Between Reality and Future

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a masterpiece signed Charlie Kaufman

Jake and Lucy, as they are driving back from Jake parents’ place. Mary Cybulski/ Netflix

In September, the movie I’m Thinking of Ending Things was released and it changed the way I perceived art and cinematography.

Being released during a pandemic, didn’t really allow the movie get the traction it deserved, in my opinion. Online, you can find many interpretations of the film. The best one may be your personal one; as soon as you finish the over two hours feature film.

To be honest, if you didn’t get anything out of that movie, you didn’t think about it enough or you may have been distracted by other things as you were watching.

It is different these days, we are all at home- sometimes alone- so our thoughts may be going in different places even when we want to concentrate on only one thing. The COVID-19 situation may provoke retrospectives and contemplation of our lives from a different vantage point.

The cliffhanger ending is all we need to cherish the writing and the talent of the actors. We can wonder if this story is part of reality or represents the imagination of the main male character, Jake.

Unlike other films, we never know where the story will bring us, from start to finish. And this one is also about the sanity of relationships. Being in one can mean so much for some, simply because they want to share their life with someone they truly care about.

The film starts with a simplistic storyline. A woman is going to visit the family of her boyfriend, something that several people can relate to. It should be noted that it’s their first trip together.

Depending on your personality, this step may be as normal as meeting anybody else or it can be a stressful moment. During the car ride, we don’t feel an emotional connection between the couple. The shared moments are somewhat awkward as they are both trying hard to keep up a good conversation. Relationship red flag right there.

Therefore, they are in the car and we can feel that distance separating the two main characters. She even says at the beginning that there isn’t much she can do about the relationship. “Jake is a nice guy, but it’s not going anywhere”, says Lucy in her own head. She adds that maybe it’s human nature to keep going and hope for a good outcome than it is to make things right.

Unlike other movies or books were the two main characters try to push and make love work (like it is the case of classic romantic comedies), this isn’t the case in this scenario. She knows that there will come a point where she will need to speak up and end the relationship.

Love is such a powerful force that is indescribable and in this case we feel none of it. Lucy is constantly trying to wrap her head around the relationship she’s in. He is in love, she’s not. She doesn’t even accept compliments from him. Having something in common, in this case poetry, doesn’t make the relationship worth it. Now and again, it doesn’t need to be words, actions speak way louder than words.

At first, I thought that this was the meaning of the movie title, but I changed my mind throughout the movie. Jake, the boyfriend, isn’t happy with his life and the turn it took. He wishes he did things differently and had pursued his dreams and not just navigated through life. It might be about suicide and not being happy with where life brought you. Maybe Jake didn’t live up to his expectations, which can be really stressful and bring lots of anxiety, especially when you make up different scenarios that don’t match the reality.

That’s why we see Jake in the future, we notice that he has become a janitor at the same high school he went to as a kid.

Jake clearly expresses his feelings about not being happy with how everything ended. While he is driving, he tells her about his fascination for the poem Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, written by William Wordsworth. Not to go into details, it explores the concept of death, the lost of youth and innocence. (How not living life to its fullest can lead to sadness and guilt.) The poem is also about pre-existence, the idea that that our soul probably existed before our bodies. It probably explains why the story travels through time.

Both main characters don’t fall in love, but the story ends with the girl admiring the guy’s dream; which combines science, poetry and music. As it should be for everyone, having one passion just isn’t enough to feel fulfilled. But even if you have more than one passion, one will naturally take over the others. The passions will give you hope throughout your life, when obstacles seem like mountains that are too high to go over and you feel like giving it all up.

At least from what we expected, everything changes when they arrive at the parents’ place in the midst of a snowstorm. Someone is hiding something and the parents are clearly not all there, we can see clear signs of dementia.

Jake also changes the way he acts around his girlfriend at this point. There are things he doesn’t want her to see, especially the basement, which she ends up discovering and learning about a change of time, even though it doesn’t completely register with Lucy.

During dinner, they talk about Lucy’s paintings and how her and Jake met. The parents seem intrigued by her work even do they don’t know much about painting. The dad even criticizes abstract art. That’s the moment when Lucy explains she mostly does paintings of landscapes.

When the dinner at the parents’ place is over, she wants to get back to her place because she’s working early the next morning. It then gets quite complicated because of the snowstorm outside. For a moment, we think they will stay there for the night before they decide to hit the road. It’s when the diner ends that the parents start travelling through time.

Lucy and Jake with Jake’s parents in the dining room. Photograph by Mary Cybulski / Netflix

When she goes into Jake’s old room, she discovers a ton of stuff, including the poem she read to him earlier in the car. We can then assume she became a famous poet, or that she was when Jake was younger. He was always fascinated about being in love with her (which explains the story).

The road back is way more entertaining than the initial trip. Do they truly make it home on that winter evening? They sure make it to his dreams. The movie is probably more about Jake than it is about the relationship.

The last scene of the movie, where you see Jake doing two things he loves, brings tears to our eyes. It makes us realize how precious life is. In his dream, Jake admits having lived a fruitful life. When he accepts an award, he tells us about the most important discovery of his life.

“ It is only in mysterious equations of love that any logical reason can be found.”

We can understand a little bit more about the meaning of the movie by looking at its director, Charlie Kaufman, who also did Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind featuring the one of a kind Jim Carrey. He takes two realities (and not concepts) into consideration and brings them to life: love and time.

When Jake is thinking about the ice cream place, Tulsey Town at the end of the movie, sitting alone in his car. Images courtesy of Netflix

There isn’t one meaning to the movie and it’s normal that you are still looking for it after seeing it a couple of times. Don’t rush things, let your thoughts and feelings carry what you make of it. In the end, it’s just a movie, but art and culture have this way of shaping our lives and bringing people together more than we can imagine.

Graduated with a masters degree in politics from the University of Quebec in Montreal. Human rights, LGBT issues, sports and music. Twitter: @OlivierPilon

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