I’m Thinking of Ending Things spoilers follow.
If Tenet has piqued your interest for cinematic head-scratchers, then Netflix‘s I’m Thinking of Ending Things (or i’m thinking of ending things as the official style goes) will have been right up your street.
On the surface, the movie is the simple tale of a young woman (Jessie Buckley), possibly called Lucy, and her new boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) on a road trip to visit his parents for the first time on the family farm.
But this is a Charlie Kaufman movie, so it won’t be a surprise to learn that I’m Thinking of Ending Things is anything but simple. As the dinner takes unexpected turns, like Jake’s parents suddenly aging and de-aging every time we see them, Buckley’s character is forced to question the nature of everything she thought she knew.
Oh, and every now and then, we see a Janitor (Guy Boyd) going about his work at a high school, but why and what is his connection to Jake and the young woman?
It might not still be entirely clear at the end of the movie, but we’re going to give a shot at explaining I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Major spoilers await, so don’t read on if you haven’t been baffled yet.
To put it simply, Jake is the Janitor and Lucy is a figment of Jake’s imagination. She is someone Jake met when he was younger at a trivia night like they tell his parents, but he never actually asked for her number, so they were never a couple.
In the voiceover during one of the many philosophical debates that they have in the car journeys, ‘Lucy’ talks about how people are actually stationary and “time passes through us, blowing like cold wind”:
“I feel like I was that wind tonight, blowing through Jake’s parents. Seeing them as they were, seeing them as they will be, seeing them after they’re gone when only I’m left.”
That’s essentially what Jake and Lucy’s dinner with his parents is. It might be ‘Lucy’ who’s narrating the movie, but that’s really Jake as he imagines what might have happened if they were together.
The fact that it’s in Jake’s imagination explains why there are so many inconsistencies, such as Lucy’s name and what she does for a living changing frequently. It’s like Jake is playing about with what would have made them work as a couple and what would appeal most to his parents.
And it explains why when they look at a picture of Jake when he’s a child, Lucy thinks it looks like her, because it is her (as in, she is Jake).
But why is Jake looking back on what might have been? In the narration, ‘Lucy’ talks about how she’s “thinking of ending things” which is assumed to be about their relationship, but is probably Jake thinking about killing himself.
During the dinner, ‘Lucy’ receives phone messages that see Jake say that there’s “only one question to resolve”. It’s not made clear in the movie what this question is, but in Iain Reid’s book (which the movie is based on), that question is “What are you waiting for?”
And if you want to get a sense of how Jake is thinking as he’s imagining this life with Lucy, this bit about everything being “hopeless” is probably one of the few ‘real’ things during that section.
“All of it, everything. Like feeling old, like your body is going, your hearing, your sight. You can’t see, and you’re invisible. And you’ve made so many wrong turns,” he reflects.
“The lie of it all… That it’s going to get better, that it’s never too late, that God has a plan for you, that age is just a number, that it’s always darkest before the dawn, that every cloud has a fucking silver lining. That there’s someone for everyone.”
Jake is trying to imagine that there was a way his life could have panned out for the better, but he just can’t, as even in his imagination Lucy is planning to break up with him.
The finale of the movie sees Jake and ‘Lucy’ get to the high school where she meets the Janitor and she gives a harsh account of the night they met. It’s really Jake giving a worst-case scenario critique of himself, a version of that night where he’s a “creeper”:
“I can’t remember what he looks like. Why would I? Nothing happened. Maybe it was just, I think it was just one of thousands of such non-interactions in my life.”
The Janitor then sees another version of Jake and Lucy sharing a romantic dance and getting married, before a version of the Janitor interrupts it and kills Jake as that’s how he views his life (metaphorically).
He then walks out into his car during the blizzard and likely freezes to death in the car, even though we see him walking away with an animated pig for one final fantasy.
We see an elderly Jake receive an award after a “long, fruitful life” as a physicist, with Lucy in the crowd to support him as he tells her: “You are the reason I am. You are all my reasons.”
If the speech sounds familiar, it’s because it’s lifted from the end of Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind. As with the other pop culture references in the movie, it’s something that Jake has seen (we see a DVD of it earlier) and then used in his fantasies, like the poem Lucy recites (which we see in a book in his room).
It’s a slight change to the book it’s based on which is more overt about the fact that the Janitor kills himself, after he ‘kills’ Lucy to stop thinking about what might have been.
The book also has various interludes of two people talking about an incident that happened at the school.
It’s revealed they’re talking about the Janitor who killed himself at school and by his body, notebooks were found that contained his imaginary thoughts about his life with Lucy – which is what you’re reading in the book.
So it’s still extremely bleak, but at least the movie ends with a musical number because it’s Charlie Kaufman.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is now available to watch on Netflix.
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