"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"Coming home is terrible, whether the dogs lick your face or not..."
Spoiler alert - In truth, a spoiler alert is meaningless with this film. There is so much happening, so many evaluations possible that you'll need to view it several times.
"I'm Thinking of Ending Things" is a movie full of daunting ambiguity. Having viewed it once, and tried to comprehend the plot (is there a plot?), I needed a libation. Director Charlie Kaufman is testing the boundaries. Although billed as a modern horror film, the impact is more unsettling than fear-inducing. Deeply unsettling.
This movie is excellent for Netflix because you can pause, reflect and then move on. Even better, you can rewind scenes — did that plaster on the father's face change position, did he get taller? Answer to both: yes! Plus, throughout, there is a blizzard of 'foreshadowing' that will keep the movie-nerds debating for years. Is that the intension?
What's with the children's swing that keeps appearing, plus the reference to chains? Is it because time in this story swings back and forward, and yet remains 'chained' to an eventual outcome. That's one interpretation, but it's anybody's guess because of the ambiguity piles atop the ambiguity. Yep, I'll need to use that word a lot here.
At a basic level, we have a young couple in a new relationship — weeks rather than months — travelling to see his parents for dinner. Snow is falling, as conditions deteriorate throughout the trip. At first, we see events through her eyes. I say her because it's never clear who she is: her name changes, her clothes and her profession. Is she a poet, painter or physicist?
The boyfriend is Jake. He's a timid, socially inept chap; although sensitive and well-educated. Or so we are led to believe. On route to his parent's house, we get hints that things are out of kilter. Jake exhibits indications that he can read what his girlfriend is thinking.
At one point in the car, the girlfriend breaks the fourth wall for a fleeting moment as her eyes connect with the audience. She then recites a poem which is at odds with her character. In the last segment of the poem, she again breaks the wall to lock her eyes on us. Jake exclaims his love of the poetry with "It's like you wrote it about me".
Then on arrival at the parent's house, the weird stuff kicks in. The parents are a bit kooky, although pleasant enough. As the evening progresses, Mum and Dad age. Then they reverse direction to become their younger selves. All a bit fragmented and confounding.
None of this comes in a 'shock' moment.
Most of these transitions are subtle, some hard to notice — a small change in hairstyle or height. That's were pausing, and rewinding helps. Then a couple of instances took me by surprise. And yet, none of it could frighten or evoke fear. Throughout all this, we bounce to scenes of an older man working as a janitor in a school.
Then the girl wanders the house to find a copy of the poem she'd recited early in the car. That's when the penny dropped for me. She's not real. There is also an animated pig that is maybe acting as a guide to the afterlife. Confused? (Don't get hung-up on the poorly rendered pig. The director couldn't get a real one to walk on the slippery floors and turn its head. Animation provided the solution.)
The whole thing ends with a bizarre musical number from the show 'Oklahoma' with a cue that the janitor committed suicide. Beneath everything is a sub-text of how we perceive the world and reality. These are not especially original insights.
Perhaps this is Jake's mind at work because he is a tad immature and awkward. That includes his over-earnest utterances. It's as if he's seeking to polish his credentials as a 'woke' male who is 'safe' to be around women.
Taking a run at it, I reckon Jake is the janitor, and the whole story of the road trip is his imagining of a possible reality. He's a lonely nobody who has suffered many slights in life. In the modern world, Jake is out of place. The girl is someone he once admired in a bar, although it never went beyond a fleeting encounter and her rejection of his attention. We are inside Jake's head, which echoes back to the director's earlier work as a writer on "Being John Malkovich".
Could the title be signalling Jake's intent to commit suicide? Indeed, the final moment of the film suggests the janitor kills himself. But I don't know because there is more ambiguity here.
The four lead actors — Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette and David Thewlis — give impressively understated performances. Jesse Plemons as 'Jake' captures the disconnect between the surface personality and something bubbling deep inside. You know from the first moment he's an odd one. That sense of disquiet about him grows in increments.
Toni Collette quickly adopts the unsettling mother role she rolled out in 'About a Boy'. Both Collette and Thewlis make for uncomfortable, cringe-inducing, in-laws.
Although the story is strange, and at times inaccessible, it does engage. In the end, it's not a sad or morose film despite themes of regret, with isolation played out in a disturbing landscape. Nonetheless, I'm left perplexed about the purpose of the whole venture. Maybe the director wants us to think about the outsider.
Doubtless, he's messing with us. Perhaps I need to watch it again.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.