An Artistic Mess Or Just A Mess?
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is likely to be the most divisive film of the year. In fact, when you look at the split between audience and critic scores on this one, it almost feels like Charlie Kaufman’s latest thriller is designed specifically for those seeking higher meaning and wanting to pick holes and dissect every roll of film stitched together to form this picture.
I’ll admit, usually I’m a real sucker for films like this. Having spent a good portion of my film studies time writing about the deeper meaning of movies and re-watching scenes over and over again for fun. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is not a film I’ll be re-watching again and again any time soon.
In fact, it’s not a particularly fun or joyous watch either. Instead, this plodding art-house picture feels alienating and uninviting; like the bitter, cold wind that groans through the minimalistic sound design in this bloated 2 hour movie.
There’s a reason most stories have a three arc structure and I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a film that looks at this structure and intentionally turns away from it. The screenplay is a Frankenstein’s monster of different reels, brought together to form something decidedly artistic but also lacking a decisive feeling of progression. I get that this film is trying to give off the vibes of being like an incoherent dream, but as a movie this doesn’t translate well at all.
I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is the movie equivalent of throwing a milkshake at a wall and calling it art. For some, the slow dripping milk will symbolize the liquid clocks in Salvador Dali’s Persistence Of Memory. For others, it’s just a milky mess staining the wall.
Unfortunately, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is so preoccupied with making sure its milk is the right consistency and that the colours are just oh-so-perfectly pink that it forgets that it has no business being on the wall in the first place.
Weird milkshake analogies aside, it’s worth stepping back and diving into exactly what this film is. The synopsis and the first act of the movie are intentionally misleading.
I won’t spoil what’s really going on but basically a young woman (we’re only given clues over what her name is) travels with her new boyfriend Jake to his parents’ secluded farm for the weekend. When she arrives, things are clearly not what they seem and it soon becomes apparent that something strange is happening.
Questions begin arriving in quick succession, the narrative focus swings back and forth between this young woman and Jake, while an uneasy sense of dread clings to every minute of this movie. Credit where credit’s due, the first half of this is actually pretty good.
The dialogue is direct, full of interesting monologues about time and our own perception of relationships, while sprinkling in plenty of pop culture references to musicals that play a bigger part later on. This is a slow burn in every sense of the word but these early minutes feel purposeful, like we’re building up to something great.
And it’s at the halfway point where I’m Thinking Of Ending Things starts to become self-aware of what it’s doing and gloats about how great it is. With no structured second and third act, the movie instead starts to descend into numerous images and sequences that feel like they’ve been ripped out of another movie.
Sure, these moments are pretty to look at and do eventually attribute to the themes of the movie but given the patience you’re expected to endure to get to this third act, there’s little to no pay-off beyond moments that feel confusing, obsfucated and frustrating.
There’s very little character growth here too and despite some good narration early on, the number of tangents and long-winded dialogues late on really take out of the moment. Even in movies like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, you still get a feel for who those characters are and what they want. Here though, everything is out of tune and discordant; a broken piano that has a decent melody in there somewhere but is in desperate need of retuning.
Now, many people who do like this film will probably dismiss this review as a critic unaware of what the purpose and meaning is behind these 2 hours. That’s certainly a fair assessment but after reading about the meaning, watching interviews with the cast and crew as well as re-watching certainly parts again a second time, it’s clear that the second half deviates wildly from what could have been a more tightly written and coherent watch.
And I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is not a coherent picture by design. In the words of Dr Malcolm in Jurassic Park, this movie is “so preoccupied with whether or not it could that it didn’t stop to ask whether it should.” Should a milkshake thrown against a wall be classified as modern art? For some, the answer will be a resounding yes; a specimen worth explaining, dissecting and marveling for years to come. For many others, it’s just a spilt milkshake.