Whenever an award-winning writer starts to adapt their own work, there is always a lot of debate over whether or not they belong in the director’s chair. Perhaps the most controversial example of this is writer-turned-director Charlie Kaufman. He is someone who over the years has developed a huge fan base and support to create big-budget, high-risk films, despite his hit-and-miss track record at the box office.
His latest film, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, runs alongside his previous work in nearly every possible way. As perplexing as it is tender, witty as it is divisive, it’s as easy to recognise this as Kaufman’s creation as it is to recognise Pulp Fiction as Tarantino’s creation.
However, as a fan of his, I couldn’t help but feel let down. I thought it was by far his hardest to love. I also thought it was almost entirely lacking in that rewarding quality I generally associate with his work, such as 2008’s Synecdoche, New York. I do realise that Kaufman’s canon is the pinnacle of subjectivity in the world of cinema, which is probably what makes him so special. I also understand that many people thought that this was his best yet, while other super fans of his absolutely despised it for equally legitimate reasons and personal preferences.
Personally, for all its intriguing characters and esoteric ideas, I found it to be rooted in an extreme level of overindulgence that only acted to alienate me as a viewer a lot more than it should have done. If you’re familiar with enough of his movies, you’ll notice a constant pattern of themes orbiting one everlasting passion of Kaufman’s: existence.
What seems to separate ITOET from some of his best work is the lack of a concrete concept. Take Being John Malkovich, for instance, which in my opinion remains his biggest success. This is a story that explores the idea of what it would be like to become someone else, if only for ten minutes. This idea is looked at from many different perspectives, and presents us with a unique plot and wide range of scenarios to illustrate it. I’m thinking of ending things, however, is about time. Or more specifically, one man’s existential time crisis. And this is explored in two ways: through long, thoughtful discussions, and extended abstract scenes reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which also displayed him at the height of his powers.
And it was these long conversations that I had an issue with. It was the constant flow of throwaway lines of existential philosophy that when really thought about felt shallow and pointless. After a while, I realised I was just waiting for the next rare memorable piece of insight in amongst a mass of irrelevant comments that were ready to be forgotten the second they had been said. It was Charlie Kaufman musing to himself, and never anything beyond that.
That’s not to say there weren’t elements that I enjoyed about it. The performances were near perfect, especially that of Toni Collette and Jessie Buckley. I also enjoyed the Lynchian elements of it, which reminded me particularly of Eraserhead. From a rocky start, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the last thirty minutes, even if it didn’t quite redeem much of the first hour or so. I admire its ambition, even if I don’t believe it ever reaches its potential. Perhaps it had a more subtle genius to it. To me, it felt like a misfire.
I’m thinking of ending things is just a director making the film he wants to make. It lacks discipline, it’s indulgent, but it’s original. I can’t say I entirely enjoyed it, but it intrigued me nonetheless, and I’d recommend for people to watch it themselves and see what they make of it.
I’ll rate it 3 stars – not a masterpiece by any stretch of the word, but undeniably unique.