“You can’t fake a thought.”
The opening line to I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ namesake book from which it was adapted, repeats this twice. It is the central idea of both, but curiously, also Charlie Kaufman’s entire career distilled into one sentence. From Being John Malkovich to Anomalisa and everything in between, Kaufman is utterly compelled by the intersection at which the mind meets the soul, what it feels like to want to break from our own bodies, and the existence to which we are cursed. Life is short, but moments can last forever and the feelings they wring echo into eternity.
When we meet a young woman, waiting in quiet snowfall to embark with her boyfriend on the way to his parent’s house, she begins to question the nature of such a trip. She’s thinking of ending things and it becomes clear that she has reached a place of irreconcilable differences with this boyfriend, but as is most in life, it’s easier to just say yes and hope for the best. What to do then with that thought? Nagging at the back of your head. Pushing and prodding, reminding you that your exterior smile is an interior frown and the little arguments you have are really seismic booms.
This is all to say that Netflix’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a staggering emotional undertaking, even surpassing Kaufman’s own previous works, which are notoriously hard to crack. This carries a similar intellect that can be hard to find an entry point into, but is made so easy by star Jessie Buckley, who arrives onto the screen with the kind of charisma only found once-in-a-generation. In a film lacking any sort of formal explanation and containing not even an iota of exposition, Buckley spells out the answers with her facial expressions and the way certain words inflect and how others seem to fade out before a sentence is even finished. In a film so entrenched in darkness and ambiguity, every emotion reads clearly and illuminates the human psyche. It’s the kind of heart-stopping, decade-defining performance that feels like we’re peering into the very soul of another human being.
Not since Nicolas Cage in Adaptation, has a performer captured the tragicomic underpinning of a Kaufman character and the deeply rooted humanity attached to what other writers may just chalk up to insanity. The young woman at the center of I’m Thinking of Ending Things is endlessly complicated and open to innumerable interpretations, but somehow Jessie Buckley makes it all look so effortless and, most importantly, human. This too goes for Jessie Plemons, giving a bravura performance that veers from meek to terrifying to utterly heartbreaking, running the gamut of so many different emotions, feeling like a firework show that is easily the greatest performance the hugely underrated actor has ever given. Together Jessie Buckley and Jessie Plemons radiate a chemistry that is inimitable, drawing from the kind of raw truths present only in the mind. In dreams and nightmares where the world around you bends in tandem with your mind.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things doesn’t seem to take place in either fantasy or reality, landing somewhere in the middle. Even Buckley and Plemons’ characters seem to reside in their own distant realities, where one’s truth isn’t the others and in brief moments when those realities collide, it can create a sense of broken privacy. “What?” he asks in response to her internal narration. “Did you say something?”
“I don’t think so.”
In the world of Charlie Kaufman, the human body is merely a means of performance, hiding as much truth as we express from it. We smile when we’re sad, laugh when we’re angry, and say things we don’t mean because it’s more comfortable than sharing our own personal pocket of the universe that only we’ll ever be able to understand. You can fake words and you can fake feelings. But you can’t fake a thought.