Strange Relations

A new Charlie Kaufman film is always to be celebrated. The Oscar-winning screenwriter behind Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has also delivered some of the most unique films of the 21st century as a director – Synecdoche, New York and the animated Anomalisa. He’s also just released his first novel, Antkind.

Now he slips back into the director’s chair with I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a marvellously slippery tale based on Canadian author Iain Reid’s debut novel. This stars Jesse Plemons (of Friday Night Lights and Breaking Bad fame) as Jake, a slightly dorky guy who has been going out with his girlfriend (Wild Rose star Jessie Buckley) for just a few weeks.

As the title hints, she’s thinking of ending things but not before she’s introduced to Jake’s parents. He collects her – known only as ‘Young Woman’ in the credits – and they drive out to his folks’ lonely farmstead. The scene is long – time stretches bizarrely in this film – with Buckley’s character lost in her own thoughts, as Jake blathers away about nothing in particular.

When they arrive at the isolated farm things starts to get really strange, with Jake’s parents played (quite brilliantly) by Toni Collette and David Thewlis (a Kaufman veteran after his turn in Anomalisa). It’s not a horror film per se, but there’s an unsettling quality about I’m Thinking of Ending Things – not least with characters suddenly ageing inexplicably.

There are further oddities, with cut aways to a janitor (Guy Boyd) working at Jake’s old school, and a visit to an ice cream parlour that will really unnerve you. With the snow cascading down and Jake’s incessant love of musical theatre (in particular Oklahoma!) all playing into the story, Kaufman revels in the strangeness of life here.

What’s it about exactly? That’s likely to be debated and discussed for years to come, with Kaufman more than happy to provide no concrete answers. It’s perhaps not as outright funny as his earlier work – there’s a bleak feel to it, concerning the fragility of life – but anybody looking to be stretched by a film should look no further.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is available on Netflix from 4 September. For more details, click here.

James Mottram