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Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the Epitome of a Perfect “Adaptation”

Yes, I ate at a Dairy Queen for the first time in years right before watching this in celebration of the novel which features DQ as one of the main locations. AND WOULDN’T YOU KNOW IT? LOW AND BEHOLD, THE MOVIE DIDN’T KEEP THIS DEMANDING DETAIL OF THE BOOK IN IT’S TRANSFORMATION; THE MOST CRUCIAL PIECE TO THE STORY.

I’m kidding, by the way—not about eating at the DQ but that I care about an accuracy such as that—if you couldn’t tell. It’s a mediocre food joint anyways, haHA. 

Evidently, it appears as if the often praised and sometimes detested experimental screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, has translated the uncomfortable awkwardness of the controversial 2016 novella, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, into an arguably perfect glaze. The hopelessness of Iain Reid’s brilliant source material could never be better conveyed in the cinematic format as it has here. Kaufman and Reid clearly share an akin trait of misery; they’re both simultaneously writing masters in understanding the seclusion that ensues in our brains, expressing these debunks through bonafide streamlines of sentences and words. Copying a book is easy; amplifying a book however is a tough chore, yet, Kaufman has outdone that requirement in his latest directorial piece I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

In terms of cinematic cues that Kaufman utilizes to distinguish this movie from the book, there’s a selection to choose from. The way the director plays with time feels so short and repetitious; he makes those hazy past memories appear as if they’re only accompanied by maybe a small, GIF-degree of length that repeats and repeats and repeats and repeats or is sheltered to only adding onto the qualms of even those closest to you. It’s facts such as this that make us despise our thinking, AKA, our inclination to be able to unlock either the negative or short fragments of our ambiguous past to pile onto the already melancholic state we face as we grow older and try to rationalize existentialism. Kaufman exposes our natural programming to include more dreaminess in our desires, allowing the impact of unfulfillment to graze our hearts even harder—like a Greek tragedy, or a Shakespearian operatic; it’s supposed to be devastatingly dramatized but why does it feel so real? It seems as if Kaufman’s visual surrealism here has offered me that rare opportunity to prefer a film media over its source material, alas.

Color grading had me floatin’ too. Had to get that trademark out of the way before moving on… Umm… moving on.

In terms of what I’m Thinking of Ending Things means in its entirety, it feels undetermined. If anything, the closest I have so far to putting a nail on it is that it’s primarily just a streamline of desperate processing. Sure, it could be more purposeful than that, but these queries are what have me thirsting for second rounds. Could the film be focused on how imprisoned outcasts feel since they can never stop observing the ones who seem torn straight out of a fictional fairytale or, rather perhaps, its concentrated on deviously illustrating how tragically alike we all are and how painful it must be for us to have to go through the same issues life features yet somehow always experience it alone. Names slowly become meaningless as our unnamed lead character is continuously called by many; the labels mean nothing when we all boil down to a contrived stereotype, forced to be executed at the hands of life’s monotony.

The characters in I’m Thinking of Ending Things feel as if they’re trying to escape their bodies into the heads of others, like a quest to see if they may shine that kind of purposeful gratification their inceptions simply couldn’t offer. The dream is to find that special somebody you truly can feel imperative to embody, have a chance in the spotlight (as per Kaufman usual), aimed at a crowd of everybody who ever (in)directly nagged at you all your life and gnarl to yourself: “hey, I did it. I got somewhere. I did something that… that mattered. I showed them now, didn’t I?” Yet, I doubt from the complex of Kaufman, that that is nearly a probable achievement to obtain no matter how many hosts we can leap into and comprehend. All his accents are as nihilistic as they get—but hey, I haven’t not enjoyed one of his pseudo-intellectual spiels just quite yet!

From a reasonable viewpoint, Kaufman may be spouting out Reid’s basic philosophy notes a little too blunt in some zones or even relying blatantly on some of his past work stemming from Anomalisa and most notably Synecdoche, New York—old people get older, individuality is undefinable, we are all subject to die, die, die with not a sliver of quenching, etc.—but it’s the execution of how he portrays these concepts that allows them to feel grander, newer, and more applicable to our own turmoiled minds in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. No spoilers here, but the dude has always been a creative personality when it comes to what genres and what various “art hobbies” he chooses to showcase on camera to express these written ideas.

All in all, Netflix viewers proceed with caution. If you saw the trailer (which by the way, showed far too much of the movie) then don’t expect a throw-it-on, conventional thriller; this will be a disconcerting head-scratcher for neophytes who are new to either Reid’s story or Kaufman’s melodramatic tendencies. By the way, if you’re curious to know what I think of the novel (which is essentially the same as my thoughts on Kaufman’s version of the story) I actually wrote a review of it back in 2019. My writing in it is a smidge outdated and borderline super pretentious, but y’know, you can’t escape your past sometimes. Check it out! 

Overall: movie = awesome?

Verdict: A-

2020 Ranked, Jonze & Kaufman Ranked

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is now available to stream on Netflix.

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