I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Review

Browse By

Netflix’s foray into taboo, art-house features in recent years has been no doubt encouraging to those worried about the survival of smaller, independent cinemas. In the face of the government’s erratic handling of the crisis, a stable base for auteurs to reliably produce on is certainly a reassuring prospect for the future.

Seeing Jess Buckley’s uneasy grimace either side of Kevin Hart and Adam Sandler (the film is labelled as cerebral and dark, accolades also assigned to films like Birdman and Venom) could almost fool most Netflix viewers into believing that this is just another way to kill the quieter evenings. That would not be the case.

The plot concerns Jess Buckley’s character Lucy (a name which curiously changes as the film goes on) travelling out to the countryside to meet her boyfriend’s parents for the first time. However, there are a few issues. Firstly, she must be back the next day to complete a university assignment, however, a snowstorm makes it appear more and more likely that she will have to stay the night at the family’s farmhouse. Secondly, she isn’t really sure if she likes Jake that much and is wrestling with the idea of breaking up with him before or after their visit (because she would hate to behave cruelly in this situation). But, as it would turn out, these quickly become the least of her, and the audience’s worries as the evening progresses.

It’s advertised as a horror film by Netflix, but, without trying to spoil anything, it doesn’t help to view the film this way. This is because it isn’t very scary. Anyone familiar with other works By Kaufman such as Synecdoche, New York and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will be aware of his obsession with death, the difficulty of maintaining satisfying emotional relationships and our helplessness in the face of time’s steady march, and the film’s “horror” aspects are at their most effective when they’re grappling with these timeless questions on the grim nature of human existence. But it is funny too, in a very awkward way. As seems to be the tradition in American cinema, everything goes off the rails after a family meal goes terribly awry. The duo of an unsettling mother and an awkward father appear strangely pantomime in a film focused on the harsh reality of human relationships and struggle to understand the nuances of our own feelings. However, their characters seem to embody the central tension of the film; whether movies that attempt to reflect reality are corrupted by the fact that they can never be more than films, and as such any truth and comfort it attempts to provide the audience is dead on delivery.

The leading duo seem to use cinema as a coping tool to avoid talking about their own relationship. Jake says not long into the film that he’s seen too many films, and the lengthy car journeys that make up much of the film’s runtime include discussions on golden-age Hollywood musicals, classic horror films and a good sprinkling of cinematic in-jokes for people to notice if they care (“Directed by Robert Zemeckis” is a personal favourite). Kaufman at once indulges in horror cliches but also brushes them off just as quickly, an insignificant necessity perhaps to grant the audience what they have come to demand from horror films, if not illuminate how tired and repetitive most genre cinema seems to have become. In a film so concerned with attempting to find truth and meaning, the indulgence in horror tropes is likely an ironic comment on how impossible it is to find truth in genre cinema when it is forced to comply with previously established images and symbols to be considered “authentic” by the audience, and consequently be bought and consumed like the product it is.

But at the same time, the film seems to try as much as it can to employ techniques from other artistic mediums, with the use of dance, animation, Poetry and soliloquies seeming to be an attempt by Kaufman to go beyond any limitations of traditional cinema.

It should be said Jessie Buckley’s performance as “Lucy” is utterly arresting, with both her vulnerability yet quiet self-determination perhaps embodying the film as a whole. Her speech on Cassavetes’s A Woman Under The Influence (Which is, curiously, ripped word for word from Pauline Kael’s review back in 1974) best embodies the film’s indecision as to whether we can understand the world through film (with Gena Rowlands character mirroring Lucy’s own deteriorating mental state and dissatisfaction with the world) or whether cinema is simply an inferior copy of reality, stealing enough to pass itself off as genuine, however lacking any real understanding of life due to its purpose as a product that must be bought and sold. Because no matter how hard you try with your camera to capture every cobweb and shadow of reality,  what the viewer sees on the screen is subject to everything in Hollywood that comes in-between.

Naturally, trying to wrap your head around this is as convoluted as the film itself, and in some ways can lead to the viewer missing the trees for the forest. It’s quite therapeutic to see the film’s individual seedlings, of death, ageing and missed opportunities, treated with such bluntness. Kaufman does not provide answers, because by now he seems reconciled with the fact he cannot and will settle for crafting a film that is a puzzle in itself. Even if cinema cannot answer these questions, it can undoubtedly illuminate these insecurities and give the audience a wake-up call concerning the bleak personal realities that may await them if they don’t take action now. Perhaps the conflict of the film is, in typical Kaufman fashion, answered before it is even asked, when Buckley state’s in the film’s opening line, “you can’t fake a thought”.