By Cameron Kaercher
To watch a Charlie Kaufman movie for a realistic story, would be like listening to Cardi B to find lessons about existential pain. His most notable credit is co-writing the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” a film about a broken-up couple who undergoes a medical procedure to erase each other from their memories. The concept of failed relationships comes back for his latest directorial feature.
Adapted from Ian Reid’s 2016 novel of the same name, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” portrays a young woman, Jessie Buckley, going on a road trip with her boyfriend, Jesse Plemons. While driving through the country-side to meet his parents, David Thewlis and Toni Collette, the young woman can’t help but think about breaking up with him.
Even character names can be surprising in this film, so it is best not to divulge too much. Kaufman’s work shares a lot with Reid’s novel, which is a fantastic read if one has the time, but the film adaptation still stands strong by itself.
It is a purely cinematic work because it cannot be adapted back into a novel. The most talented writer could not convey Robert Frazen’s editing or Łukasz Żal’s cinematography because the film’s cinematic language is fluid. The writing would have to oscillate between English, French and Wingdings.
If you can read a film as an interpretation of a person’s inner anxiety, rather than a literal A to B to C story, it will make more sense — evidently, it really doesn’t make sense.
When the family is having dinner with Jessie Buckley, they keep forcing smiles and act on edge while being worried and not at all concerned with embarrassing their son. It is one re-animated chicken carcass away from David Lynch’s “Eraserhead.” There is great tension built through the way Kaufman shoots this sequence, with long takes to emphasize the awkward silences and claustrophobic blocking of the characters.
All four core performances are phenomenal; if there will be an Oscar ceremony this year, they should all be nominated. Toni Collette outdoes herself. Her performance in Ari Aster’s indie-horror hit, “Hereditary,” was rightly showered with praise for being so emotionally raw. There is a similar sense of brokenness here, but there’s another layer: she’s trying to hide it. It feels more nuanced and it leaves a lasting impression.
A very important aspect of Charlie Kaufman’s writing is its self-aware nature. His screenplay for “Adaptation.,” would be the apex of that trait; a movie about a writer trying to write a screenplay about a New York Times article. Oh, and that protagonist’s name? It’s Charlie Kaufman.
In July of this year, Kaufman published his debut novel, “Antkind,” about a film critic who in multiple instances divulges his hatred for Kaufman’s films.
If this sounds daunting, it’s because it is. That is why cinema is a shared experience. One big positive in the film’s release plan is the film didn’t play at festivals months before its nationwide release date. There aren’t a lot of over-hyped reactions to early screenings to sift through, just the standard early press reviews. A majority of the film still has to be dissected and it can be done publicly by us.
We can watch the film, experience it and then bring it with us to our friends. It is a conversation starter. What is the janitor’s relationship to the boyfriend and girlfriend, why does the girlfriend reference “A Woman Under the Influence,” and why does a teenage character have a rash all over her hand?
In a time where definite answers about our future are few and far between, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” gives some comfort.