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I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020) Review: An Expertly Crafted But Ultimately Unsatisfying Puzzle

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is like a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces all fit together just-so, everything is exquisitely crafted and layered, it all comes together. I can’t deny this. It’s a very well made film, and the acting is great. However, I just couldn’t enjoy it. It was like one of those 10,000 piece jigsaws of a pile of baked beans: you work a little to put it all together but in the end it’s not at all satisfying, it’s just beans. Worse, there’s a piece missing. For me, that piece was any degree of entertainment.

The story, on its face, is fairly simple. A young woman (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) drive to visit his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis). Upon arrival, things start to get strange: people’s appearance, age and personalities change between shots without explanation as the quartet prepare to spend the evening together.

I do like the majority of Charlie Kaufman’s stuff, but the films I like (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Anomalisa) used a fairly simple narrative device to explore complex psychological themes. I’m Thinking of Ending Things just seemed excessive, needlessly impenetrable, and self-indulgent. Excruciatingly long stretches of conversational car journeys, a complete and utter lack of guidance in helping the viewer unpack what is going on, the most apt word for this film for me is “annoying”. Even the opening titles were annoyingly tiny!

What’s annoying is that the cast are all excellent, there’s clearly a great deal of thought put into each and every aspect of production, and it is rich in meaning. But what is it in service of? It was a puzzle that felt very unsatisfying to solve. I didn’t think “Wow, how clever!”, just shrugged and was happy it was over. I’m sure there are many who will love this film, and enjoy the nature and execution of the puzzle, but it just wasn’t for me.

5/10

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020), is available on Netflix.

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