Road Trip Riddle

Jessie Plemons & Jessie Buckley take a mind-bending ride to crazy town

I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Starring Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette and David Thewlis
Directed by Charlie Kaufman

Jesse Plemons & Jessie Buckley star in ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things.’

A young woman and her new boyfriend set out in an Oklahoma snowstorm to visit his parents, but she’s already having misgivings about their relationship.

“I’m thinking of ending things,” Lucy says—or thinks, just after getting in Jake’s car. We hear her stream-of-consciousness thoughts, as the movie’s running commentary.

And Jake hears her thoughts too, apparently. “Did you say something?” he asks her.

“No… I don’t think so,” Lucy says.

So, Jake can hear what Lucy’s thinking? Weird. Indeed! And things quickly get even weirder, and then much weirder, in this mind-poking psychodrama from director Charlie Kaufman, who adapted the 2016 book of the same name by writer Iain Reid. I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Reid’s debut novel, a wild-ride, road-trip riddle, had fans in knots trying to unkink its puzzling plot and digest its haunting, gut-punch, brain-buster shocker of an ending.  

This movie is a brain-buster of its own, from a writer and director known for some cult-famously quirky films, including Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, the stop-motion Anaomalisa and the Oscar-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which a couple undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories.

But good luck erasing I’m Thinking of Ending Things from your memory, once you see it. And have fun figuring it out, too, an especially challenging task if you’re unfamiliar with the book. Kaufman’s creative overhaul of Reid’s novel is meticulously crafted to tease out its deep, dark disturbia of secrets.

It’s scary and unnerving and tense and edgy, but it’s not a horror movie—at least not exactly. Ominously bleak and yet sometimes lyrically, mystically beautiful, it shifts its tones like a dream you can’t control. And like a dream you can’t quite interpret, it’s certainly not an easy nut to crack. But it leaves clues, like breadcrumbs in a Grimm’s fairytale, sprinkled everywhere. If you like tackling movie mind games, try diving into this phantasmagoric golly-whopper.     

The centerpiece of the film is the visit of Jake (Jesse Plemons) and girlfriend Lucy (Jessie Buckley) to isolated farmhouse of Jake’s childhood, for what becomes a completely bizarro evening with Jake’s oddball mom and dad (Toni Collette and David Thewlis).

Plemons, so good in so many things—from TV’s Fargo and Breaking Bad to movies like The Irishman and Game Night—has a boyish face that looks like it was made for hiding something else, probably something devious and unsavory, which serves him well here. Buckley, so hugely impressive as a country singer in the movie Wild Rose (2018) and on HBO’s Chernobyl, is about to wow you again in the new season of Fargo. Already acclaimed as one the most promising young actors in her native Ireland, she plays Jake’s girlfriend (unnamed in the novel) as if Lucy is as confused and clueless as we are.

And Collette and Thewlis—you can’t take your eyes off them as they create a three-ring circus of master-class crazy, pulling things into a Twilight Zone-ish madhouse swirl of delirium.

Lucy gets ominous messages on her phone—even when she calls her own number. “There’s just one question…” a male voice tells her. But there are a lot of questions. What happens in Jake’s house? Why can’t Lucy remember much of anything? Who is the old man, a high school janitor, who seems to be spying on Lucy?

The movie is dripping with metaphysical concepts—physics, psychology, aging, suicide, death, desire, obsession, longing, regret, the meaning of life. As Lucy and Jake plow through the snowy night, they banter about authors, poets and philosophers, movies and music, reality and perception, and the car windshield wipers click out a rhythm, like the tick-tock of a clock. Lucy says she feels like time itself is moving through her, blowing like a cold wind…

And the wind is blowing especially hard when they make a stop at a creepy ice-cream stand, where the vibe is even more chilling than the freezing air. One of the servers gives Lucy an eerie warning with her milkshake: “I’m scared for you,” she tells her. “You don’t have to go.”

Go where? You’ll find out, as your neurons work overtime trying to process a finale that includes a pair of blue slippers, a dance in high-school hallway and a song from Oklahoma, Jake’s favorite Broadway musical.  

So, as the snow falls and the wind blows, bundle up, baby—it’s a cold, lonely world out there. You won’t snatch much feel-good comfort from the melancholy maw of I’m Thinking of Ending Things. But it’s a hyper-stimulating journey of the senses, a deep dive into the recesses of a wrinkled road map of the mind, to find out where the journey ends. And this devilishly dark gem of a demented dreamcatcher will remain lodged in your head a long time after the snow stops, the sun comes up and the puzzle pieces fall into place.

It’s no jolly joyride. But if you’re a fan of the way director Kaufman typically puts a wickedly unique spin on the world, sending things careening into complex, unexpected, crazy-town places, you may come to treasure this diabolically twisted, freaky, bleak-y, existential-enigma relationship movie—about a relationship that turns out to be, well, not the kind they make a lot of Broadway musicals about.

Sept. 4 on Netflix

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: