Lately, it feels like every movie has us thinking, “What the f*ck did I just watch?” In this series, we will break down exactly what happened in all those wild, mind-bendy, and just plain strange flicks…in a way that’s much easier to understand than the actual film.
THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS.
Hello, fellow Netflix watchers. Today, we are here to talk about one of the more confusing and esoteric movies I’ve seen in a really long time. It’s Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, based on the novel of the same name by Iain Reid, and it’s…a doozy. The premise of the movie is simple: Girl meets boy, girl goes home to meet boy’s parents, etc. But things get very, very weird when she gets there. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Like I mentioned, the movie follows an unnamed girl (who is sometimes called “Lucy,” but not all the time) when she goes to meet and have dinner with her new boyfriend Jake’s parents. Not only is the dinner itself awkward, but afterward, as “Lucy” is walking through the house, Jake’s parents start to age up and then age back down. So basically, she’s watching them get both older and younger before her eyes. Meanwhile, we keep seeing footage of a random janitor in a high school, and that janitor seems to have no real connection to Jake or “Lucy.”
Back at the house, things get even weirder. “Lucy” looks at the wall and sees a picture of a child she’s pretty sure is herself. She opens a book of poems to a poem she could have sworn she wrote. So she’s starting to see things around her that make her think, Wait, what the hell is going on here? The boyfriend in question seems relatively unfazed. For context, his parents’ house is in the middle of nowhere, on a farm, and it’s the middle of a snowstorm. Yeah, not ideal. Eventually, she talks him into leaving. That brings us to…
The “reveal” of the story
Okay, I’m not sure the best way to get into this, so I’m just going to say it: Jake is the janitor, and the girl is a figment of his imagination. Before you’re like, “Excuse me?” I’ll do some explaining. Fair warning, I’m not an expert on this film and this is merely my interpretation of the ending. I didn’t read the book, which, from what I’ve heard, explains this conclusion a lot more clearly. (You can read the book vs. movie differences breakdown here.) Here goes nothing….
The first clue I got about Jake being the janitor was when “Lucy” went into the basement of the house and opened the washing machine to see a bunch of janitor uniforms. Before that, the janitor seemed pretty random. I mean, I had a feeling it would connect somehow, but that was my first real clue. From there, I assumed we were looking into the future from Jake’s perspective. He’s watching his life play out in front of him.
And notice how there are so many inconsistencies when Jake talks about the girl? Like, her name changes throughout the movie, and so does her job. One minute, she’s a student studying quantum physics, and the next, she’s a poet. It’s like he’s trying on different versions of the girl to see what works best for him. So when she looks at the wall and sees a picture of herself, that makes sense, because it’s really Jake seeing a picture of *himself*. Yeah, I know.
Then when he goes into the school and “Lucy” follows him, she tells the janitor a version of the night they met, and it’s totally different than the one she told his parents at dinner. It’s, like, the meanest way to interpret what happened between the two of them, and it makes it sound like they never even really dated. That’s because they didn’t! He made her up.
So what the hell was that whole dance sequence about?
This is where the idea that the girl is made up is really hammered home. The viewer (and the janitor) watches the two lookalikes share a musical-style dance that goes through what their life could have been like. They even get married at one point. Again, the Jake character is envisioning what his life with someone like her could have been.
The significance of the phrase “I’m thinking of ending things”
The whole movie, we’re meant to believe the girl is saying, “I’m thinking of ending things,” and she means she’s thinking of ending the relationship with Jake. But if Jake is imagining the girl, the phrase must mean something else. It really hits home when the old version of Jake, janitor Jake, leaves the high school and walks out into his car. He starts to lose it a little bit, he takes his clothes off, and he sees the dead pig he mentioned earlier. If the pig is dead, that must mean he’s dead, too, because he’s seeing the pig. Considering Jake was sitting in his car for a very long time during a blizzard, it’s possible he froze to death. That part of it is a little unclear to me though. Either way, he died at his own hands. “I’m thinking of ending things” wasn’t really about his relationship, it was about him contemplating suicide. At least, that’s how I see it.
The movie ends with Jake accepting an award for being, like, a genius or something, and he looks out into the audience to see the girl smiling up at him. It serves as one last figment of his imagination.
So, yeah! Bleak, huh? Again, this movie is really out-there and hard to explain, but that’s my best guess at what it all means. I could be wrong, and you could have interpreted it completely differently. But that’s the beauty of the movies, right?
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