I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Starring: Jessie Buckley, David Thewlis, Toni Collette
Written for the screen and directed by: Charlie Kaufman
It is likely that, if you are a cinephile, Charlie Kaufman means a lot to you. With a small, but remarkable collection of beloved films (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Anomalisa, Being John Malkovich, and Synecdoche, New York) it is easy to succumb to the hype when even something that he is involved with is announced. Such was the case with I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Kaufman’s latest work. An adaptation of the novel by Ian Reid, of the same name. In sheer excitement and preparation, I read the book. A heart shattering story of loneliness, regret, and missed opportunities. I was ready to see how Kaufman would interpret this mind bending thriller, not horror as some might try to elude to. In essence, Kaufman fell just a little short.
So why did I still give the film a higher than above average rating? The book. Although Kaufman falls short, he still is able to maintain his balance around the incredibly fragile subject matter and maintain the identity of the original story. Knowing what takes place in the novel allowed me to compare his adaptation with the original story. As the film progressed you could see why he chose certain techniques of filmmaking over others. However, I think more importantly and what makes this film so polarizing is the ending.
What Kaufman got right and what he got wrong…
Kaufman writes naturally in such a way that is profound and meaningful. You know, by his works that he is thoughtful in how he approaches filmmaking. Often tedious and time consuming, it could take you multiple attempts to finally understand the meaning behind his stories. This is the same with ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’. Now for a bit of spoilers. Do not proceed if you wish to read and experience the book on your own, or watch the film. Ok, if it’s not already apparent by the title, this story is about suicide. The story of an old man as he reflects on missed connections and opportunities as he spent most of his life alone, working as a janitor at the same high school he went to. The book ends with two detectives at the scene of his suicide talking about a book they found next to his body, a book detailing an alternate story to his life where he meets a girl at a trivia night at a bar while in college and they start to date and eventually drive to meet his parents. Although very straightforward, the story he tells about young love and missed connections is a mask for more than just those regrets. When the young couple arrive at Jake’s parents house, we get a foggy interpretation of Jake’s relationship with his parents. Now this is where Kaufman injected some of his own creative medicine. His adaptation of this part of the story spent far too much time in reflection of the relationship between Jake and his parents. Instead we get a redundant and confusing (for anyone) montage of the life of his parents. Where the book only goes into this briefly, putting much more of an emphasis on his loneliness. I appreciate the artistic ability to adapt writing to film and yes, adaptations shouldn’t necessarily be a copy of the writing, however there are some elements of the story that should be translated over. The ending, oh, the ending… Let’s just say for now that suicide is complex and a heavy subject to adapt to the screen.
Kaufman’s Interpretation of Suicide
As I mentioned before, it seems like the most polarizing element of Kaufman’s film is the ending. A pretentious and metaphysical interpretation of Jake’s suicide. Where the book was much more forward about what happened, you have to appreciate Kaufman’s tactfulness and attention to those triggered about suicide. We live in a time where the human psyche is more fragile than ever and suicide is prevalent among young people. The tense and heaviness of the story is culminated by the very ending when Jake finally takes his own life. I would like to believe that Kaufman’s adaptation of Jake’s suicide is an ode to a heartbroken man that spent his elderly life in regret. The pain of not taking chances slowly burning at his his core and turning everything he was into charcoal. Kaufman interprets this to film, when elderly Jake in a metaphorical dance with his younger projected self. They tensely battle back and forth when finally elderly Jake stabs his ideal younger self, killing him and leaving him on the gym floor. This is much more peaceful and far less triggering.
I am a bit torn. I sort of wish Kaufman would have kept to the original ending, however I do appreciate the ending he created. Not only it is beautifully tragic, but it is wholly original and 100% Kaufman. I say, don’t take it for what it is superficially. Give it a chance. Maybe it’s not Kaufman’s best work, but it’s a genuine and thought provoking film that contributes to an already great filmography.