By Stuart Mitchner
Charlie Kaufman’s film I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) and Iain Reid’s debut novel of the same name (2016) share the same first-person point of view, the same opening sentences, the same time sequence of settings and events, ending in a haunted high school in the middle of nowhere with a blizzard raging outside. What happens or appears to happen there is the difference between filmgoers focused on questions of meaning (“the ending of Ending Things explained”) and readers responding to the “ferocious little book’s … visionary, harrowing final pages” and a “psychological torment so impenetrable it’s impossible to escape.”
A “Molecular” Woman
I saw the film on Netflix almost six weeks ago, as I was starting a column on Camus and Afghanistan. I was so impressed by Jessie Buckley’s performance that I wanted to write about it immediately. I even tried to find room in the philosophy of the absurd for a concept in which a film’s most sympathetic character, the one who carries it, lights it up, gives it mind, heart, and soul, exists only in the imagination of her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons), who may be the younger self of an elderly, terminally depressed high school janitor.
In a Sept. 17, 2020 IndieWire interview, Buckley says “Just before I went to do the audition, I got a note from Charlie that said, ‘This woman is molecular.’ I didn’t know what that meant! I was awful at chemistry, but I kind of loved that note. It could be anything to you. It kind of meant there was nothing solid, it was something that moved and broke apart and joined other atoms.” Referring to the screenplay, she describes the way it “transcended and shifted and moved from when I read it to when I was playing it, to afterwards when I watched it.” Explaining why she read Reid’s novel prior to the audition: “I take in everything. I’m like somebody who puts too much chili on my food when I cook, because I just think, ‘Just whack it all in.’ I take all the bits and I try and throw away all the bits as well, once we get to shoot.” more