I’m Thinking of Ending Things is brooding and existential in a broader scope

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Netflix

The 2020 film, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, falls into the psychological thriller/horror genre and explores the limits and price of ones escape from reality.

*WARNING: discussion of suicide*

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, directed by Charlie Kaufman, is an existential roller coaster ride until the very last minutes of the film.

Nonetheless, delving deeper into the limits of the term “roller coaster ride,” it is extremely bleak unless the viewer actually has an understanding of the layers of the movie. 

The opening scene pans down upon a seemingly intelligent and opportunist girl with red hair: Lucy (Jessie Buckley). Her inner monologue throughout the movie commences when she begins to speak on her dread-filled mind with the prospect of visiting her new boyfriend’s parents.

Soon after, the viewer is introduced to Lucy’s boyfriend, Jake, (Jesse Plemons) who—throughout the entirety of the film—has her painted in this goddess-like mentality inside his head. As the couple drives off into a dull countryside, many philosophical discussions come up between the two. Interestingly enough, during Lucy’s inner monologues, Jake almost seems to hear her: turning his head in earnest as she mumbles grievances against him inside of her own head.

In this forty-five minute long portion of the film, there are abrupt cuts to a janitor (Guy Boyd) working in a high school. This older man seems quiet and observant; in fact, many of his actions mirror the seemingly meaningless aspects of both this movie and its interpretation of life itself.

By the end of the car ride, it can be known (through subtle hints) that this strange janitor is, in fact, an older version of Jake himself. This man encapsulates Jake’s fear, reflecting on many of them: the terrifying possibilities of personal success to a nine-to-five job. More on this, it is revealed that Jake has a certain soft-spot for the musical Oklahoma!

Once the couple pulled into Jake’s parents’ house, he insisted that he show Lucy around the farm before going inside. As they make their way into the barn, Jake talks about how they lost all of the pigs to maggot infestations in his youth.

They make their way inside the main house as Jake eerily calls for his parents—nobody answers for about two minutes of screen time. Upon sitting down for dinner, Lucy brings up multiple occupations she has that, frankly, really just don’t make sense. Later, while she is looking at old family pictures on the walls, Lucy spots a picture of herself as a young girl. But, when she turns to Jake for an explanation and goes to look again, the image changes into a childhood picture of Jake himself.

This final clue determines the viewer’s understanding of the rest of the film. From this point on, it is important to understand that Lucy is not actually a real person, but, rather, a figment of Jake’s imagination of the perfect pop-culture woman that the media told him he was supposed to fall in love with.

Nonetheless, the lines soon become blurred between the two as Lucy loses more and more of who she is as she walks through the house. Jake’s parents age forwards and backwards every time they leave a scene, and all the doors in the house have labels appear upon them—like walking through an attention-deprived and psychedelic mind-scape.

Up until this point, and maybe even after if the viewer didn’t catch on to these un-explicitly stated details, the movie was an utter bore without understanding the backbone of Jake’s imagination. This new genre of American-dream-style-horror is popping up everywhere in the psychological thriller/horror genre, specifically for people who are looking for movies that they can dissect.

As Jake and Lucy once again find themselves in his car, they begin to head home through the blizzard. Stopping for ice cream on the way, another deeper theme of the film is revealed from two stereotypical “mean girls” who serve the couple: insecurity. Perhaps, speaking of Jake’s obvious lack of purpose in life, his less-than-ideal image of himself is the very reason he creates Lucy in the first place. Dreams are an escape, and he imagines himself in an almost romantic novel-esque way—as seen later in a scene in the high school where a more lustrous Lucy and Jake are seen rehearsing for a dance number for Oklahoma!

As the couple drives down the road to Jake’s high school, he has moments where he breaks; pounding his fists on the wheel in utter anguish. Jake gets out of the car, leaving Lucy behind, where she then ponders about death and specifically mentions how hypothermia may not be the worst way to go. With no Jake in sight, she decides to leave the car and search the high school.

Upon entering the building, she runs into the janitor (or older Jake) and is very apparently distraught and confused.

it does an oddly specific job of capturing deep fears that some hold concerning the American dream and life’s purpose”

Soon after, the the second-to-last scene of the movie takes place in the auditorium—Jake is on stage receiving a prize after performing in Oklahoma! The audience consists of all younger people but with very obvious wrinkle lines drawn onto their faces with something resembling black and white grease paint.

The rows upon rows of faces include Lucy and both of Jake’s parents. Otherwise, other individuals are most likely people that Jake has passed by—as this film reveals itself more and more as an old man’s abstract and, for some parts, incorrect recap of his life.

In the ending, a comparison is made between people and the pigs; we all fall victim to the maggots of the media and popular culture and slowly rot away. After this revelation, the janitor commits suicide by succumbing to the blizzard and eventually passing away from hypothermia.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an incredibly difficult film to get through if the viewer is not paying attention to every single second of screen time. Overall, it does an oddly specific job of capturing deep fears that some hold concerning the American dream and life’s purpose. It is a depressing watch, but the overall craftsmanship and attention to detail is something well worth noting of Kaufman.