In 2020, Charlie Kaufman made a movie about the book ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things.‘ Although it starts as a young couple’s car journey, the plot of this movie is quite different than it seems. Here is a detailed analysis of the film — but beware, it’s full of spoilers!
In-Depth Analysis of ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’
The phrase ‘I’m thinking of ending things,’ which gives the film its title, is presented throughout the movie as the woman wanting to end her relationship with the man. When it is revealed that the woman is a dream, this phrase’s meaning changes. It is not a relationship but a life that is to be ended.
Everything we see, except the janitor, is what he imagines in his head, so the more confused the janitor gets, the more surreal the events he thinks he remembers or fantasizes about become.
‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ starts to give us clues from the very first frame: the aspect ratio is not the 16:9 that we are used to; it is 4:3. Jake is looking at his past and fantasizing; these old moments are portrayed like an old movie thanks to the 4:3 ratio — this ratio was chosen because these events are in the past and the mind of a sick man.
Let’s start with the female character. There is a stereotype of a woman that we often see in Hollywood movies: the strong woman who guides a man who has potential but has never succeeded in life. This stereotypical woman has a name that movie critic Nathan Rabin gave her, the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl.‘
Jake meets a woman whose name he can’t even remember correctly, and they talk for a while; he doesn’t dare to give her his phone number. He hopes that they’ll meet somewhere, but they don’t, and that’s why her name, dress, accent, and profession keep changing throughout the movie.
In one scene, even the actress who plays this woman changes and is replaced by a woman seen in the movie the janitor watches on TV.
While the couple is on a car ride, she recites a poem she wrote herself about loneliness and the monotony of life. Later, we realize this poem is not hers, thanks to a book she finds in Jake’s room. It actually belongs to the Canadian poet Eva H.D.
Speaking of poetry, there is another poet we should mention, William Wordsworth. When Jake talks about this poet, he gives us another clue about the course of the movie.
Wordsworth is a 19th-century romantic poet who wrote five poems called The Lucy Poems, in which he expresses his love for this woman, but the identity of this Lucy is never solved. The imaginary girlfriend, who will later be called by different names, first appears to us under the name Lucy. And we don’t know anything about her, just like Wordsworth’s Lucy.
As soon as Lucy gets into the car, she looks at herself in the mirror, but the mirror is broken. A broken mirror is actually an indication of a shattered personality. Both the book and the film present this woman to us as the heroine of the story, but when we get to the last chapter, we realize that she doesn’t exist.
She also talks at length about Cassavetes’ ‘A Woman Under The Influence,‘ but it’s not really her words, and she repeats Pauline Kael’s famous 1974 review of the film.
By the way, our janitor is watching a romantic comedy on TV; the guy in the movie is actually the guy he wants to be.
This movie was supposedly made by Robert Zemeckis. However, it turns out that Kaufman’s assistant took the ‘Directed by Robert Zemeckis’ part at the end of ‘Contact’ and put it here temporarily. Kaufman laughed a lot when he saw this and immediately called Zemeckis and got his approval.
The long car ride is finally over, and when our characters arrive home, they first visit the farm, where the woman learns a terrible truth about the pigs: maggots have started eating some of them alive. In the movie, the pig first appears on a signboard, and later, we see it again toward the end. Let’s hope that’s not the pig at the dinner table.
The house’s basement is a metaphor; we could call it Jake’s storehouse of disappointments. Jake is afraid to go in here because he doesn’t want to face reality, and when Lucy does, she finds a washing machine full of janitor’s uniforms and paintings that Jake used to aspire to paint when he was young.
It’s worth digging around in Jake’s room for. Because there are so many details hidden here, from the books by Pauline Kael and William Wordsworth that we just mentioned, the DVD of ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ which we will understand the meaning of at the end of the movie and a book about virology.
Other than that, some of the cassettes have very interesting labels on them. On another shelf are physics, chemistry, and math books and the ashes of Jake’s dog.
If we look at the wallpaper and the shape of the ceiling, we realize that this is the room we saw at the beginning of the movie, the room where the old man is looking out the window. And by the way, it’s not just old Jake; his younger self also looks out the same window. From this shot alone, we realize that the janitor and Jake are the same person at the very beginning of the movie, and we can even see Jake’s famous blue slippers in front of the door of the room.
Another change is the photo of the child in the farmhouse. The first photo is of the woman, then it changes, and suddenly, it’s Jake as a child. By the way, when they first come home, the father doesn’t even look at his son’s face, implying that Jake’s biggest problem is that he can’t prove himself to his father.
The girls who work in that restaurant they stop by on their way back are the ones who make fun of the janitor at school; they’re also in the musical Oklahoma. That’s why Jake is embarrassed by these girls.
The Oklahoma musical is not in the book; this is a detail added by Charlie Kaufman. The Jud character in the musical is similar to Jake, especially if you pay attention to the lyrics of the song ‘Lonely Room,’ which Jake sings at the movie’s end.
The janitor sees the students practicing the dance in the hallway, and then he dreams of his own dance and dances with the woman he loves. He gets married, but he is attacked by an old man dressed in a janitor’s uniform. This man represents Jake’s insecurities and failures in life. He kills young Jake, and it’s no longer a corpse lying on the ground but Jake’s hope for a happy life. Then the janitor comes and sweeps away as if the man lying on the ground is a piece of dirt that needs to be thrown away.
If you remember, when Lucy was sitting alone in the car before going to the school building, she asked herself when she would freeze to death. During hypothermia, there is an illusory sensation of warmth as the blood vessels dilate; one doesn’t realize that one is freezing and starts taking off one’s clothes and throwing them away. This is exactly what the man does.
He then finds himself in a creepy cartoon where a scary-looking clown woman asks him to come and join her. This woman is the mascot of a nearby restaurant where the girls work. At the beginning of the movie, there is also a picture of this clown on the paper of a meal in Jake’s car.
Then, the pig that was eaten alive by worms on the farm picks Jake up and takes him to school. On the way, the pig tells him they are no different, that the man was also eaten alive by worms, and that maybe his father was too late to realize this. When he says, ‘You and I are the same,’ the pig tells him, ‘Everything is the same; you know this very well because you are a physicist.’ In the book, Jake was a physicist for a while, but he quit his job — it seems the film didn’t forget about this detail.
The pig takes him to the school stage; it’s a place he knows very well — he’s been cleaning here for years, and that’s why he knows so much about musicals. They give him a Nobel prize in front of the Oklahoma stage, and he delivers a thank you speech. It’s the same speech John Nash gave in the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind.’
In this scene, everyone has makeup on their face. It looks weird because it’s theatrical makeup. As Jake is dying, he’s having a dream, but deep down, he knows it’s not real. When he sang Jud’s ‘Lonely Room’ song from the musical Oklahoma, the people who gave him a standing ovation were his dream girlfriend, the girls who made fun of him at school, and finally, his father.
Going back to the dinner scene, the woman shows Jake’s family the paintings she did. These are the works of Ralph Albert Blakelock; we already saw these paintings and the name written on them when Lucy went down to the basement. Jake tried to do similar paintings when he was young, but his father didn’t like them and probably discouraged his son.
Lucy couldn’t convince the father that these paintings were sad because the father kept claiming that for the landscape to be gloomy, there had to be a person with a sad face. The last frame of the movie proves how wrong this idea was. Some paintings can be heartbreaking, even if we don’t see a sad-looking person around. However, if the father saw the view at the end of the movie and knew that in that car was his son who took his life after living a lonely and unhappy life, he would think that it was a sad painting.
It’s normal to miss many details while watching this movie and not understand some parts. Especially if you didn’t understand what was happening, you might get bored while watching ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things.’ Still, it’s a film worth watching and digging for unseen details.