Iain Reid’s internal, metaphysical, and reality-twisting debut novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, was the obvious source material for internal, metaphysical, and reality-twisting writer-director, Charlie Kaufman. Although Kaufman’s film echoes the novel’s arresting characters and haunting ideas about relationships, the human condition, and, of course, death, it is more of a faint impersonation of Reid’s novel than a true companion piece.
Lucy, or sometimes Lucia or Louisa (Jessie Buckley), reluctantly agrees to meet the parents of her peculiar boyfriend of seven weeks, Jake (Jesse Plemons). Lucy reveres Jake for his intelligence and his job, which is ambiguously scientific and involves a lab. Although she’s infatuated with his brilliance, she is—as the title suggests—thinking of ending things. On the car ride to Jake’s parents’ farm, the two discuss childhood and recite poetry. (About 45 minutes of the 134-minute runtime are spent driving to and from the farmhouse.)
When they arrive at the snowy farm, Jake gives Lucy a tour of the grounds, including a distressing and morbid look at the rotting corpses of the farm’s pigs. Sufficiently disturbed, Jake takes Lucy in to meet his mother (Toni Collette) and father (David Thewlis). Intentional continuity issues plague the dinner as the viewers are forced to unravel the strange mysteries of Jake, Lucy, and the farmhouse.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a reiteration of Kaufman’s perpetual obsessions. The novel’s disorienting plot successfully keeps readers from anticipating its ending; Kaufman’s adaptation gives up the game far earlier in the interest of exploring the nature of reality. I share the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind co-writer’s fascination with existentialism, but surely there’s more to life than nihilism. Reid’s novel is a deconstruction of fragile masculinity, a subject Kaufman ignores entirely in favor of familiar beats.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is carried by its superb cast; the Jess(i)es, as well as Collette and Thewlis, are phenomenal. All four should be in the conversation for Oscar nominations. The strange events in the film disconcert each character in their own way; Plemons is resentful, Buckley is jittery, Collette is hysterical, and Thewlis is macabre. The casting is impeccable, particularly Collette and Thewlis, who are delightfully disturbing as ghoulish, kooky in-laws. The highlight of I’m Thinking of Ending Things is unquestionably one of the most uncomfortable family dinners ever committed to film. The scene, which is among the best of the year, is chilling and darkly hilarious.
Kaufman leans into his interests throughout I’m Thinking of Ending Things, but it only pays off at the dinner table. The film mostly weathers its uneven tone and sputtering pace, though an interpretive dance number in the third act completely derails the plot in service of overindulgent symbolism. Reid’s book is unsettling, subtle, and broadly thematic—Kaufman’s adaptation is a knockoff.