“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a journey into the mind of Charlie Kaufman

The award-winning filmmaker has yet again subverted the art of writing.

Why would one of the most talented writers of all time refuse to make something enjoyable? Charlie Kaufman is one of the most acclaimed writers of all time, always coming up with new ways to approach the art of screenwriting. His work includes “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” the last of which earned him an Oscar.  However, since his Oscar win, he has moved onto directing, making his debut in 2007, with “Synecdoche New York.” Since then he has released two more directorial features, with 2015’s “Anomalisa,” and now, with what’s being called his most depressing and convoluted film yet, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” a film released to Netflix in September of 2020. 

Each of Kaufman’s films have been praised for their uniqueness, complexity, and insightfulness. At the same time, many have also blasted these films for just being confusing and profoundly unhappy. Watching all of Kaufman’s films, you get the idea that he might be extremely depressed. Devon Ivie said as much for Vulture in 2016, writing, “Can someone, anyone, give Charlie Kaufman a hug?” 

Many have also blasted these films for just being confusing and profoundly unhappy.

If you’re still at all confused why Kaufman’s work is regarded as being so depressing, let me explain his most recent films to you. “Synecdoche New York” is the story of a man going through an existential crisis for his entire life, and “Anomalisa” is the story of a man who is unable to connect with any other person on earth. 

This brings us to his latest film, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is confusing, weird, and uniquely perfect. The film is dialogue-heavy, so go in expecting long monologues that may be difficult to understand. The film follows two stories. One of a nameless main character meeting her boyfriend Jake’s parents for the first time, and one of an old janitor at a high school. Throughout the film, it becomes apparent that the janitor is actually Jake. The other aspect that becomes apparent throughout the film is that the main character does not exist. 

This movie is packed to the brim with symbolism, to the point where it can be kinda overwhelming.

Now I will be completely honest. The first time I watched this film I had a very hard time understanding it, and this is where the criticism of Kaufman lies. Many found it impossible to enjoy this movie, simply due to how much it asks of the audience. This movie is packed to the brim with symbolism, to the point where it can be kind of overwhelming. If that’s not something you’re interested in, then don’t watch this movie, or at least let me explain the film to you before you see it (but also spoilers for the next two paragraphs).

The entire film centers around Jake, the boyfriend. It centers around his failures in his lifetime, which ultimately led him to lead an uninteresting, unfulfilling life. He imagines the girlfriend as being successful in all the things that he never had the courage to do. The girlfriend is an artist, in a relationship, she studies everything Jake is interested in, and she loves theater and poetry. 

Despite how depressing the movie may seem, it does have its own twisted version of a happy ending. The film ends with the elderly janitor version of Jake dying. But as he drifts off into the unknown he has a dream. He dreams that he is accepting a Nobel prize, while also performing a song from his favorite musical, as everyone he ever admired watches him from the audience. The song he sings is “Lonely Room,” from the musical “Oklahoma!” Fittingly, the song is about being able to escape one’s cruel reality in one’s dreams, and for Jake, this dream is his reality. Despite Jake feeling that he wasted his life, he dies a happy man. Maybe Kaufman made a happy movie after all.