Review: ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ twists the meaning of time – and the complexities of relationships

‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is not a film to watch while doing homework. (Photo Courtesy of Indie Wire)

What if time was not a chronological straight line but a series of events without any meaningful sequence?

Last month, Netflix released the long-awaited “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” written and directed by Charlie Kaufman.

The movie presents Lucy, played by Jessie Buckley, is an intellectual feminist whose wit and beliefs are often threatening to her boyfriend Jake, played by Jesse Plemons. Jake listens, but is often taken aback by Lucy’s wit and charisma in her studies and by her confidence in her beliefs. Throughout the film, he often loses his temper and shows signs of emotional instability. The film follows this young couple as they journey to a farm to meet Jake’s parents.

The phrase “I’m thinking of ending things” is repeated throughout the movie, incorporating a suspense and a question of what there is to end. This fresh, mismatched relationship? That would be the immediate answer, but questions regarding the concept of time are weaved into the story, complicating this solution.

There is an older janitor introduced at the beginning of the film who works at a school that produces a number of musicals. Jake is well acquainted with the history of musical theater and connects the pieces of Lucy’s story to different musicals. When asked about the source of his vast familiarity with the genre, he exclaims that he saw the kids perform at school, and that he sometimes sees them working at a supermarket or other places later on, as they have moved on with their lives. The janitor has worked at the school for many years, and this knowledge of musicals could apply to him too. What is the role of the janitor in the film? Is this his story?

Lucy, whose name changes to Louisa and then Ames throughout the film, studies quantum physics, although we go on to find out that she is actually studying gerontology. This seemingly essential information about Lucy changes, which seems to be a significant stylistic choice of the writer, as memories are constantly re-shaped and molded with time, a concept Lucy is fascinated by. Throughout the journey, she ponders the meaning of time: “Are we stagnant points and time only passes through us?”

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” bends time and forces the viewers to think about life not as a straight line but as a series of events lacking sequence that have meaning because of time.

The diligence pin that Jake received as a child signifying that he was “not the smartest, not even smart but the hardest working” boy serves as a symbol. Lucy/Louisa is trapped in Jake’s world, and her intelligence is a threat to Jake’s success. However, she alters the way that Jake’s parents look at him, as she is a nurturing, caring, smart girlfriend.

Perhaps it is an accomplishment to Jake for finding her. Or is it the janitor’s? The pin of diligence certainly would be well deserved by a school janitor working tirelessly, serving others for decades at the same high school. Not the smartest, but certainly most hard-working. And if you’re left to the disposal of your own thoughts, your mind begins to wonder and create. Did Lucy ever exist or was she a fictional character born out of janitor’s mind? Did Jake ever exist, or was he that nearly perfect altered version of the youthful janitor? And does that matter anyway if we are only the points that time needs to pass through to strike its course?

Charlie Kaufman leaves the audience amazed with both the captivating dialogue, birthed from a philosopher’s mind, and images that will leave their mark on your memory. You will begin thinking of the ordinary scenes in life as meaningful moments that help us pass time (or help the time pass through us). This is not a film to watch while attempting to complete your homework assignment; it will leave you mesmerized and full of questions. It demands your full attention. This piece of screen-art is for the brave who are not afraid to think about its meaning. Don’t hesitate to re-watch it. It will certainly change the way you view the world.

For those interested in Kaufman’s style, also watch “Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind” (2004) starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey.  

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