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I'm Thinking of Ending Things


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๐ŸŽ™️ EPISODE 384: 11.10.21

This is in many ways, to me at least, a perfect movie. It is a Jeff 10. It might not be a Universal 10 and I'm OK with that. I built this site, this home. Your 10s can live in your homes. My 10s live here. There are so many ideas, a majority filtered through the lens of a pop culture strainer (poetry, musicals, film criticism) it is almost impossible to compartmentalize them and/or glean immediate meaning outside of a few big ones that return over and over again (e.g., the theater staple Oklahoma!). There are, I believe, clear parallels here to Kaufman's debut novel, Antkind (also 2020); this is what got me back into thinking about his work recently, although I'm a terribly slow reader and only on Chapter 6. Nevertheless, it's clear he has a newfound obsession with how/why other media and art infects, inspires and/or directly concocts other media and art. Like we see here, there are also several instances of fake references stacked up next to the real ones.
It's a fascinating and bewildering choice that renders the work(s) ever more mysterious1 (Antkind is especially delirious in this regard).

(Ed. Note: I stumbled upon a series of blogs at danconley.wordpress.com. Now, I have no clue who this writer is and I can't for the live of me find anything else online that they have written. But damn if his 25,000+ words on this movie, mostly parsing all the references and comparing/contrasting the film with the book, is a fantastic reference, and I've used it as such for this review. Check it out if you have the time.)


The above piece of music (lifted directly from a sequence late in the movie) features a recurring and absolutely lovely motif. It is a devastating melody that A) I couldn't believe wasn't itself lifted from some previous work, and B) somehow (!) has not been 'officially' released in any capacity. Here it is featured, diegetically, on an old record player in the farmhouse...


For all of the (rightfully deserved) love Kaufman gets as a writer, this film does everything else right too: it looks fantastic, is impeccably edited, and features one of the best scores I've heard in a really long time. It's so easy to discard that stuff if you're distracted by the chaos on the surface (the screenplay's banter and copious internal monologuing). I just wanted to praise this up front, and these people (among so many more): ลukasz ลปal (cinematographer), Robert Frazen (editor) and Jay Wadley (composer).

So.... SPOILERS? I feel like I should write SPOILERS. So that's what I've done.

This film is about a janitor (Guy Boyd) who both relives his past life and reinvents it through the creation of an "imaginary girlfriend" (Buckley) interacting with both his younger self (Plemons) and his parents (Thewlis and Collette). You don't (or won't) necessarily parse this until the end perhaps, if that is indeed the 'proper reading' — what is 'exactly right' in this regard seems secondary to the myriad themes, among them: how the absorption of art doesn't ever equate to real love, is that facsimile version of real love enough of a substitute? and how a mountain of regret can lead you to follow a talking, cartoon pig into a high school on a snowy night butt-ass naked.

How do you go about constructing a narrative like that without coming off as a pretentious and/or tortured smarty? Our new friend Dan:
The girlfriend then notices the swing set — looking exactly the same as the one the janitor saw when looking into his back yard at home — in front of an abandoned building. This is one of those brilliant Kaufman alignments. Instead of having the janitor say directly that he is becoming less lucid in a phone call, the movie drops a little cognitive blip into the narrative. If the entire movie is the janitor’s internal work of art, his inability to keep an artifact like the swing set in its proper place is a sign of his fading mental state. Jake’s embarrassment when discussing the swing set and inability to give a good explanation for it tends to support this interpretation.
I reject the hypothesis that this movie is pretentious or [insert adjacent feelings/adjectives]. I think it is a highly intelligent movie, but it never attempts to belittle the viewer. (I hate this critique of Kaufman, in general, FWIW.) If, as I did, you watch this a second time (or more), knowing full-well the above 'twist' then it almost functions full-on antithetically to that. What good was that brain full of references, art and knowledge? He's still a lonely old janitor.

The thing is, you can dissect this till your blue in the face (like our new friend Dan and many others) and that's fine! I enjoy reading mega deep dives like that. But — for me — why the movie ultimately works, why it's an instant classic, is because of its moments and because of its performances. Toni Collette and David Thewlis aren't onscreen very long (just the middle act) but holy shit are they unforgettable in these roles...


"How can a picture of a field be sad without a sad person looking sad in the field?" I love that quote. I think it is working on multiple levels. It's both a statement on how a lot of art (especially movies) work (we feel sad even though we aren't literally in them), and what is happening, on a functioning, very literal level plot-wise: the janitor has to insert characters into these scenes for him to feel anything. It's not enough just to remember when the memories aren't good enough. I find this commentary on both the janitor character's motivation, in addition to the larger concept dissecting the very nature of the passive cinematic experience to be the most fascinating stuff in the movie.

This is heightened by Kaufman's genius use of (or manipulation?) of perspective. On the multiple car/riding sequences, the camera alternates from being inside and outside the car, and there are even a few moments of quasi- 4th wall breaking...


Later, the inside/outside effect will become more prominent, more frantic; the difference between being and watching, living and only learning (which is barely more than just "watching" in this context)...


The final act goes off the rails, obviously, and completely. But it's such a purposeful derailment, it's almost beyond criticism for that fact alone. Kaufman is, at heart, a surrealist and he will always lean into those tendancies 2. It's somewhat trite to say that a film — any film — "demands repeat viewings" but if there were an example where that statement is exorbitantly true, it's here. There's simply nothing else like this movie. I love it.




FOOTNOTES:

1. There is also a game of trust — or mistrust — at work (or play?) happening here. Are we being challenged to know the difference between what's real and what's fake? And if so, why? Take for example the phoney (and very cheesy) movie-within-a-movie Order Up!. Viewed by the janitor whilst having a lunchbreak, this fake film is credited to Robert Zemeckis, apparently for no good reason? This either flies in the face of the thematic narrative or cements it (in the maggot-filled pig "everything is nothing" kind of way). I, not shockingly, come down on the latter. [BACK]

2. This is the main reason why most of the criticism he receives irks me; it's as if those reviewers don't even have a basic concept of surrealist art. They see anything that bends that way as immediately pretentious, and that both A) sucks! and is B) wrong. [BACK]



CHRONOLOGICALLY
EPISODE 383 - (YOU ARE HERE) - EPISODE 385 ⫸

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