Skip to main content

Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things Traps You Inside Its Dreamy Mystery

3.5/4 WTFs

Jesse Plemons as Jake, Jessie Buckley as Young Woman staring intently in Im Thinking Of Ending Things

For 20 years, Charlie Kaufman has been writing movies that delve deep into the human brain. He doesn’t just tell fascinating stories—he tells them from the inside out by inserting his audiences right into the minds of his characters—often literally. So Iain Reid’s debut novel was a perfect fit for a Kaufman adaptation.

It’s hard to know exactly what to say about I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which Kaufman also directed. The movie is a mystery—not in a whodunnit way, but more a “what is the reality that this movie exists within?” way that feels like living inside a dream or watching an extended Twilight Zone episode. There’s a bit in Reid’s novel where it’s suggested that the story is better told if you start with the ending first and then return to the beginning. In fact, it’s a good thing that the adaptation is a Netflix film, making it easily rewatchable—something you might find yourself wanting to do at least once.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things opens with a Young Woman (which is how the character is credited) whose name, we’re told, is Lucy, and her newish boyfriend Jake on their way to visit Jake’s parents at their Oklahoma farm. The two haven’t been together long, maybe six weeks, and this is her first time meeting his parents, though she is already thinking of ending things—a refrain she repeats to herself over and over as she analyzes every detail of their relationship and her feelings about it in her head as the two drive through a blizzard.

(There are no real spoilers ahead but if you’d like to go into the movie knowing absolutely nothing about what’s ahead, this is probably a good place to turn back.)

The chemistry between Jake and Lucy is off-putting. Both Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons, respectively, give absolutely incredible performances, but the characters rarely connect with each other directly. This might make sense for the first act, as they don’t look at each other much, if at all, while driving through a snowstorm, their conversation intercut with Lucy’s frequent inner-monologue self-interrogations and scored by an unendingly monotonous metronome of a windshield wiper. You can tell what they each see in the other as their banter ping-pongs easily, but then the disconnect between them becomes overwhelming and the relationship whiplash Lucy is experiencing makes sense. It feels more like the two are existing parallel to each other than sharing a space, let alone a relationship.

That disconnect only becomes more pronounced after Jake’s parents (Toni Collete and David Thewlis) get involved and reality itself starts going slowly sideways. Is her name really Lucy or is it maybe Louisa? Is her coat red or is it blue? Why is this house so familiar? And while “Lucy” is our narrator and ostensible protagonist, she seems just as confused by all of this as we are, giving the impression that this isn’t actually her story being told. So whose is it?

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a frustrating watch. This isn’t a mystery that you get closer to solving as it goes along—the more you watch, the less sense things make. Cinematographer Lukasz Zal’s decision to shoot the entire movie in 4:3 “full screen” format (now something of a trademark for him) gives the whole thing a boxed-in, almost claustrophobic feeling. I know that description doesn’t exactly sound enjoyable—and for some, it won’t be; this movie isn’t for everyone—but the effect works in making us feel like we’re right in the middle of this Twilight Zone scenario, not just watching it from the outside.

This movie makes you work to keep up with it, but the payoff—and I don’t just mean the ending as much as I do the entire experience of watching it—is worth it if you’re up for a bit of a challenge.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is available to watch now on Netflix.

(image: Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX)

Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.