The Death of Idealism: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) - Reviewed

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) is a deception—on its surface it masquerades as mumblecore indie romance film, with a painfully self-aware female protagonist marinating constantly in her own inner monologue. In reality, this film is a psychological horror piece, about a man so filled with self-loathing that even in his imagination he cannot manage to conjure up a healthy relationship. 

Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) are going to meet his parents, and on this note the film begins with a long car ride in a snowy oblivion. He trades philosophical conversations with the young woman at his side, she outwardly is conversational but inwardly is considering breaking things off with him. It feels tense even though it’s just a discussion about art and poetry. Why does Jake seem simultaneously annoyed and elated by her words? 

When they get to his parents house the uneasiness continues and the sinister nature of the narrative starts showing its hand. Time and space start becoming loose, his girlfriend seems to have a nebulous identity. Is her name Lucy or Louise? Is she a painter, or is she an astrophysicist, or a waitress? Details are ever changing and the audience is not clued into why. It’s almost as if the film is poorly written and that’s is. Not because Kaufman’s script is bad, because Jake’s  script is bad. 

What we are seeing here isn’t Kaufman’s ego, it’s Jake’s ego. Jake isn’t a self insert for Kaufman, Jake is a parody of the tendency for writers to self insert. The joke here being that he isn’t a good writer and thus his character, the girlfriend, is literally just parroting his own pretentious musings back at him. She’s a mirror of his own inadequacies and he doesn’t like her because he doesn’t like himself. A film made as if the writer is a self insert and he writes his “perfect muse” but is so filled with self loathing that she is also tired of him. She’s like a “manic pixie nightmare girl” what he thinks he wants but in actuality he doesn’t have enough self confidence to actually handle.  Some men want women smart enough to validate their intelligence but not smarter than them so that they don’t feel emasculated. 

The way this film stealthily incorporates this meta aspect is fantastically executed and it is foreshadowed from the very beginning (which is intriguing on a rewatch). The editing is top notch and it plays around with perception sometimes breaking the 180-degree rule to add to the disorientation. The 4:3 aspect ratio adds to the uneasiness and claustrophobic feeling, and I can't help but wonder that it also is a hint that what is going on isn't actually a regular film but an abstraction or a farce.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a subversive anti-romance film that skewers the idealistic female romantic interest that only exists to help the man find himself. It’s why the girlfriend character doesn’t even have a name. She isn’t a character, she’s a fantasy, but a fantasy that gradually becomes more self aware and in doing so her spoken dialogue feels more contrived and at odds with her inner thoughts. Jake made her that way. 

It could also perhaps be read as a satire of sorts of the type of self-aware work that Kaufman is known for, and one can see why he would be attracted to this story. It may be too convoluted of a narrative for people who don’t want to give it the time to establish the premise but those who do will be in for a surreal and melancholy experience. 

--Michelle Kisner