I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
September 5, 2020 9:07 AM - Subscribe

Full of misgivings, a young woman travels with her new boyfriend to his parents' secluded farm. Upon arriving, she comes to question everything she thought she knew about him, and herself.

The latest from Charlie Kaufman is earning good reviews as well as plenty of rumination on what it's all about.

Guardian: "A maze of a movie, in which the walls are closing in and the exit is through a constantly shifting Escher staircase of a storyline: the latest from Charlie Kaufman blends metaphysical sleights of hand with a mounting chill of choking panic."

Roger Ebert: "It’s not something that should be watched while being distracted by your phone. It demands attention to allow its mood to find its way under your skin or it really won’t work. It has a remarkable cumulative power, even as it narratively seems to make less and less sense. You have to give yourself over to it, and you'll be moved by some of its later imagery even if you have no idea how to explain why. Kaufman is trying to find a storytelling approach that goes beyond simple plot, conveying the loneliness and relative stasis of human existence. It’s a movie in which the two leads spend most of the film in a moving car and yet it feels like they can’t get anywhere."

Time Out: "As if the world wasn’t troubling enough, here’s a savage, surreal new Charlie Kaufman film, coming to Netflix, beamed straight into your homes, just in time for you to sink behind the sofa on darker nights and wish the awkwardness and misery would go away. This is a recommendation, by the way."
posted by vverse23 (34 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just finished. Lots of unpacking to do.

The Young Woman (Buckley) is removed from the center of the film so suddenly after the dance sequence, and it’s shocking when the film ends without her returning to the center. To last see her as an audience member, tacitly participating in Jake’s validation ceremony, was chilling for me.

Is she trapped after all in a string of yeses, her inner monologue completely overwhelmed by the private and public performance of the relationship? Or is this another silent moment in the car, with Jake living so much in the future that he’s either a lonely old man or a dignified elder as the Young Woman looks on from her perspective on the verge of a breakup?

Genuinely curious for others’ takes here.
posted by modus_pwns at 7:21 PM on September 5


Please tell me I’m not the only one who had to immediately read like 3 different “Explained” articles as soon as I was done watching
posted by The Gooch at 10:32 PM on September 5 [3 favorites]


Once I realized it was a variation on the theme of The 3, the whole movie clicked for me.
posted by surlyben at 12:45 AM on September 6 [3 favorites]


This post isn't labeled as either 'movie only' or 'books included,' so I'll tread carefully here. That said, modus_pwns, I think the key to understanding what's going on with the Young Woman is her conversation with the Janitor, specifically when she implies that she and Jake only encountered each other once at a bar, and didn't talk, when she was there to celebrate her anniversary with her girlfriend. It goes by fast, but is pretty suggestive.

I liked this a lot, and was surprised to see Oklahoma! play such a large role. Not only does Jake sing Judd's song at the end, but the play has a dream ballet that's pretty similar to the dance sequence that happens with the stand-ins.

Once I realized it was a variation on the theme of The 3, the whole movie clicked for me.

Having read the book, as soon as I saw Charlie Kaufman was making this movie, I immediately though "holy shit he's making The 3." I appreciated, however, that there's a lot more ambiguity here.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:27 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


Yeah, after reading a few internet explainers (and a summary of the book), I see I probably got something different than intended. I was seeing the subjective space of the film as a little more neutral between the characters, instead of all Jake. I think I actively resisted the The Three reading (even if it’s “right”) because I want Lucy to be a real person with actual agency rather than the projection of a fantasy.

Is that an available reading? Can we read Lucy/Young Woman as a real person/persona pulled into or sharing a fantasy space? As real as any other character in a film? That’s what I want the movie to be, so for me it probably will be.
posted by modus_pwns at 1:10 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


Is there a distinction between “Show only” and “Book included” for a one-off movie, as opposed to a continuing series? Discussing the book isn’t going to spoil anything for someone who watched the movie, right?

Book discussion follows:

I read the book earlier this quarantine season, not knowing Charlie Kaufman had made a movie of it. Watching the movie I thought it made the twist much more obvious than the book (which is fine), but I was horrified to discover that the movie made me realize I didn’t fully get the book! I knew that The Girlfriend was a creation of Jake’s, but I didn’t realize the whole road trip was too—I had thought it was a real road trip Jake took to introduce his “girlfriend” to his real, delusion-accommodating, alive parents, and that the suicide took place many years later. Now knowing that the whole road trip was Jake putting his mental affairs in order before his suicide, the book retroactively works better, and I want to reread it with this new perspective.

By the way, the book is much more horror-inflected than the movie. Kaufman’s reworking is a good one, because the twist becomes in service of tragedy rather than shock.
posted by ejs at 2:02 PM on September 6


Is that an available reading? Can we read Lucy/Young Woman as a real person/persona pulled into or sharing a fantasy space? As real as any other character in a film? That’s what I want the movie to be, so for me it probably will be.

I think so. One reason I hesitated to bring the book into this discussion is that I think the movie supports a number of different readings, and I don't think it's useful to trot out the much less open conclusion of the book as a guide to the 'correct' reading of the movie.

That said, I just listened to the Slate Spoiler Special podcast about this movie, and they have a very interesting conversation about exactly this point:

I want Lucy to be a real person with actual agency rather than the projection of a fantasy

What they point out in the podcast is that even if this is correct and she is a real person with agency, she is, of course, irreducibly a projection of a fantasy, in the she's a character written by Charlie Kaufman. So maybe the distinction between real person and projection is a lot more porous than we think.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:37 PM on September 6 [5 favorites]


IndieWire worked with Kaufman to make a FAQ / guide. There, The Young Woman is a fantasy, but she has a measure of independence. (Probably the third ice cream cashier, too?)

As a thumbnail sketch: the janitor is real, and the real Jake. Most of the movie - the road trip and the house - is in his head. Once he gets to the stage of hypothermia where he gets tinnitus, feels hot, and removes his clothing, it's dream logic again, with a Nobel Prize speech from "A Beautiful Mind" and music from "Oklahoma!"
posted by Pronoiac at 1:43 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


What they point out in the podcast is that even if this is correct and she is a real person with agency, she is, of course, irreducibly a projection of a fantasy, in the she's a character written by Charlie Kaufman.

That was my thought; in all of his films, Kaufman is always reminding you that it's all a fiction. Adaptation has two versions of the author himself as the stars and Synecdoche, New York the main character is a playwright who casts a version of himself who in turn casts another revision of himself.

The irony for me is how alive Jessie Buckley's performance is. She really dominates the movie and I hope that this is really a breakout role for her although maybe Wild Rose was that for her (I haven't seen it yet).
posted by octothorpe at 5:19 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


I saw where this was headed early on, particularly as Lucy's name and vocation changed and as we were given clues that things coming out of her mouth were referenced by things in his room. (Also a laugh as a cigarette appeared in her hand as she was spouting Pauline Kael.) Her character was vastly more interesting than anybody else's and I'd rather think that she was real, with variations across a number of universes/timelines, and that she was able to finally get home and leave Jake in the school. Also, I've never seen A Beautiful Mind, so I didn't recognize that speech Jake gave, and it's been a long time since I heard all of Oklahoma, so I didn't grok that was Jud's song.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:15 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


I'm interested in everything Kaufman does, even when some of it leaves me cold. (Loved Anomalisa for example, but Being John Malkovich exhausted and annoyed me.) I was curious about this one, but then I read a review of the book that spoiled the big twist and it hit so close to home that I don't know if I could ever bear to watch this. Long story short, I'm trans and prone to lonely isolation, have a lot of professional and personal frustrations, and I'm aging fast. The story of a friendless old guy who squandered his potential, working a menial, unfulfilling job, fantasizing about being a young woman and then committing suicide*... Well, that's really not something I need in my head at this point, no matter how well it's done.

But I am curious if this film supports a trans read. Does it play like Jake is imagining life as a woman, as his own girlfriend, purely out of desperate loneliness, or does it play more like this is another unfulfilled need for him, that he wanted to live as a woman but never acted on it? Is Jake a trans woman who's been miserably living as an old janitor guy, or is he just an old man who is losing his mind and Lucy is really fleshed-out because fantasy is all Jake has?


*I gather that he doesn't commit suicide in the film, but apparently that's how the book ends. In any case the story sounds like a big smorgasbord of sadness that I really don't want to sample right now.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:03 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


I do think that the Young Woman is real and has agency, and at the same time that she is a fragment of Jake's / the janitor's personality. She's kind of his imagining of what he wants in a partner, projected on to the form of the woman he saw at a bar one night, but is also very much an element of his own personality.

Having read the book, the movie seems like a huge improvement, mostly in ditching the book's third act entirely and coming up with a better one (although to be fair, I'm not sure I'd be as receptive to the movie's ending if it were the written ending of a novel).
posted by whir at 6:39 PM on September 7


Ursula, Jake does commit suicide in the film (though in a different manner than in the book). And far be it from me to speak for anyone or claim any reading is incorrect, but it seems pretty clear that a trans reading is not the intention of either Kaufman or Reid. “Lucy“ is not who Jake wishes he were, but rather who he wished he had in his life.
posted by ejs at 8:10 PM on September 7 [3 favorites]


Oh, I was under the impression that Jake froze to death. Like, in his delusional state he was just sitting in his car fantasizing while he slowly died in his car. I've read a lot about this film for somebody with no plans to see it, so I know most of what happens but there are gaps. But yeah, it's got way too many things in it I'm trying not to worry about in real life (including aging, unwell parents!) and for me it kind of sounds like Ursula Hitler's Panic Attack: The Movie.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:51 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


(Also a laugh as a cigarette appeared in her hand as she was spouting Pauline Kael.)

The big laugh for me in this incredibly non-laugh-provoking movie was when Jake & the Young Woman start to re-enact the Internet argument about whether Baby It's Cold Outside is a rape song or not.

Gonna have to watch this one again I think! It was depressing & bleak but in a very soft way.
posted by taquito sunrise at 11:00 PM on September 7 [3 favorites]


Before I watch this, can anyone give me a heads up on if this movie has elements of rape / trauma / abuse, or if it's just a mindfuck?
posted by rebent at 2:33 PM on September 8


There is a little bit of stylized violence, and DISCUSSION of sexual coercion (see above), but to my recollection it is almost completely a mindfuck.
posted by wellred at 2:40 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


rebent, there's some gross farm animal stuff (discussed, not shown), and a lot of dread, but otherwise I can't think of anything.
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:05 PM on September 8


There's about three to five seconds of sexual aggression just before the stylized violence. None of the relationships in the movie are abusive afaict, just weird & uncomfortable.
posted by taquito sunrise at 3:30 PM on September 8


It’s weird to me that this fantasy girl is miserable, dismissive, emasculating and completely uninterested in him. But maybe that’s just how he sees himself?

We thought that maybe she was an amalgamation of all his ex girlfriends. It made her reaction to David Foster Wallace the standout laugh in the film for me.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:15 PM on September 10


Ursula, I definitely saw the possibility that Jake was a trans woman (whether that was the intention I don’t know and I think is beside the point). I feel like I need to watch it again to see how that stands up though; as I was watching it there were so many competing possibilities and small details, too much for one viewing.

Also, as a connoisseur of awkward mealtimes in fiction this has a real corker in it!
posted by tomp at 3:20 PM on September 10


It’s weird to me that this fantasy girl is miserable, dismissive, emasculating and completely uninterested in him. But maybe that’s just how he sees himself?

Yeah, I interpreted this as Jake being so self-loathing, or at least feeling so undeserving of love, that even in his fantasy he can’t imagine a woman truly wanting to be with him. And the film strongly implies that the fantasy of being with her was as much to prove himself to his parents as to have a partner himself.
posted by ejs at 4:53 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I’m not going to read the comments yet because I want to watch this—I really like Charlie Kaufman—but I’m also a chicken and I somehow have it in my head that this is a scary movie. Is it? I can tolerate some suspense but I hate jump scares, gore, and physical or psychological torture. If the torture scene is a brief one-off, I can stand it better than if it’s prolonged or recurrent. So for those who have seen it, do you think it’s something I’ll be able to tolerate?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:40 AM on September 12


I didn't think of it as a trans film when I was watching it but if the female character is simultaneously the a fantasy and the most real character in the film, what else could it be?
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:52 AM on September 12


Hurdy gurdy girl, this is not a conventionally scary movie. There is creeping dread and uncanny wrongness, but there is no violence, gore, torture, or jump scares.
posted by ejs at 7:21 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Thanks ejs! I appreciate the answer. I think it will probably be ok for me then.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:46 PM on September 12


Just wanted to mention that if anyone is looking for a great mindfuck of a book with shifting realities, the book they mention, Anna Kavan’s Ice, is spectacular and spectacularly unsettling.
posted by fryman at 10:21 AM on September 13


We thought that maybe she was an amalgamation of all his ex girlfriends

I kinda got the sense that Jake had never had an actual relationship with a girl or woman in real life. I thought that character was throwing off pretty strong incel vibes.
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:45 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


So we watched this last night and it was truly unsettling, but I thought it was good. I was glad that ejs gave the all-clear re: jump scares, because there were a couple of times (e.g. when she was in the basement with the laundry) where I would definitely have thought there was going to be a jump scare. But no, it's not full of jump scares...it's just full of existential terror.

I loved the dance scene--it was so beautifully done--and it reminded me of the dance sequence in Giri/Haji. The actors were all terrific, especially Jessie Buckley. Wow. I had never seen her in anything before and I will certainly look out for her in future.

I read the FAQ with Kaufman after watching, and it was helpful. That said, although I appreciated the FAQ and knowing what the director had in mind, I also think there is the possibility of interpretation beyond what Charlie Kaufman or Iain Reid say they intended, including a trans reading.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:02 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I found this all mostly opaque, plot wise, but very affecting nonetheless. For some reason I felt fairly sure from just after its first appearance on the radio it would have to end with a song from Oklahoma on a high school stage, which for some reason provided a comforting sort of certainty throughout the rest of the confusion.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:20 AM on September 14


What is it with Oklahoma lately. First Watchmen now this have themes that hinge on that play. I should probably watch it because I don't really know anything about it.
posted by octothorpe at 5:09 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


I liked this a lot, and was surprised to see Oklahoma! play such a large role. Not only does Jake sing Judd's song at the end, but the play has a dream ballet that's pretty similar to the dance sequence that happens with the stand-ins.

Not only that but his license plate was from Oklahoma too.

I really liked it. Didn’t pick up on the fantasy part, I thought (maybe I’ve been watching too much Lovecraft Country) he was some kind of magic. Like he could keep people frozen in time. I knew the janitor was him from the beginning and I thought once she went into the school she’d be trapped for eternity or something. After reading the above comments, I think fantasy makes much more sense.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:51 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed watching this and part of it was how it played with different ideas about self. It reminded me of the dream therapy I used to do with my therapist in high school where she would ask me to speak for the most disturbing character present in a nightmare. What particularly interests me is that the movie centers on the Young Woman. That we get her interior monologue and not Jake's speaks of a profound dissociation between Jake and his own experience. Even HE doesn't find himself a compelling character. Considering his reference to "pretty people" on television, it's not surprising that even in his own mind, he would cast an attractive young woman to earn audience sympathy as opposed to an old janitor.

This movie reminds me of the Sirens of Titans in which a character remarks that humans always imagine that they are being watched. The joke is that they are, but by a robot on a distant moon. Here we see that idea of constant performance, but it's for himself.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:17 PM on September 19


Thoughts on the movie from the writer Mary Beth McAndrews :
“Jake needs to see me as someone who sees him. He needs to be seen, and he needs to be seen with approval. Like that’s my purpose in all this, in life.” — The Young Woman

As a teenager, one of my biggest goals was having a boyfriend. It wasn’t just to get attention or companionship. I wanted nothing more than to please a boyfriend and seem different from all the other girls. I wanted to be the quintessential cool girl, as described by Amy Dunne in “Gone Girl.” I molded myself into something different with each new partner. I was just what people wanted me to be.

I lost my sense of self as my identity began to form around another person. I shape-shifted into a girl who likes playing video games all night, likes watching football, knows exactly what to say in every situation, and loves each and every one of their friends. This is a dilemma amplified in Charlie Kaufman’s “I’m Thinking Of Ending Things,” but what’s even more toxic in the film is our narrator is nothing but a construction of a lonely old man’s imagination. The Young Woman, played by Jessie Buckley, is not one woman, but an amalgamation of characteristics that this particular man finds (or has found) desirable in a partner. Despite being trapped in this mental prison, the Young Woman is able to find empowerment, revealing the fallacies of her creator’s shallow vision of what she could be.
posted by octothorpe at 12:52 PM on September 24


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