I’m Thinking of Ending Things Discussed Explained

I'm Thinking of Ending Things is why I created this website. It is perfect in pretty much every single way.
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I never do this. Haven’t done it. As in, this is a first. I’m literally only half way done watching the movie I’m Thinking of Ending Things and here I am heralding it from the roof tops? What am I thinking? It could be absolute poo down the back nine. Utter and complete trash on the final half! You can’t write an exhortation for a movie you haven’t seen! And yet here I am heralding it anyway. I mean, I literally hit the stop button, in order to write this, in order to get it out to you faster. OK, so – over on Netflix, specifically, right here, you can watch this movie with me. And eventually, I’ll make it through all the normal talking points I hit with each recommendation and discussion. Promise. I’m Thinking of Ending Things Discussed Explained.

If you’ve watched and enjoyed the movie She Dies Tomorrow (which was utter epicness) you will really enjoy this. (I mean, of what I’ve seen of it so far.) Or maybe the house bits, and the deep questions of Amulet? The movie is Charlie Kaufman’s latest film, and one I’ve been waiting for – for a very long time. (You know, the guy that brought us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?) Kaufman has helmed the director’s chair or written some really extraordinary films. He constantly plays with, toys with, the idea of reality in his films, like a cat plays with a ball of string. His style and manipulations of reality are so distinct, and so irregular Kaufman has his own style, his own genre even. It’s so much more important to reach out with your emotions and press through through the movie. It’s like a philosopher’s vantage of existentialism but in cinematic celluloid format.

The film I’m Thinking of Ending Things is based on the novel by the same name, written by Iain Reid. (Which I read a few weeks ago in expectation of the movies arrival, but the movie has a few unexpected twists I didn’t see coming from the novel format.) It begins as a movie about a woman (played by Jessie Buckley, who you know from Taboo, and she was also brilliant in Chernobyl too.) with a feeling of ending things. On a trip with her new boyfriend (Jesse Plemons – you know Black Mirror’s episode USS Callister? So good. And I also loved him in Game Night as well.) to visit his parents. Here she is meeting his parents, but she wants to not only end the relationship, but maybe also her life? And yet, everything is shifting. Is her name Lucy? Louisa? Lucia? Is she a poet? Is she an artist? A physicist?? WHAT IS GOING ON? And honestly, I still don’t know where Kaufman is going with this film version of the book. But man, am I loving it so far. And there, I’ve said it.

I’ll be back to discuss the full movie once I’ve finished it. Welcome back time traveler – YES! What an ending!!! Holy midgets and macaroni my friend. That was über to a level I haven’t seen in a very, very, very, long time. So let’s get to it, because we have miles to go before we sleep, miles to go before we sleep!

Beware Spoilers Here On Out!!

OK, from here on out there will be epic spoilers from beginning to end. Do not continue one if you haven’t seen this masterpiece yet. Again, watch it here, then come on back to discuss it with us. Alright let’s do this thing.

The moment I finished the movie, I jumped to Libbie, and grabbed a copy of the book and sped read that sucker as fast as I could. Because I knew I was going to need as much help as I could deciphering this thing. The basic story is deceptively simple. A couple meet. Begin dating. And seven weeks later, Jake feels good enough about his girlfriend (who is unnamed… or named so many things its nigh on impossible to pin her down. I think her official title in the cast sheet is eerily just “Young Woman”) to take her to meet his parents. So the two hop in the car and take the trip out to the farm town where his parents live to make the meet and greet happen. The first 20 or 30 minutes are just the two of them firing back, discussing philosophical entrees into art, poetry, physics, really anything. These two are sociological polyglots. Apparently. They flit from Tolstoy, to Guy Debord, Anna Kavan, Mussolini’s train, philosophers, artists, poets, movies. These two are really difficult to keep track of. And trust me, every single reference sent me scrambling and clawing me through the deeper recesses of Google to keep up with them.

For example, the young woman, from rote, recites her latest poetic work “Bonedog” to Jake. Uhm. Only problem is that, we later discover, that the poem is actually from the book Rotten Perfect Mouth by Eva H. D. Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. This pillaging of other’s works is a key underpinning to the entirety of the plot, its purpose, and might just be a crucial bit o’ evidence to help us unlock what the heck is happening here.

The two eventually arriving at his parent’s farm – and after a tour in the freezing cold, and a horribly apocryphal story about the death of the family’s hogs (the pigs were being eaten alive by maggots) they go in to meet the family. She’s introduced to Jake’s mother (played by Toni Collette, um Hereditary and Knives Out) and Jake’s father (played by David Thewlis) and a really iffy dog named Jimmy. The weirdness is a solid 12 on a 10-point scale. From the fact that the spread was enough to make a Thanksgiving meal look anemic, to Jake’s mother’s discussion about how she hears voices in her head, supposedly caused by her tinnitus. His mother’s disgusting feet, lost toenails, you know… blech. The thing that really stopped me in my tracks was the carnage on a door leading to the basement, you know, animal scratches, tape sealing it shut… the standard stuff of horror movie nightmares. This has has got to be the house of some sort of homicidal maniac. GOTTA-BE.

But, those things aren’t the scary bits. Yes, I know what I just said. The stuff that is really worrisome is the fact that this house is some sort of time warp. Either that or there were some really really good drugs in that dinner mom made for them. Jake’s parents go from being fit, and vigorous, to bed ridden and on their death beds. From able-bodied parents to deaf, and near blind. Jake’s girlfriend also sees a picture of herself on the wall as a young child. Wait, WHAT? Well, it’s either Jake or herself anyway. Huh? You see, the really scary bits is that Jake’s girlfriend’s name just keeps changing. And Jimmy goes from happily wagging his tail downstairs to his ashes being in an urn in Jake’s bedroom. Worse than that, her entire background changes moment to moment. One second she is a physicist, or maybe a scientist that deals with aging, to a waitress, to poet, to artist. Heck, their origin story of how they met changes moment to moment. One second its a story about a trivia contest at the local pub, the next second it’s at a restaurant where she takes his order. There literally is nothing to grasp onto here. It’s all shifting sands. What is going on!? At first I was sure that she was a mental patient, and then I remember, ah, yes, this is a work created by the brilliant Charlie Kaufman. I TOTALLY forgot there for a second. Gah. Sorry, my bad. Kaufman is hellbent on telling us a story about the loneliness of life. He has his foot on the pedal and is heading this freight train right at the idea of life’s inevitable end. We are all going to die. And a lot of us may just find out it’ll be sooner than you would have thought imaginable.

Now, eventually, after great cajoling, the duo leave to head back “home.” But out of the blue, they make a “random” stop at Tulsey Town to get ice cream. (Wait, what?) And for some reason, it’s important. This seems critical. But why? I’m not sure. It’s weird, in that it sort of feels like a ritual – a re-occurrence. Could this be a loop, a constant rotating set of circumstances? Girl, Parents, Ice cream, Home? Or something? What is going on here? When Jake heads up to the ice cream shack, (Which seems more like a stop on the way to purgatory than it does a purveyor of ice cream.) he is all kinds of awkward. He doesn’t want to talk to the two good looking teens working the window… who, completely ignore his girlfriend, and instead, only look at him. (IS SHE EVEN THERE???) Well, apparently, there is another worker at Tulsey Town – one with a rash on her arms. Oh, and Jake? Yeah, he has the same exact kind of rashes on his arms. Hrmmm.

But What Happened At The End of I’ve Been Thinking of Ending Things???!?

OK. Before we move further, through to the end, we are all going to do a few breathing exercises before we move forward. Okay? Alright – GO. BREATHE. In. Out. In…….. Out. Ready to move on? I’m not so sure I am. Hahahaha.

One thread of the movie (and the book) that I haven’t discussed really at all is the old man that works at the high school. As the movie progresses, we would just find ourselves following in the footsteps of a janitor who silently moves about a high school, cleaning, watching, mopping, watching, dusting, watching. It is a truly confusing section of film. But as we approach the ending it becomes more and more apparent that there is some sort of intrinsic connection between Jake and this older fellow. Jake seems to be a physicist? And yet, maybe not. Jake has an extraordinary affinity for his high school, and knows it inside and out, and yet, disdained going there. It’s really curious. Well, this janitorial thread becomes more and more important as the movie progresses. It’s like a ticking time bomb that will inevitably go off, just give it enough time folks. This old guy is going to blow everything up, and sure enough, he does in an extraordinary fashion.

As Jake continues his journey with his girlfriend back home, (Come on, did you ever think we were going to make it home? No. No, you didn’t. I didn’t either. There wasn’t going to be a happy ending for her, that is for sure.) he decides he’s going to throw away their shakes at the school. And Jake’s girlfriend becomes more and more certain that he is doing something terrible to her now. There couldn’t possibly be a legitimate high school at the end of this winding little road. And when they finally arrive at the school and Jake completely disappears – things are obviously going from bad to worse for her. And when she eventually goes inside to avoid hypothermia, she doesn’t find Jake, but instead she finds the janitor.

The janitor seems to be a compassionate individual, one that is at least attempting to assuage her concern anyway. And yet, not. But one thing we have to be 100% clear about – the Janitor literally is Jake. They aren’t similar. They aren’t both disaffected individuals. They are literally both Jake. Yes, the movie didn’t make that readily clear. It hints at it here and there. But isn’t super clear. So you can be forgiven for not picking that particular detail up. It’s in the book that we learn this literal detail – and there it is super, super obvious. We are given details about a terrible occurrence that happened at the high school through the thoughts and conversations of two unidentified characters. And in time we learn that the disturbing incident is actually a suicide. Not only that, but we also learn that the janitor had been there at the school for many years, going on forever. He was smart. He was shy. And very strange simultaneously. He must have been considering ending things for many years. (Do you see what happened there? Don’t miss that flip. When I first considered the title, we were made to assume that it was the woman who was going to end the relationship. But, ultimately, we learn that the title actually is in reference to Jake’s considering suicide. Dual meanings are clever that way.)

But Who is This “Girlfriend”?

OK, so Jake is the janitor. Disturbing, but I get it. Fine. But who is this shape-shifting woman, the woman that appears to be his “girlfriend.” OK, so you are probably going to want to sit down for this bit. And you can read my explanation for what we know definitively (or you could read the book for yourself) but you are really going to just come to your own conclusions on who she really is.

But one massive difference between the book and the film is a character that she calls the Caller. Even at the opening of the movie we see him. Our unnamed protagonist gets these random voicemails from The Caller, that all sort of go like this: “There’s only one question to resolve. I’m scared. I feel a little crazy. I’m not lucid. The assumptions are right. I can feel my fear growing. Now is the time for the answer. Just one question. One question to answer.” She knows exactly who this Caller is… she has seen a man stalking her at various points. And even in the movie, there is a scene where we see this older man standing at her window, voyeuristically watching her. And if you rewind it, you’ll even see that the man flips from an older person…….to Jake. It’s right there, just go watch it again. I promise. So, from the book, we know that she is intimately aware that she has an unwanted follower in her life. She goes about her life, ignoring this man, and his unwanted advances, phone calls, and window gazing while she sleeps.

But probably the most important difference between the book and the movie is what happens after she goes into the high school to look for Jake. In the book, our protagonist doesn’t find anyone ever again. She walks the halls of the school, devolving into a sort of insanity as she finds these notes that are written for her. Huh? And as she wanders the corridors, searching for Jake, remember when she tells the janitor she can’t really remember what he looks like? She actually says this to the janitor in the book, and it’s important, so I’ll quote it directly:

“It was so long ago I barely remember,” she says. “We never even talked, is the truth. I’m not even sure I registered him.…He was a creeper! You know?”

And that is when we learn about that trivia night? The one where their blissful dating relationship began? That happened, but not the way she (Jake) described it to his parents. Instead of the two of them engaging in a bit of witty repartee, and then an exchange of numbers, he just stands and stares at her awkwardly. And there you have it, their introduction never actually happens. I mean, they do engage, but he can’t bring himself to say anything – and then she leaves. Our janitor is decimated by the interaction. Jake wanted to have the courage to engage, but he can’t bring himself to do anything. Which sheds a new light on her commentary about being female now a days. That she is unable to go to a pub alone without being harassed? So, are you picking up what I’m putting down here? Right, she doesn’t exist. All of their interactions are in his mind. Which makes sense because she’s an amalgam of things he’s read and women he admires. Whether it’s Ralph Albert Blakelock’s paintings that he ascribes to her. Or the poetry of Eva H. D. Or Pauline Kael, the film critic? Large swaths of her thoughts on the movie A Woman Under the Influence are stolen wholesale from Kael’s reviews of the movie. “Mabel fragments before your eyes, a three ring circus might be taking place in her face, Roland’s performance is enough for half a dozen tour de forces, a whole row of Oscars, it’s exhausting. Conceivably she’s a great actor but nothing she does is memorable because she does so much.” Yeah, that is a real world review of the film. Google it. And any other movie would be sidelined for pilfering content wholesale, but that is, in fact, the point of what it is that Jake is doing. He’s fabricating her whole cloth out of the world around him.

“But what about the bit Oklahoma at the end man???!?” Yeah, that is just him self-aggrandizing himself mentally and finally. The pinnacle of his life would be starring in Oklahoma in his own high school – and having all the people he has stalked throughout his life come and watch him perform. Outside of that, I got nothing for you.

Let’s Get This Runaway Train Off the Mountain

OK look. Maybe some of you skip the proceeding 3,000 words and jump straight down to the end of my write up for the final what’s what skinny. If you are looking for the TLDR for this post basically it’d go something like this: Jake is a letch. He stalks women at high school, and local pubs, and can’t even screw up the courage to talk to them when they do attempt to talk to him. Worse, he lives in a world of made up female companions that are shifting chimeras of facsimiles resembling what he believes a woman would be like… IF he had the courage to talk to one! (Come on, that was worth the price of admission right there.)

So, in short, we followed Jake around all night, as he talked to an imaginary friend, in his head, and ended by putting on a show for his stalked companions. But tonight was an interesting night as Jake, who is old, and mentally unstable, is remembering his long life of solitary confinement in his head. He watches as past and future events coalesce into one night. We watch as Jake, young Jake, stalks women, watches them through the window. We watch as older Jake, Janitor Jake, continues to live with his parents, and have his clothes washed by his mother in the basement. We watch as the fears of his coworkers Tulsey Town bubble back out. And we watch as the history catches up to him all in one night. And after Jake the janitor finishes his shift, he collapses…undresses, walks into the school, and commits suicide.

Final Thoughts on I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I watched the movie. Wait stop. I watched half the movie – ran out here and told you all about it even before I’d finished. Finished the movie, and watched sections of it over again. Found the book, read that. Then spent hours finding quotes from the movie, to connect them back to poets, artists, critics, authors, photographers, etc., etc. I needed to understand the ins and outs of how this movie worked and what it was trying to say. And ultimately, it was the David Foster Wallace quote that made me realize what this was all about. It just doesn’t matter who you are, or what your story is, if suicide is the end of your path, it is the entirety of your path. The sum total of all your existence was. Worse, Jake, for the entirety of his life, was being eaten by maggots from the inside out. And for the foreseeable future, all that will be known about Jake will be that he was the guy that walked naked into the high school, and killed himself. “The Incident.” Charlie Kaufman has created some of the greatest films of all time. (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind being my particular favorite, but they are all good.) This is one of the most interesting, and most insightful movies I’ve seen in a while. And I didn’t even dive into the emotional and heart aspects of this film. I just had to deal with the mechanics it was so complicated.

Alright, I just have to stop typing. I could keep going and going about this particular movie. What do you guys think of the movie?

Edited by: CY