Look, right up front, I want to tell you this: I get it.
The problem I have with Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is not that I don’t understand it. Yeah, it’s a pretty oblique movie in some ways – from entire Pauline Kael reviews quoted between cigarette draws to bouncing around between timelines and characters, it’s not a movie that’s here to tell you what’s going on and then leave in time for the last bus.
But I’m a long-seasoned consumer of the pretentious arthouse flick, and I’m ready to be obliqued-upon. I fuck with the weird, the difficult, the pointlessly overdone, just as much as I do with Rob Zombie, right? So, please, I beg you, if you take one thing from this review, let it be this: I do not need this film explained to me.
And in fact, I don’t even need this movie defended. Because I’m Thinking of Ending Things is, undeniably, a really beautiful piece of art. The set design and attention to detail is staggering and striking; the performances, especially from Toni Collette and Jesse Plemons, are fantastic. It catches its tone and sticks to it for the entirety of its near three-hour run, and I admire a commitment to a bit on that level. This is a strange movie, but it’s one that has a method to the madness it displays. To try and argue that this film is a bad one on basic filmmaking merit would be, frankly, to act a bit of a fool: it’s just not badly-made. In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s beautifully-constructed, and I genuinely admire the obvious skill, effort, and ambition that went into weaving a story of this nature.
But, honestly, I didn’t like it.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a grind of a film. That tone it commits to is so specific – the nihilism it embraces so complete – that, if you’re not enamoured with what it’s trying to share with you, this is going to be a punishing watch. And, for me, that’s just what it was: this is a hell of a film, and, if you’re not on board with this particular vision, it’s going to be hell in a film, too. Stylistically, I found this movie so laboured, so difficult to connect with – once you’ve punched through the piles of layers to find your way to what it’s actually trying to say, the message it had to deliver just wasn’t interesting enough to justify the constant effort that sitting through it demands from the viewer. Is life just a pointless reiteration of the same old patterns and awkward family dinners until we die? Yeah, probably, but spending two and a half hours thinking about that is a Tuesday to me, not a movie, you know?
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an undoubtedly impressive and committed piece of art that conveys Kaufman’s singular vision to this specific end. But is it a good movie? Is the definition of a good movie one that conveys its message well? Because, if it is, then yes, Ending Things is a great one. But still – I’m not sure. I sure as hell didn’t enjoy sitting through it, and that, for me, is the measure of a good movie. I get it, but I just don’t like it. I’d love to hear what you made of this movie – please, as always, let us know in the comments below. And share your favourite oblique, weirdo movies done right!
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Empire Online)