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MOVIES: I'm Thinking of Ending Things - Review

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a film with no easy answers, but there’s no surprise there, it’s a Charlie Kaufman film - anyone familiar with his work will know this by now. Synecdoche, New York is one of my all-time favourite films but other than that he’s a director whose work I am still comparatively new to, and was completely engrossed by this thriller that infuses elements from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre into its time-warping and reality-twisting narrative that feels more comparatively ambitious than Tenet despite its smaller scale.

Adapted from a novel by Iain Reid that was released in 2016 – so not an original screenplay by Kaufman, although he did alter the ending - the film unites two of the most dependable actors in the business, Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley – who deliver powerhouse performances as a young couple visiting the boyfriend’s parents in the middle of a snowstorm at a remote family farm. Once there – time itself seems to shape and change around them, as Kaufman taps into his mind-bending narrative that explores what feels like a whole lifetime. Audiences learn their everything about characters' personalities, their regrets and their crushed dreams, all fading away before them over the course of two car journeys and a dinner party that the film uses largely as a framework for its intricate storytelling. It makes the absolute most out of its surreal narrative and to mention anything more would veer quickly into spoiler territory, but in what I’m Thinking of Ending Things sets up to accomplish it does so admirably, emerging as one of the best films of the year so far in an experience that’s so unlike anything Netflix has to offer it feels wrong to call it a Netflix film at all. This is Netflix in arthouse experimental mode, the same Netflix that brought you The Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.

Kaufman’s script is one of heartbreak and remorse, skilfully written that takes the film on a unique path making usage of its minimal locations to tell an entirely captivating story of its own. It’s a movie that places its characters in the middle of an existentialist crisis, and constantly has the audiences second guessing what direction it takes going forward. Inventive usage of its aspect ratio and cinematography gives the film an old school vibe that feels like you’re looking back into the past with rose-tinted glasses with the characters. There’s plenty of homages to film itself told through out the film, everything from Robert Zemeckis to John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence which is mentioned in depth, with the characters second-guessing their perception of the classics – if you haven’t seen the film, let me know how that conversation played out for you in the comments below, as this much reliance on old Hollywood may be off-putting to some especially for those coming into I’m Thinking of Ending Things with an open mind as the ultra-specificity of the film's carefully laden narrative can hurt it.

Most of the time the film follows its two leads simply talking to one another in a car, something that could be considered boring but thanks to the line delivery by Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons I was engrossed by the most mundane of dialogue-heavy conversations. Even scenes such as family dinners, where Toni Collette and David Thewlis help capture the awkwardness of taking someone that you’re involved in a relationship with home to your parents for the first time and not knowing how they’re going to react, should feel mundane but aren’t, and just present a feeling of uncomfortableness at every turn that adds up to the unpredictability of Kaufman's film, where something feels off at every turn and there's a never-ending feeling that something isn't quite right here.

The central performances across the board are impeccable. Both Buckley and Plemons have shined over the past few years in a variety of roles, with Wild Rose and Game Night being perfect examples of their talent, and it’s good to see Thewlis in a world removed from the blockbusters of Wonder Woman and Harry Potter, with his scenes that he shares with Buckley are among the most well-acted of the film, with the best performances often coming in the quieter moments – but that’s not to slight another masterclass from Colette. It's a movie that feels like a real actor's film, where so much is in the delivery of the dialogue that it's dependant on the cast to help sell it as well as it does, and without this star-studded ensemble the film would no doubt feel entirely different. The actors understand what Kaufman has set them up to do perfectly and they play with the expectations of the audience consistently over the course of the film - I'm Thinking of Ending Things is easy to box in as another break-up movie, but it's so far removed from that.

Reviewing I’m Thinking of Ending Things this soon after watching it almost feels like a bad call, as there’s a lot to unpack in this and like Tenet, it practically demands multiple viewings and feels like it’s only a movie that will grow on me with time but unlike Tenet, this instantly clicked with me on a first viewing meaning that I'm Thinking of Ending Things emerges as one of my favourite post-lockdown viewing experiences, watched safely at home on Netflix. The combination of reality and fiction in I’m Thinking of Ending Things is handled so uniquely it’s hard to compare this film to other films directly as there’s nothing else quite like it, and it’s something that will leave you constantly theorizing its direction and story choices over and over again without a concrete answer thanks to its increasingly unreliable narrators and dual perspectives which make the film a dazzling experiment in the surreal that has to be seen to be believed.

You can watch the trailer here.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things is on Netflix internationally now.

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