For anyone gunning for eerie, psychological spooks over jump scares for their Halloween viewing, here is the film for you. This September, Iain Reid’s debut novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2016) is brought to Netflix by Charlie Kaufman (screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) in an interpretation that will leave you doubting your own mind and memory.
Starring Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley, Kaufman’s adaptation stays mostly faithful to Reid’s psychological thriller, taking artistic leaps, playing with the images we see, and making for an intentionally inconsistent and mind-boggling experience.
Kaufman takes Reid’s stream-of-consciousness text and turns it into an uncomfortable visual experience. The narrator, a young, unnamed woman, attempts to ruminate on her life and decisions she has to make, but is constantly interrupted by boyfriend Jake. It’s frustrating to watch. The discomfort builds as the young woman is introduced to Jake’s parents; we see her addressed by a variety of names, from Lucy to Louisa. You’ll find yourself itching to rewind as you doubt your own memory. What exactly is her name, again?
As the main character is essentially eroded by being renamed and interrupted, there’s a sense that she might just be going mad along with the audience – neither are in control of what’s happening. At the family farmhouse, her personality, occupation and clothes change along with her name. The malleability of the human mind and memory is not a new topic to Kaufman, with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind treading somewhat similar territory back in 2004.
The night descends further into weirdness as we see Jake’s parents begin to undergo drastic changes. In one shot, they are old and sickly. In the next, Jake’s mum takes on the energetic persona of a 1950s housewife, with a cutting and dangerous ego. As the film progresses past the farmhouse, Kaufman continues to tell us nothing. The film is cut with scenes depicting the night shift of a janitor as he cleans a high school; he eats a sandwich and watches a movie on a break, catches glimpses of teens rehearsing their school play, mops, and happens upon two costumed students dancing in a hallway. The janitor is not named and barely says a thing. What role does he have to play in all of this? We’re left to guess.
This movie is nothing short of a trip. Reid’s already vague novel is practically an encyclopaedia in comparison to Kaufman’s adaptation. If you’re interested in being kept completely in the dark about everything that happens in the film, consider waiting to read the book until after your viewing.
The book and film carry the same unnerving tone, both evoking a distinct feeling that something is about to go wrong, and that you are seeing something that perhaps you shouldn’t be – something private and horrible. This will make a fantastic Halloween watch for anyone seeking insidious psychological murk over cheap shocks.
This article was first published in the October 2020 issue of SNACK magazine. You can read the full magazine below on your smartphone, tablet, or pc.