Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

I’m thinking of ending things

This year I managed to make the best possible choice of a movie to watch on the Christmas day – the latest masterpiece by Charlie Kaufman – “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”. I admit that I actually watched it twice in a row. Kaufman is unique, he’s a master of the synecdoche trope, and throughout his career he’s been creating exceptional emotional landscapes, and drawing spatial representation of his characters’ emotional states on the screen. His latest movie is a sad and beautiful thing about the sorrows of life: time, ageing, loneliness, death, and regretting life you never had. All set in the darkness of a snow storm. Just like “Synecdoche, New York”, only with Philip Seymour Hoffman replaced by Jesse Plemons. Like “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind”, but about death and suicide.

Kaufman is exceptionally great at depiction and exploration of the human condition. How does it feel to be inside someone’s mind, with its memories, childhood traumas, internal struggles? His movies portray a uniquely subjective experience. As described by the Plemons’s character: “Everything is tinged, colored, by mood, by emotion, by past experience. There’s no color in the universe, only in the brain.” The screen becomes a space dominated by pieces of fragmented memories from different periods of life: awkward conversations with parents, annoying things from the childhood, subtle memories of a dog your family once owned a long time ago. Perhaps only the taste of food fades out with time and cannot be enjoyed in a dream, at least not by the imaginary characters within it.

You can only be sure of your own existence when you’re observed by others. “Validated by someone who’s validated by others”. And if such observer doesn’t exist in the real world, then he should be created. The main character is invisible, at least in his social surroundings. The loneliness of him is represented by a touching, yet sinister poem about returning home read in the beginning. “Dragging your shoelaces loose and your shoulders etching deeper the stanza of worry on your forehead. You return home. You sigh into the onslaught of identical days. One might as well, at a time… Well… Anyway… You’re back.”

Lucy, the second main character, through whom we see the story unfolding, changes her names, sweaters, fields of education, the story how she met the narrator. She’s created as a patchwork of the main character’s own interests: whether it’s virology, quantum physics, or cinema, anything that the narrator finds interesting at the moment. He’s entrusting into her his own favourite poems and thoughts about his favourite movies, someone to discuss Freudism and psychological trauma with. Her talents are what the narrator loves himself: poetry and romanticist landscape paintings. The plot progression is her realisation that she’s in someone else’s dream, and her existence is not real. Expressed through the words of Oscar Wilde that people are just empty vessels filled with stuff said or thought by others. “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” “Nothing is more rare in any man than an act of his own”.

The tragedy unfolds when even an imaginary creature cannot fall in love with its creator, as he couldn’t come to terms with himself. The title clearly refers to a suicide – as it’s always an option in the sad life full of sorrows, constant mental ruminations about the past, images from the childhood, regrets about deeds not done and life not had, ruminations on how things could have been, if you were younger and looked prettier. Life takes its toll. “Not everything wants to live”. So in overall, the movie is a sad tale about human condition, with our ageing, frustrations, regrets and the constant feeling of life’s meaninglessness. Luckily, in our sick sad world, ending things is always an available alternative.

Also, what’s absolutely admirable in Kaufman’s movies are all the little details and references. So apart from a huge expansion of my reading list (with books by Guy Debord, Anna Kavan, and David Foster Wallace), there’re so many amusing details to find in the movie: 

– Remember the scene with an argument over dinner about portraying emotions through landscapes and discussion of the painting “Christina’s World” by Wyeth. The dad argues that he cannot perceive emotions if there’s no person on the canvas. That’s the same with the main character, Jake, who had to populate his memories with actual people in order to validate them and live them through again.

– The opening titles feature a production company with a weird Russian name – “Услуги Проективных Методик”. The company is ungoogleable, because… it represents the production studio owned by Kaufman himself!

– The scene depicting contents of the Jake’s room is curious. A vase with dog’s ashes, and lots of tapes with rather entertaining titles: “Lasting Memories of Sorrow”, “Futile Efforts at Success”, “Unforgettable Mishaps”, “ Lost and Abandoned Friendships” and… whatever else pops up on your mind when you’re trying to fall asleep.

– All uniforms being washed in the basement of Jake’s parents’ house have letters RHS on them, which stands for nothing else than… Rural High School. What a great name for an otherwise unremarkable school indeed.

– Why was the Cassavetes’s 1974 movie “The Woman Under Influence” chosen as a topic for the Lucy’s long monologue? Because as the plot unfolds… she’s realizing that she’s herself a woman under the influence of someone’s controlling mind.

– The novel “Ice” that’s shown in Jake’s room and is subsequently being discussed by the characters is a book by Anna Kavan, in which “the autobiographical elements are fictionalized in a surrealistic sense, including her unhappy childhood”, all set in a frozen post-apocalyptic world. Reminds you of something, doesn’t it? Well, you better read the entire description yourself:

Oh, by the way, if you search for the movie title on Twitter, 90% of the reviews will be from people who didn’t understand anything and call the movie rubbish. People who have no mental capacity to do any sort of research. This is what happens when you put great directors on Netflix. And in our civil society these very same people who cannot even get the basics also have a right to… oh, nevermind.

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