I not only have this blog post, but also a podcast! It may vary slightly from this post (it’s not a direct transcript) but I still say basically the same thing. Give it a listen!
I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (2016)
I’m Thinking of Ending Things directed by Charlie Kaufman (2020)
**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
The end of July I saw an article about Charlie Kaufman releasing an adaptation of Iain Reid’s book. I had never heard of it before, but when I read the title combined with the fact that it was going to be done by Kaufman, I was sold. I got the book that day and started reading it. The movie came out September 4, so it’s been about a month since having read the book. I went back to a few parts to double check while writing this, but I didn’t go back and read the whole thing over again. The main reason being, the book left me with this heavy, depressed feeling. I didn’t want to feel that again, so I didn’t want to reread the book. And I’ll say right now, this post will talk about depression and suicide. If you are triggered by that, you definitely shouldn’t read the book, and maybe shouldn’t even bother with this post.
For those still sticking around-here is the synopsis.
Jake is taking his girlfriend of about months to meet his parents. The girl’s name is never given, so throughout this blog, I will just refer to her as the girlfriend. Anyway, it’s a bit of drive to go to the farm he grew up on and along the way we see through the girlfriend’s eyes as she mentally recounts their relationship, bits of her own personal life, and hear the conversations the two of them have. She thinks of all his good attributes, and she enjoys talking to him, yet she keeps thinking the thought, “I’m thinking of ending things.” Meaning ending the relationship, despite the good things about Jake.
They get to his parent’s farm, it’s cold and snowing, but he shows her around outside to see the chickens and lambs and also tells her about the pigs they used to have but died. Once inside, she notices how odd his parents are. I will save the details of what happens at the house for later. For now, all that needs to be said is that she has a very uncomfortable dinner with them.
They head out and, on the way, decide to stop at a Dairy Queen for a lactose intolerant dessert. While there, one of the girls grabs the girlfriends arm telling her she doesn’t have to go. Once back in the car, she asks Jake if she noticed how weird the two girls were and he seems oblivious. A short time later they have these partial eaten cups and Jake wants to get rid of them. He says his old high school is nearby and they can throw them away there. They pull up to this huge school, Jake gets out and goes to the trash can but upon looking it makes it appear he can’t dump them there. He walks around the school while she waits.
Eventually he comes back and they start making out, but then Jake says he notices someone in the school watching them. He gets very angry and goes in the school to see who it was. He is eventually gone so long that she goes in after him.
Once inside, she sees there is a janitor there. She fears he is after them and hides. Long story short-we find out that she, the janitor and Jake are all the same person. Jake, who was once a scientific genius, ended up quitting and becoming a school janitor because he had a hard time connecting with other people. The girlfriend is someone from decades before whom he met at a bar but was too shy to ask for her number so nothing happened.
He creates her in this situation in his mind, to determine if he is worth living. So, when she is saying, “I’m thinking of ending things” in terms of the relationship, he is actually thinking of ending his life. In the end he does commit suicide and is found with a notebook with this story scribbled out.
The movie follows the major storyline, but there a lot of changes from book to movie. The movie is even more confusing and has a major dream-like quality. I’ve talked in other podcasts about a book really getting in your head as to the confusion a character is feeling, or when a book is describing a dream how they really capture the weirdness of it. Then in the movie, it just doesn’t translate as well, like in my post about comparing the book and movie of A Scanner Darkly. Well, Kaufman captures that distorted reality/dream-like feeling perfectly. If you are a fan of Kaufman, you are already well aware of this. This movie takes it even further though. I think this is probably his most nonlinear, and strangest story. Which, by the way some of his more well-known works are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, Anomalisa, and Synecdoche New York. (I personally haven’t seen all of those movies mentions, but I have seen most of them. So, if you disagree on this being Kaufman’s trippiest movie, it’s probably because I haven’t seen the one you think is his weirdest. Though, maybe “weird” isn’t the right word. It just doesn’t have as clear of a storyline is maybe the best way to put it? I don’t know, anyway).
Jessie Buckley is the lead role of the girlfriend. I had never heard of her before, but she is perfect in this. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her in the future.
Jesse Plemons plays Jake, and when I first saw this trailer I thought he was an odd choice for Jake. He just doesn’t look at all the way I pictured him when reading the book. However, I don’t have any complaints with his acting.
Toni Collette has become known for being in scary/creepy movies, and here she does a wonderful job playing the unstable mother. The first movie I remember seeing her in was Little Miss Sunshine, which is a great movie. Her role in that is entirely different, but she’s an incredible actress and can really capture these characters she portrays.
David Thewlis is the dad and once again, not complaints. (Side note, Harry Potter fans will recognize him from his role as Lupin.)
Guy Boyd has the role of the janitor, and although he doesn’t have many lines, he is great with what he’s given.
Okay…where to start. Well for one, the movie is far more confusing than the book. The book does leave you with questions, but by the end most everything is pretty well explained. The movie on the other hand, is going to have people talking forever, trying to figure out what it all means. Since I had read the book, I think I was able to better understand the movie and I think ultimately it does have the same end even though it doesn’t straight up explain it like the book does.
In the book, there is never a name given to the girlfriend, however in the movie she has a name, but it changes. The reason they needed to call her something, is because there is a part in the book where she talks about getting phone calls from her own number. The caller is an elderly man that sounds like he’s trying to sound feminine and he always leaves the same voicemail. In the movie they mention that her name is Lucy, then later she gets a call and we see it’s someone named Lucy calling. Later, at his parent’s house, she listens to the voicemail and it’s the same message as in the book. The movie just left out the backstory with the caller. In the book she talks about the voicemail early on, how she got the first call after meeting Jake and that she hasn’t told anyone about it.
As well as changing her name, they also change her occupation. Sometimes it sounds like she’s a scientist, other times a painter, other times a poet. There are also a couple times she mentions growing up in a farmhouse, but then there’s another time she says she grew up in an apartment. All these things about her keep changing, because she is just a figment of his imagination. In the book I don’t think it ever says what her major is or what she does for work. In the book, Jake is a scientist and talks in depth about it and the girlfriend enjoys hearing about it. The movie had them have a lot of stunted, awkward conversations, but in the book it seemed like their conversations flowed better. She also thinks back on their relationship, and all the things about him she likes. She thinks of when they met at the bar during trivia night. In the movie this is mentioned, but rather then it being a flashback, she is telling his parents. The story gets awkward as she tells it, and makes it seem like she didn’t like him.
There is a song from Oklahoma! that comes on over the radio, and throughout the movie there’s continuous references to the play. In the book, there is a reoccurring country song that is played on the radio, then later at the school. The reason it keeps playing, is because it had been playing the night he meets her at the trivia night.
With his parents, a lot of this scene was changed from the book. The beginning is the same, where he shows her the barn first. In the book and movie, he shows her the lambs, then tells the story of the pigs. In the book there were also chickens, and one of the chickens had started eating its egg.
In the movie, the parents ages keep changing. I’m assuming because Jake is thinking back on his whole life with them, and reflecting on their lives. Also giving a chance for the girlfriend to see him with them all throughout their life. In the book they stay the same age. The movie has a scene where the mom says she hears constant, inaudible whispers all the time. In the book, this was a thing throughout their whole visit. There is also a part in the book where the parents say they like to play a game where they imitate one another. The girlfriend doesn’t feel comfortable doing it, but Jake imitates her, and the parents think it’s hilarious. In the movie Jake doesn’t talk much, and puts it on the girl to carry the conversation. That was kind of the case in the book too overall.
The scene when she goes in the basement is different because in the movie, she goes down there, and her own landscape paintings are in there. In the book, she sees a painting and it’s described as, “(it’s) full of wild, heavy brushstrokes and some very specific detail…it’s this basement…it’s dark…there is a woman. Or maybe a man. It’s an entity, an individual with long hair. Standing, slightly bent over with longarms…at the bottom corner of the painting there’s a second person, much smaller; a child?”
While down there she over hears his parents talking. They are saying how they don’t understand why he would leave his grad student program, and she is confused because Jake hasn’t quit it. We find out though, that in real life he does quit because he becomes mental unstable.
In the book, the mom serves the chocolate yule log, but the girl is lactose intolerant, so she doesn’t have any. Because she doesn’t get the dessert, they stop at the Dairy Queen. In the movie she does eat the cake, but Jake still wants to stop at a “Tulsey Town” which is a made-up ice cream place. Like in the book, they go there and there are the two prettier girls, then the one with the rash on her arm. In the movie, Jake gives her the money, and we see that he also has a rash. I don’t think that part was in the book, but maybe it means that they both suffered from depression and it shows itself as a rash?
In both, they then drive to the school and eventually start kissing, when Jake sees the janitor watching them. In the movie this scene was filmed really well. It has the janitor be in like Jake’s mind, watching him. If that makes sense. Then he goes in, followed a little later by the girl.
In the book, this is when it took on a scarier vibe. The whole book has this uncomfortable, eerie feel and it just escalates as the book goes on. The movie though never felt scary. In the book, she first looks in the window and sees the janitor. When she goes in, she is trying to find Jake, while hiding from the janitor. She finds Jake’s clothes all bundled up, and thinks the janitor killed him. She then is hiding under a bench for what feels like hours, while the country song from the beginning is playing on repeat over the intercom.
Then the truth gets pieced together, that she doesn’t exist and it’s just the janitor’s imagination. He says how that trivia night they had briefly talked, and he wanted her number but never asked and she never gave it. The movie has the girl tell the janitor this. She goes in the school and asks if he has seen Jake. She tries to describe him, but says how she can’t remember because she barely remembers him in the first place. The janitor hands her a pair of slippers (the same ones from his parent’s house) because her shoes are wet, but she says for him to keep them. They then hug, before she heads off to look for Jake. In the book, she never had a conversation like this with the janitor.
In this conversation she also talks about what it is like for a girl to go in a public place and have to deal with being looked at. Saying how it made her wish her boyfriend was with her, but even that makes it seem like the boyfriend owns her. THere is also a scene in the car where Jake uses the line, “baby, it’s cold outside” and she gets angry that he would say that considering that song is about a guy taking advantage of a woman when she has repeatedly told him no. Neither of these conversations are in the book.
The movie then goes to a dance sequence which represents what could have been between the girl at trivia night, and the normal Jake. The whole things is disrupted by the janitor, who kills the normal Jake. I think the janitor represent his mental illness and who he becomes. So, he kills the “normal” Jake and his chances of a “happy/normal” life with a wife are ruined. I thought this scene was beautiful and a great way to tell that part of the story.
In the book, as I said above, Jake pieces things together and the truth is revealed. Then the only time the girl and the janitor “interact” is when she hands him what he uses to kill himself.
The movie has the girl character leave, then the janitor goes out to this car. He starts having a panic attack and it shows brief flashes of his parent arguing. While he is struggling to breathe, he takes his clothes off, and then he sees in his imagination, the pig from the story that is told on the farm. In both the book and movie, the story is that the pigs were being eaten alive by maggots, so the dad has to kill them. The maggots symbolize depression, and a person seems to be fine, but really, they are being “eaten alive” by the illness. So, in the movie, having the pig show up and guide him back inside, is symbolic of his depression guiding him in his actions. Also, he is totally naked, we never see him from the front, but still. Props to Guy Boyd for being cool with that.
After this, we are shown Plemons once again as Jake, but with make-up to make him look old. He is accepting an award, then proceeds to sing “Lonely Room” from Oklahoma!. In Oklahoma! this song is sung by the character Jud, right after the whole scene with Curly telling Jud he should commit suicide. After the song he is given a standing ovation by the audience-which includes the girlfriend, the girls from Tulsey Town, and his parents.
The last shot is from outside the school with a car covered in snow.
Even though it isn’t said as explicitly as the book, I think it’s a fair assessment that the symbolism of all that, is Kaufman’s way of saying the Jake (the janitor) commits suicide.
Oh, and one other thing. In the movie, there is a DVD that the janitor is watching and it’s the end of some cheesy movie. Then the credits role and it says, “Directed by Robert Zemeckis”. What does Kaufman have to pick on Zemeckis for?? He’s made some great movies! In fact, one of my very favorite movies is the one with Denzel Washington called Flight. It’s about an airline pilot who has an alcohol addiction and it’s so good! I am curious why his name ended up being used in the film within the film.
*Edit: I saw that Netflix tweeted about this saying, “true story behind the Robert Zemeckis credit in i’m thinking of ending things: Kaufman never wrote a name in the script so the assistant editor used the end credit from CONTACT as a placeholder. When Kaufman saw it he burst out laughing, and asked Zemeckis’ permission to keep it.”
This one is a hard one to write about because I just had a hard time structuring it. The book has so much symbolism and can be abstract, then the movie is incredibly abstract. Which is funny, because in the movie the mom says how she doesn’t like abstract art.
The dialogue is changed quite a bit between the book and movie. Plus, there are scenes that are left out from the book. There is this story about the girl seeing a shadow outside her window, and he waves in a way that tells her he is going but will be back. This represents Jake’s struggle with anxiety/depression. Then there is this other story she shares about going for a driver’s test. Plus, just more backstory on the relationship between her and Jake. The book and movie both have the line about how a thought is closer to the truth than anything else, than any action. As well as the line from the book where Jake says, “Pretty much all memory is fiction and heavily edited.” The movie has a line similar to that. Both of those ideas I think are really interesting. I read an article that said each time you think of a memory, you change it slightly. So, a memory you think of often, you are probably not remembering as it really happened, because over time you have changed so much of it in your head.
Book or Movie?
This is a tough one. The book makes more sense ultimately, but I wouldn’t recommend the book to just anyone due to its subject matter. The book made me feel down/depressed for a day or two after, so if you are someone who struggles, or used to struggle with depression I would definitely NOT suggest it. Especially if while depressed you have had suicidal thoughts. The movie didn’t have the effect on me even though it is about the same thing. Maybe because it was weird and felt like a dream, and wasn’t as creepy as the book. It was really well done though, and I liked the abstractness of it. Having said that, there were times that I felt like it dragged, and I found myself checking to see how long was left. The more I’ve thought about it though the more I like it. It’s a movie you will need to watch multiple times to really grasp it all.
So, I don’t know. The book is well written, and it gets in your head. Then Kaufman does a good job of equally getting in your head, just in a different way. With both of these, it would have to be specific instances in which I would recommend either one. In the end, I suppose I would recommend the movie. It’s not one I will watch again anytime soon, but if I had to recommend one or the other to a total stranger-I’ll go with the movie. But the book is well written and has a lot of dialogue that really makes you think. But so does the movie. Like I said though the wasn’t creepy like the book was so ultimately I’ll make that my choice. If you like creepy books though, maybe that would be more your thing.
This blog post gives a really good analysis of the movie, if you want to understand the meaning behind some of the scenes. Then this YouTube video is a very thorough analysis of the book, which helped me understand it better after I had read it. (The channel is called Mique’s Book Club)