointment”. Between 1999 and here, we as a society have entered new spectrums of the gender-studies-classroom conversation, and Plemons’ monotonous lead (boyfriend Jake) has a much more eloquent discourse to present.
In between tips surrounding Buckley’s character actual existence — the clear ambiguities in the variation of names juxtaposed with pieces of an identity that is seperate from the one of Jake’s — the actress’ performance seems to thrive in the middle of a wave of symbolisms, that are somehow both overwhelming and incredibly tedious at the same time. A sequence of time-travelling one shots are clearly pushing for “awes” but manage to only giveaway the confusion part of the sentiment.
When all of this symbolically charged language finally accepted as cryptic by nature and therefore one should let go of trying to understand it, the films discourse seems to finally take place. Jake and Lucia/Luisa/Lucy are back on the car, finally trying to make it through the promise of bad weather. The girl’s will is outspokenly to go back home, from the beginning of the film to mostly every 5 minutes that follow. The claustrophobia of Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel sets in, and Charlie Kaufman’s has managed to seduce us once more into staying to find out if we will understand it all.
After Kaufman gave it all out in an interview to the Guardian a few days after the Netflix premiere, everything became clearer. It is then that one can’t help but wonder: does it justify the filmmaker’s discourse? After Jake claimed to praise his partner’s creative impulses and desires, he always seems to find an angle in which to patronize her. A disagreement over John Cassavette’s A Woman Under the Influence seems to give Jake room to remind her of his good, deep feminist knowledge — and that he can’t avoid to know more than her. “You’re probably right”, he seems to shrug, ever tormented by his “self-conscious, self-loathing” self.
The response this film seems to want is “It is of grand importance and honor to have such enlightened men as creative minds” — when really, that seems to be the only type of narrative we consistently endorse. There is little to be honored in aknowledging how much of a patronizing behavior one has by the sake of it. If all you can extract from it is “the tragedy of being you”, it fails as a rendemption narrative to become one of self-indulgence.