Kaufman is a challenging filmmaker constantly exploring human connections. Here is is partially successful.
I am Thinking of Ending Things
Director: Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York)
Screenplay: Kaufman from Iain Reid book
Cast: Jesse Plemons (The Irishman), Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose)
Runtime: 2h 14 m
By: John DeSando
“Even fake, crappy movie ideas want to live.” Young Woman (Jessie Buckley)
And so it goes with Charlie Kaufman’s I am Thinking of Ending Things—Young Woman may be contemplating suicide or dumping her inert boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons). In either case, she speaks for the most depressing, hopeless film this year, and that’s saying much considering how the pandemic has darkened our world all by itself this year. Yet she seems to have hope that things might turn out differently though knowing they won’t.
As the couple travel to his parents’ farm home in Oklahoma, their conversation rambles from Wordsworth and Mussolini to suicide bombers and so much else almost poetic or absolutely bleak that you want to go to a screening of Oklahoma, even if you hate musicals. More often than not their sentences are clipped and punctuated with silence or grunts—hardly the stuff of scintillating cinema but definitely the musings of the brilliant, discursive Kaufman.
The apotheosis of bleak is their dinner conversation with his parents. As the parents are played with expert obtuseness and giddy overreaction by David Thewlis and Toni Collette, the young couple seems almost alive, but in reality, his parents are a grim reminder that the couple too will end up clueless and lonely and separate.
In second place for hopelessness is the sequence at his old high school: While the school gives the couple brief refuge from a dangerous storm, it is relentless with surreal images that juxtapose lyrical ballet and murder, punctuated by a naked old janitor (Frederick Wodin) with man breasts and vacant affect that promise a depressing future for the youngsters.
Kaufman has before married the bleak with the dark (Eternal Sunshine, Adaptation) to admirable success. In I am Thinking of Ending it all, he has found the nexus of the nihilistic, with neither elusive happiness nor viral bleakness. Rod Serling in his Twilight Zone usually found hope somewhere; Charlie finds none.
“You can’t fake a thought.” Iain Reid
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com