Charlie Kaufman's latest is a brilliant film, I guess. In "I'm Thinking of Ending Things," the one-of-a-kind writer-director takes us on a wintry road trip with a young woman (Jessie Buckley) named Lucy (maybe that's her name, maybe not) and her schlub boyfriend of four or six or seven weeks (she's not sure), a guy named Jake (Jesse Plemons). "We have a real connection," Lucy says in voiceover, "a rare and intense attachment." Then: "I'm thinking of ending things."
The picture is Kaufman's adaptation of a 2016 novel by Iain Reid. It has the trappings of a horror movie — there are nods to "The Shining" and even a creepy basement that Lucy is warned not to go down into. But there's no traditional horror payoff. The dejected-looking Jake, who's as dull as a blank wall and is driving Lucy to his parents' remote Oklahoma farmhouse, fits the bill for a serial killer, but it turns out he's not. The horror in this movie is simply the standard stuff of human existence.
"Humans are the only animals that know the inevitability of their own deaths," Lucy says as she and Jake make their way through a wind-whipped blizzard. "Other animals live in the present. Humans cannot, so they invented hope."
You can almost feel viewers peeling away from this movie as it rambles along through its 134-minute runtime. There are two long car scenes, and they're all talk (touching down on Wordsworth and movie musicals, among other things), often without even the visual relief of passing scenery (all we see through the car windows at most times are wipers and snow). And when Lucy and Jake finally arrive at his parents' bleak spread, the picture turns boldly arty (or pretentious, some will surely feel).
Jake's mom (Toni Collette) and dad (David Thewlis) are founts of vapid chatter. When we meet them, they're both middle-aged, but before long, they begin to morph into both younger and older versions of themselves. (Older Dad is losing his memory to dementia, so he has affixed a sign to the door of Jake's childhood room that says, "Jake's Childhood Room." We see Mom as a chirpy young housewife and then, soon after, reclining on what appears to be her deathbed.) The family dinner at which all four of the lead characters gather is a study in the most harrowing sort of intimate unease.
Lucy and Jake finally make their escape from this creepy household using the excuse that Lucy has work to do at home. (At various narrative intervals, she's a writer, a waitress or a student of quantum physics.) But then, back out in the blizzard again, motoring along, Jake makes the ominous decision to turn off the highway onto a long, narrow road that leads to his old high school, where a mysterious figure awaits. Despite the best efforts of the gifted cast — especially Buckley and Plemons — I think it's a safe bet that shortly after this point, many viewers will feel the movie has lost its mind, and that they no longer wish to keep it company.
("I'm Thinking of Ending Things" is streaming on Netflix.)
Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.