To think that death is a necessity to life should serve as motivation to live better, but instead proves to be counterproductive, as too many people, myself included, obsess over comfort to make the most of their short existences. This reality demands a disturbing experience like I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which calls for analysis and interpretation as it shoves what should enlighten the spirits into liquid nitrogen.
Taking the focus of this non-story is Louisa, who passively lets herself be the inferior half of her relationship with her boyfriend, Jake. Never mind the fact that this scenario lost its chance to appeal to the “#MeToo” movement, or the fact that the only non-White ethnicity (Black) is seen in the background, all the weirdness she goes through falls into the trap of leaving most viewers confused, this includes a weird ballet number that pops in randomly, and the parents of her boyfriend shifting ages during her visit to their home. These are meant to symbolize why death is ultimately necessary, but because these components don’t take Louisa’s character development anywhere, most audiences will not care enough to decipher what it means.
Yet the entire first twenty minutes should be pretty easy to connect with, as it’s nothing more than a simple car conversation where Louisa and Jake seem to talk about nothing, yet the dialogue within the conversation is carefully crafted so it creeps closer to their eventual fates. It’s the correct way to write dialogue, so that you don’t notice it, as it enables you to pay your laser-focused attention to the tension. Then that same type of scene happens again later, this time darker and longer, after the chunk in between those two scenes plays off the humor of meeting the significant other’s weird relatives. To make these scenes all the more effective, the conversation is observed mostly from outside the car, as the windshield wipers keep moving over them. As if the film’s 4:3 aspect ratio didn’t close you in enough, now you’re as trapped as Louisa, and feel as hopeless as she does.
Director/screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (writer of Adaptation., Being John Malkovich, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) proves why both Louisa and Jake must die, these two are proven to be nothing more than selfish--Louisa in her pride, Jake in his arrogance, both people your conscience rightfully tells you to avoid. Then you realize: these people are you. Louisa particularly seems innocent enough when she’s introduced by catching snowflakes on her tongue, but that’s merely a setup for how she’s taking a taste of the permanent chill Hell will momentarily freeze over her.
This is where the symbolism behind the snow is super important to understanding the movie: what is thought of by most as a happy thing is revealed here to in fact be a strange and dangerous thing, similar to how Schindler’s List’s black-and-white photography made the snow look more like a permanent bleak hell than something you’d build a snowman in. The day-and-night contrast between the snow imagery is especially important here, as in the first car drive scene, Louisa is surrounded by the brightness of the snow outside the vehicle, which visualizes death waiting outside like buzzards for her to be weak. When she monologues to Jake a poem that she wrote, a tear drops down her face, because she deep-down knows what’s waiting for her on the outside. Then comes the second car drive, this time at night, when the visit to the parents has already gone inside of her, and we’re left to see the Devil toy around with her spirit. The use of snow and all things cold here all work to the effect of making you unconsciously recall the horrific memories you had.
Every creative choice challenges the viewer’s thought process in a way other films wouldn’t dare do; the rare use of sound combined with the austere image tint makes the viewer associate the abstract imagery with personal past trauma. The use of a 1930s style cartoon on a car’s windshield carries a strange melodic feel to convey the entire personality of a certain nameless character. The actors playing the crazy parents always look deeply troubled by their own thoughts, fidgeting away in Louisa’s presence as if they’re arranging themselves to possess her. Even the teeny tiny text for the opening credits commands your careful attention to what’s seen and said, while the creepy music tells you right away how the protagonist will eventually die. You somehow just know how things will end for her, but you can never pinpoint how exactly you know that.
That’s what makes Charlie Kaufman’s genius efforts so effective at appealing not to your immediate senses, but to the deepest, darkest corners of your subconsciousness. This is not designed to appeal to the general public, but for an individual suffering from recent grief. It’s so easy to forget that everything seen by the eyes will die someday, including our Earth, yet it’s consequently led the human race to crave death in some regards, whether it’s making the most out of life or getting revenge on those deemed weaker. These are all truths analyzed by the classic sci-fi dystopia, A Clockwork Orange, proving how these concepts are in no way anything unique to 2020.
Whether you would be bored or invested by the entertainment aspect, it’s impossible not to feel triggered by I’m Thinking of Ending Things; it speaks based on personal experience or perspective, leaving up to the individual to decide what to do. This is the advantage that abstract art such as this has over something straightforward. No preachiness, no direct application, it’s all on you to make change. For me, this reminds me of our true vulnerability, as it takes nothing more than a little bit of snow to challenge our relationships. I see that as a critical component for the ideal tomorrow Charlie Kaufman wants others to aim for to get out when Hell freezes over.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!