Kaufman’s surrealism is hard to bear

 Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Opens Sept. 5

3 out of 5

Charlie Kaufman is having a moment. The 2004 Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and nominee for Anomalisa, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich) is no longer filtering his vision through others. He’s directing his own movies and writing lengthy, uncompromising books.

Now, is this a good thing? I’m inclined to say no.

I read 100 pages of Antkind before giving up. You’d think the book is right up my alley (a stuck-up critic gains access to a world-changing movie only to see it destroyed), but the self-indulgence was too much to bear.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a more palatable, yet still unsatisfactory experience. The visual flair filmmakers like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze gave to Kaufman scripts is nowhere to be found. Instead, the auteur abuses uncinematic tools like voice-over and monologuing.

The film revolves around a young woman (Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose) reluctantly joining her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) on a road trip to his parents’ farm. She is thinking of ending things with Jake (shocker!), and the time she spends with him seems to reaffirm her decision.

Something amiss permeates the trip. Jake’s parents (Toni Colette and David Thewlis) appear alternatively old, middle-age and ancient in the course of the evening, their dog shakes uncontrollably throughout, and Jake seems uncharacteristically hostile towards everybody. Even worse, it seems as if the young woman’s name and profession changes while at the farm.

Kaufman’s brand of surrealism is more closely anchored to reality than, say, David Lynch’s. He cheats you into believing you’re in a recognizable plane of existence only to pull the rug from under you. While the extended dialogue scenes inside Jake’s car can wear you down, at least the subjects they discuss are thought-provoking, from John Cassavetes’ misogyny to the questionable undertones of “Baby, it’s cold outside”.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things wouldn’t work at all if it wasn’t for Jessie Buckley. The excellent Irish actress provides the film with the warmth it sorely needs. In a movie about hopelessness, Buckley is the beacon that gets you through.