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Charlie Kaufman's Film 'I'm Thinking Of Ending Things' Is A 'Universe Of Strangeness'

Photo by Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX
© 2020 Netflix, Inc.
Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley star in "I'm Thinking of Ending Things." (2020)

Screenwriter and filmmaker Charlie Kaufman isn’t afraid to ask the big, confusing questions about life. His previous work, including Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, takes somewhat of a surreal approach to answering questions about our collective humanity.

Kaufman’s latest film on Netflix is called I’m Thinking of Ending Things. At its most basic level, it’s a story about a young couple who travel to meet the boyfriend’s parents on their family farm. But, as with many of Kaufman’s films, it’s a bit more complicated than that.


"The movie at times threatens to become a horror film but doesn’t really do that," notes film contributor Dave Luhrssen. "Some people have described it as psychological horror, and perhaps on some level it goes that way. But I wouldn’t want to call it a horror film, that would be very misleading."

The film is based on Canadian writer Ian Reid's 2016 novel, but Kaufman often applies looser adaptations in his work. Luhrssen says the film plays "a lot of interesting games with time and with the nature of reality and what it is that we can understand about the world we're in."

The lead couple Jake (Jesse Plemons) and Lucy (Jessie Buckley) have the dynamic of a sweet but awkward new couple. But as Lucy spends more time with Jake and his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), she begins to question everything — as does the audience.

Time shifts, appearances change from young to old rapidly, and some family moments are unsettling. So if you're looking for escapism or a nice film to distract you from the problems of the world, Luhrssen notes you won't find it here. "It is definitely a universe of strangeness," he says.

But the universe could not be pulled off as well without the caliber of actors, according to Luhrssen. "They really helped anchor the film," he notes. "The performances are not flashy performances by any means, but there's something very authentic about them."

At first, a Kaufman film may not seem like something Netflix would produce. But Luhrssen suspects the company wants to "operate on many levels simultaneously, and here they're getting what would've been called the 'arthouse' crowd."

The great thing about watching I'm Thinking of Ending Things on Netflix, though, is that you can take a moment to pause, think about it, and come back when you're ready. "It is maybe a better way of consuming difficult films than the theatrical release model," says Luhrssen.

You can read Dave Luhrssen's full review of this film here.

Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
David Luhrssen is arts and entertainment editor of the Shepherd Express, co-founder of the Milwaukee International Film Festival and co-author of A Time of Paradox: America Since 1890. He is the winner of the Pace Setter Award for contributions to Milwaukee's film community from the Milwaukee Independent Film Society. David Luhrssen has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and Milwaukee Area Technical College.