It’s around 2:30 AM, and I’m in a groupchat with 6 other people with whom I watched I’m Thinking of Ending Things. We’re all in different timezones, 2:30AM to me is 5PM to someone else, and 6AM to another person. The groupchat is flooding with a constant influx of messages that are either filled with theories or pure confusion. This goes on for about an hour, until we decide that it’s too much to try and make sense of right after watching, it’s best to give our brains a rest. However, I find it hard to do that.
This film keeps nagging at me, it’s like a puzzle that I’m inexplicably drawn to attempt to solve.
However, that pull seems to come into conflict with what I feel is an overlying theme: letting go.
Before unpacking that can of worms, I’ll try to give you as much as a spoiler-free review as possible.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is Charlie Kaufman’s adaptation of Iain Reid’s drama/horror novel by the same name. It follows an unnamed young woman (Jessie Buckley) as she takes a trip with her boyfriend of seven weeks, Jake, (Jesse Plemons) to visit his parents (Toni Collette & David Thewlis) at their old farmhouse. The couple joins Jake’s parents for dinner, and they stay for a while longer, which turns out to be an incredibly tense and mind-bending time, courtesy of Thewlis and Collette’s performances. There’s two other pit stops that they make on their way home, which are all chock-full of hypnotic dialogue and dream-like spaces. That’s all I can really tell you without spoiling.
Okay, now onto spoiler territory.
I’m a firm believer that there’s really no one way to interpret something, especially art. I’ve seen people have wildly different interpretations of this movie, and I really love that, that’s what made me stay up talking about this movie in a group chat until nearly 4AM.
“You play the hand you’re dealt. You make lemonade. You…you move on.”
To me, this is a journey about a man letting go and moving on. Within this journey, there’s a story that’s being constructed, but it’s messy and fractured. It’s unclear what’s real and what’s a fantasy in this story, but I don’t think there’s any use in trying to decipher. Jake says there’s no objective reality, just what’s colored in the brain.
This janitor, the one who’s been working at the highschool he went to decades back, the one who’s been rotting all these years, is trying to piece together his life, but in a way that doesn’t make it so hard to go. This results in the construction of the unnamed woman, who’s also called Lucy, Lucia and Yvonne, all women he’s noticed from afar or on TV, all women that he wishes he could have had something with. Women that are ideal, perfect (to him). Because she’s an amalgamation of these fantasies, the unnamed doesn’t stay the same. The unnamed woman changes outfits, glasses, names, phones, careers and even voices.
Kaufman is no stranger to writing manic pixie dream girls, but here I think we really bear witness to the damage that idealization and projection can do.
The unnamed woman struggles with the box Jake has put her in, it’s restricting, it’s strange and suffocating. It’s all too much for a man she’s only known for seven weeks and sometimes doesn’t even like all that much. But, because this is Jake’s story, she stays with him till the end, looking out at him in the crowd, teary-eyed, as he gives his final speech and performance.
This story is a practice in remembering. A childhood home, A mother and a father. A loneliness that seems to hang over Jake for too long.
Jake holds a resentment toward his mother, he blames her for his loneliness, for the way he is. But he still cries as he watches her slip away, perhaps fearing the same happening to him.
I think there’s a lot about regret in this, which maybe explains why The Janitor is attempting to rewrite history before the end.
Let’s talk about the end.
There’s three finales to this story, one where the old janitor is gently urged by a rotting cartoon pig to ‘join’ him in death, another where Jake gives a final grand performance before dying, finally amounting to something, and the very final ending, where someone in a snow-covered car starts the engine.
Let’s focus on the ending with the pig for a second. The pig comes to the janitor in a moment of panic, the janitor is startled, waking up naked in his truck, but the pig is a comfort. As they walk, he tells him:
“It’s not so bad, once you stop feeling so sorry for yourself because you’re just a pig. Or even worse, a pig infested with maggots. Someone has to be a pig infested with maggots, right? It might as well be you. It’s the luck of the draw.”
The Janitor (who we now know is also Jake) has spent so much time regretting, resenting and rewriting, to no avail. The story he tries to construct at the end of his life is fragmented and painful. It takes too much to remember all the things he could’ve had, all the things he should’ve said, and all the things he didn’t do. There’s no use trying to change it, it’s impossible. Sometimes a nice story isn’t enough, sometimes all there is left to do is accept it and move on.
The janitor’s death complicates the very final scene, where someone tries to start the snowed-in car. Personally, I believe this to be Jake, in his youth, letting go of regret and resentment, allowing himself to simply be.
Maybe you have to be at death’s door to finally let go, and maybe you have to let go to keep on living.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is available to stream on Netflix now