What a wonderfully exhausting journey I went on.
I watched the latest Charlie Kaufman film, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a while back. Like the films that have, so far, meant the most to me in my life, I couldn’t stop thinking about it days afterward. It left me in this weird space feeling alone, and to process it in a way that I haven’t had to process things for a while. Part of it is because I’ve ended things before, and another part of it because I’ve also thought of ending things.
The movie starts with a woman being picked up by her boyfriend. They’re about to take their first long car ride together to go have dinner at his parent’s place on the farm where he grew up. It will be her first time meeting his folks since they started dating six or seven weeks earlier and, as it turns out, she’s thinking of ending things with him. A lot of her inner-monologue is narrated throughout the film, so we’re constantly made aware of her thoughts about things — him, their relationship, whatever else — but outside of what he says out loud, never so much his; such is the one-sided nature of just about any human relationship, intimate or otherwise.
Outside of her head, they have conversations that suggest that they’re mostly open enough with one another and are able to discuss just about anything, but that they’re also still learning about each other. They each take interest in what the other has to say and crack wise. Some jabs land, others raise questions, and her inner-voice is always walking us through why she’s thinking of ending things. Her reasons are sounds, so far as I’ve come to experience myself.
Everything devolves pretty quickly once they get to dinner. Her name changes multiple times. What she does for a living changes, too. His parents age and disappear and reappear back in present day. She experiences other things that defy reality, or aren’t how he wanted them to go or would want to remember them being had they happened at all. Experiences are only as good as they are remembered to be and memories are fickle. They change over time, or can be slightly tainted by how others might have experienced or remembered them, or by whether or not they are affected by the shoulda woulda couldas. Such are the thoughts of a man who thought of ending things, who has ended things.
And so I was left thinking about how I’ve ended things before — relationships (friendships or greater), ideas (big or small), opportunities (in education or profession) — and this naturally spiraled out-of-control and into regrets (I’ve had a few) (but then again, too few to mention). It also made me think about all of the times I’ve thought of ending things — in high school, in college, in my 20’s, in my 30’s… The movie felt so true to my thoughts and experiences; I felt both validated and exposed in ways that I found comforting and disturbing. I told a friend that it was as though the movie was speaking in tongues that, for better or worse, only I could understand. I’m Thinking of Ending Things messed me up and it took a few days to recover.
Then, a couple weeks later, I went and read the book on which the movie is based. What a delight to learn that the movie stays fairly true to the source material! Did this make me go through and process everything all over again? Absolutely. Was it a bad idea? If I didn’t enjoy it so much, I’d say maybe, but it took another few days to pull myself out of that fog again, and with those fogs so close together like that…I was a mess.
I liked (loved?) both the movie and the book and I don’t think that one is better than the other. The book might do a little bit better job of making this abstract connection that the thoughts of ending a relationship and the thoughts of ending one’s life can be a similarly exhausting experience and will leave behind only questions for those left in its wake. But then I think the movie does a better job of presenting both the horror of the last things going through someone’s mind who’s resolute in ending things and the comfort and peace that only they would find in doing so.
I feel like, when I first started writing this (October 13, 2020; it’s now November 28, 2020), I had more to say, or at least wanted to convey, but the moment’s passed. It’s time to finally finish what I’ve started; I’m thinking of ending this.