Courtesy of Netflix
Screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman is no stranger to narrative mind-benders. His 1999 feature film writing debut, Being John Malkovich, centered around an unemployed puppeteer who could access a portal into the mind of the titular actor. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he explored the highs and lows of love with a literal trip down memory lane (winning an Academy Award for Original Screenplay in the process).
Now, five years since his last film, Kaufman returns with I’m Thinking of Ending Things, an adaption of the 2016 novel by Iain Reid. In the film, Lucy (Jessie Buckley) heads on a long, wintry road trip with her boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons), to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis). However, before the trip even begins, Lucy has already contemplated the idea of breaking up with him. Soon after they reach the parents’ house, her reality starts subtly shifting, taking you on an increasingly psychological ride.
This was my first time seeing Buckley, who previously starred in HBO’s limited series Chernobyl, and her performance here drives the film and captures your attention throughout. Plemons is a wonderful complement—few actors can simultaneously convey a meek demeanor and underlying terror as well as he can. The writing is especially nuanced: From Lucy and Jake’s conversation during their 20-minute car ride scene, to their dinner with his parents, Kaufman wonderfully captures the subtleties and awkwardness of these interactions.
From that point on, the film gets incredibly twisty. Even if you’re paying sharp attention to the finer details of changed clothing and shifting faces, it’s easy to get lost in the maze, and there’s a high likelihood that when all is said and done, you’ll have little idea just what exactly happened. No matter the case, this movie merits repeat viewings to catch all of the breadcrumbs being dropped. Fortunately, the performances and script are so strong, you won’t mind at all.