I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

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mfunk9786
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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#76 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Sep 13, 2020 1:36 am

A stunningly great film. It sounds from reading through this thread like the adaptation smoothed out some edges of the original book that were necessary to clip if this was going to be palatable at all. But as usual with Kaufman (PTA is another person who has adapted difficult, even "unfilmable" books with a similarly deft hand), there is this sense that Jake can be a lot of people in a lot of different situations, and that the film is far less interested in what the notable events and fantasies of his life were than how he accesses them in his late age. Got my mind going about what mine might be when the time comes. It does not matter precisely what occurs later on (though that's when LQ stopped caring), only that it is of value to Jake.

Kaufman has pulled off this astonishing high wire act at least twice now, essentially making his art about the unknowable experience of being close enough to death to be simultaneously rifling through your memory Rolodex and too far gone to do anything to act on those memories in a meaningful way. It is such an otherworldly demonstration of what is almost mathematically-supported empathy and it is difficult to even speculate on why it is even worth it to him if this is the sort of reception it receives.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things is raw, difficult, gorgeous work and the sort of film (like Holy Motors) that is so meaningful to me in its expansive and largely unpresented subtext that it's beyond my ability to even explain why in a way that anyone would want to read. Guess I tried!

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#77 Post by JakeB » Mon Sep 14, 2020 7:21 am

I've been kind of obsessed with this film since I watched it a week or so ago. I think what really reels me in to the puzzle-box quality of it is that I can see uncanny similarities in my own life to that of Jake (beyond our name.) I guess this in a way mirrors Jake's own propensity to see his own life in other people's works of art, like when he says that the 'Bone dog' poem speaks to him personally. That parallel is just so satisfying.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#78 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Sep 14, 2020 6:47 pm

I am also unable to stop thinking about this film even though I don't yet have much else to say about it and have only watched it once.

It is making me reconsider interactions with people I've met (or haven't met) and reflect on my own life's triumphs and failures. If anything, Kaufman is doing fascinating things with the razor's edge between someone's ability to live the life they want and, whether it be because of poor socialization, a flawed temperament, a lack of motivation - any number of factors - their inability to ever get things off the ground. The unchangeable timeline of life is going to be approximately the same length for most people give or take a few years, regardless of how that time is utilized. If you live in the middle of nowhere, if you are invisible in a big city, if people just find you to have a sour personality - there are so many things impacting who you're important to and why, and whether anyone ever gets to find out.

If incels were more self-reflective and at all intellectual (most aren't despite considering themselves mentally superior beings on some level), this film would be a tonic for many. As it stands, anyone could see themselves nakedly reflected in just about any moment. It is a marvel, and one of the very finest films I've seen when it comes to issues of mortality, fantasy, and squandered time and love that will never come back. Surely the term "kaleidoscopic" has been lobbed at Kaufman's work since he started writing films, but this is a film that can mean a million different things to a million different people. Can't stress enough how rare and beautiful that is.

I have never told anyone this but when I was in elementary school I was very lonely and didn't have many friends. That part is known, surely. Anyway, I tended to walk around and sort of have internal (and external if no one was around) conversations with myself about the things I was enjoying at the time - TV shows, games, sports, whatever was going on in my mind. Occasionally would follow a schedule as though I was running my own television channel. Surprised it didn't totally mess me up but it passed with time as many things do. Anyway I think what I am trying to say is that this is a very, very special film to me.

Enjoy this set photo as I depart the thread for now to avoid rambling forever:

Image

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#79 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Sep 14, 2020 8:02 pm

Lovely appreciation, I had similar experiences in childhood/certain other times of life, and Kaufman validates this kind of natural egocentrism in a way that refuses to simplify a position of celebration or shame, because he knows parts of us are already exhausting themselves stretching into those binary faux-tangible spaces already. It’s too complex an experience to verbalize, but everyone I know who’s brain works at all like this that I’ve recommended it to (a diverse range, from Kaufman fans to therapists to non-cinephiles who aren’t generally big on eccentric stuff) have loved it, so he’s clearly doing something right for the population whose existential-emotional experiences are on his wavelength.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#80 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Sep 14, 2020 8:07 pm

White guys of a certain age seeing a film and saying "this is me" is the oldest snooze in the book so it's very difficult to take some aspects of the film too literally or personally, and I think it would have been a failure if Jake could only stand in for someone like Jake. That said, I also would prefer not to dwell too much on the reality that I would not be very far off from him had my LQ not decided it was worth sticking around.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#81 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Sep 14, 2020 8:37 pm

I agree, it's not about relating to Jake personally (which is why I reject the significance placed on toxic masculinity being central to the themes) but deeply to the internal processes of coping with fears, doubts, insecurities, core beliefs, desires, expectations, shame, history, etc. To use a clinical term, this film is like a biopsychosocialspiritual framework of understanding the complexities of a person, and that's still missing a few hundred dimensions.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#82 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Sep 14, 2020 8:43 pm

Yes, the idea of memory as collage is more successful here than it is in Synecdoche, New York, and in some ways even moreso than in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind since it isn't dependent upon a pseudoscience to explain it away. One of the most jarring things about this film is that it is not self referential like the former or plot driven like the latter. It just is, like watching someone's late life memories and emotions projected directly onto a screen.

Re: "toxic masculinity" - the fact that Jake is mostly an okay, if not downright *pretty nice* guy is one of the film's best attributes. This is not someone who deserves loneliness and disappointment, yet here he is. Means there are many, many more out there who are in the same boat, not even factoring in that everyone lives with regret on some level.

It's beside the point for reasons already expressed, but do you read the third act as an indication that:
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Within the timeline of the film, old Jake/the janitor seeing the girl run into the school looking for her friend is the first & only time he meets her, and everything we see with regard to the car ride, her visit, etc is his using her as an analogue for human companionship as he has done many times before?

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#83 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Sep 14, 2020 9:18 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:
Mon Sep 14, 2020 8:43 pm
It's beside the point for reasons already expressed, but do you read the third act as an indication that:
SpoilerShow
Within the timeline of the film, old Jake/the janitor seeing the girl run into the school looking for her friend is the first & only time he meets her, and everything we see with regard to the car ride, her visit, etc is his using her as an analogue for human companionship as he has done many times before?
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I hadn't thought about that, though I suppose it could work as well as any definitive reading to describe the existential properties. I prefer to think of her as either a tangible signifier of his actual (perceived) 'one that got away' in real life, and/or an internal part of himself that he's trying to use for comfort, but that has its own organic agenda separate from his idealized will. At the end, it's telling that she's just one of the many sitting in the crowd during his speech, but he does seem to point to her specifically when ascribing meaning to his life.

Also, with all the ice cream milkshakes in the trash can outside the school where old janitor Jake confronts her, I have to believe that he continues to have this 'confrontation' of acceptance, and then fails to hold onto that serenity, just like all of us do in Sisyphean style. The car turning back on after the credits tells me this is going to keep going for eternity (this is why I likened the experience, if at the moment of death, to be the DMT trip that I suspect lasts infinitely once legally dead and becomes one's 'afterlife'), which is neither hell nor life-affirming, but contains a little bit of both and everything in between.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#84 Post by Roger Ryan » Tue Sep 15, 2020 9:39 am

therewillbeblus wrote:
Mon Sep 14, 2020 9:18 pm
mfunk9786 wrote:
Mon Sep 14, 2020 8:43 pm
It's beside the point for reasons already expressed, but do you read the third act as an indication that:
SpoilerShow
Within the timeline of the film, old Jake/the janitor seeing the girl run into the school looking for her friend is the first & only time he meets her, and everything we see with regard to the car ride, her visit, etc is his using her as an analogue for human companionship as he has done many times before?
SpoilerShow
I hadn't thought about that, though I suppose it could work as well as any definitive reading to describe the existential properties. I prefer to think of her as either a tangible signifier of his actual (perceived) 'one that got away' in real life, and/or an internal part of himself that he's trying to use for comfort, but that has its own organic agenda separate from his idealized will. At the end, it's telling that she's just one of the many sitting in the crowd during his speech, but he does seem to point to her specifically when ascribing meaning to his life.

Also, with all the ice cream milkshakes in the trash can outside the school where old janitor Jake confronts her, I have to believe that he continues to have this 'confrontation' of acceptance, and then fails to hold onto that serenity, just like all of us do in Sisyphean style. The car turning back on after the credits tells me this is going to keep going for eternity (this is why I likened the experience, if at the moment of death, to be the DMT trip that I suspect lasts infinitely once legally dead and becomes one's 'afterlife'), which is neither hell nor life-affirming, but contains a little bit of both and everything in between.
SpoilerShow
I don't think the girlfriend's encounter with the janitor is the one "real" moment in the film, but it is a key moment. Her description of the missing boyfriend is, of course, simply explicating the reality of Jake; he's someone who occupied only a short period of time in her life (only moments?) and can be only vaguely recalled if at all. He could even be a series of men who meant little to her. When she asks the janitor if he's seen someone like that (which provokes a laugh since she has offered no physical description), she's asking the janitor to recognize himself as that boyfriend. The devastating response (and are these the only words spoken by the janitor in the film?) is "No, but I see you". Is it far easier for Jake/the Janitor to envision his ideal human companion than to acknowledge his own inadequacies? Whatever the interpretation, the janitor's response is heart-wrenching.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#85 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Sep 15, 2020 10:15 am

Roger Ryan wrote:
Tue Sep 15, 2020 9:39 am
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I don't think the girlfriend's encounter with the janitor is the one "real" moment in the film, but it is a key moment. Her description of the missing boyfriend is, of course, simply explicating the reality of Jake; he's someone who occupied only a short period of time in her life (only moments?) and can be only vaguely recalled if at all. He could even be a series of men who meant little to her. When she asks the janitor if he's seen someone like that (which provokes a laugh since she has offered no physical description), she's asking the janitor to recognize himself as that boyfriend. The devastating response (and are these the only words spoken by the janitor in the film?) is "No, but I see you". Is it far easier for Jake/the Janitor to envision his ideal human companion than to acknowledge his own inadequacies? Whatever the interpretation, the janitor's response is heart-wrenching.
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The janitor says a lot in the film, but mostly in interrupted voiceover (starting at the very beginning) and in those phone calls/voicemail messages. I honestly should go back and put on subtitles to parse out what he says exactly.

But I think you're correct that this is the only scene where we are afforded a direct intimacy with him expressing himself. As to your reading, I definitely think that a lot of the film is built around that idea, or more broadly that it's easier for Jake to 'attempt' to engage in this tangible fantasy, despite repetitive failure and pain when he does, rather than directly face not only his own inadequacies but the true relationship between him and what he wants in life, which is much more disconnected than his expectations can admit. I take the film to be largely about our expectations that come from being the center of our own worlds, and how even if we have low self-esteem there is a western idealization that we need to achieve these palpable markers of meaning, and we are not educated to cope with life's actual flow that refuses to grant them. Jake represents the path of many people- a cyclical engagement in attempting to grasp onto what cannot be grasped because the alternative of actually accepting life on life's terms is horrifying conceptually- with the greatest risk being that we will find that life is meaningless. The irony is that in this process of trying to achieve the unattainable, we expose our own impotence and lose hope anyways. It's a common behavior loop in mental health, and one that I personally relate to a lot. I think of the saying, "insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results," only reframing that to be less of 'insanity' and more of a valid response for a vulnerable person sticking to the only path they know that has any ounce of comfortability/security, and suppressing the awareness that it won't work, because they don't possess the tools to try something new.

As for as the "no, but I see you" - I think that's Jake (in a brief moment) finally letting go and accepting his place in the world divorced from a union with her, and grateful for the ability to still see her in his mind. This goes into the musical number, which exchanges different actors to further displace Jake from himself, acknowledging the fantasy world that this romance must exist within. I actually think the janitor's response is the most beautiful and therapeutically-positive moment in the film (though definitely still heart-wrenching!) because he's truly surrendering and practicing mindfulness in that instant. What's tragic, and also painfully accurate, is how he cannot hold onto this serenity and descends into chaotic dysregulation in the car afterwards.

He then finds another bout of peace in the Oklahoma assembly, but this time it's under a spell of complete repression (as opposed to the raw, sober admittance in the school, or even the in-between semi-cognizant weaving suppression of the bulk of the narrative). Since following his breakdown, he chooses to live within this purely ignorant imaginative space to try to obtain and hold onto that serenity again, and so the wheel keeps turning between layers of awareness as Jake tries to find some ease wherever he can. I like the idea that his reality can be subjective, so that final assembly doesn't need to be a 'wrong' path even if it is the one that engages the least with the realities of his pain that he would need to work through to find some harmony in the long-term. Though Kaufman makes it clear that life is composed of all of these levels of consciousness and he boldly welcomes them all to the table in his film, even if we have trouble welcoming them independently ourselves because it's such a frightening and uncomfortable undertaking.. which it clearly is for Jake, Kaufman, and many of us. Or at least me.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#86 Post by Roger Ryan » Tue Sep 15, 2020 12:34 pm

therewillbeblus wrote:
Tue Sep 15, 2020 10:15 am
Roger Ryan wrote:
Tue Sep 15, 2020 9:39 am
SpoilerShow
I don't think the girlfriend's encounter with the janitor is the one "real" moment in the film, but it is a key moment. Her description of the missing boyfriend is, of course, simply explicating the reality of Jake; he's someone who occupied only a short period of time in her life (only moments?) and can be only vaguely recalled if at all. He could even be a series of men who meant little to her. When she asks the janitor if he's seen someone like that (which provokes a laugh since she has offered no physical description), she's asking the janitor to recognize himself as that boyfriend. The devastating response (and are these the only words spoken by the janitor in the film?) is "No, but I see you". Is it far easier for Jake/the Janitor to envision his ideal human companion than to acknowledge his own inadequacies? Whatever the interpretation, the janitor's response is heart-wrenching.
SpoilerShow
The janitor says a lot in the film, but mostly in interrupted voiceover (starting at the very beginning) and in those phone calls/voicemail messages...
Regarding the janitor's "voice-over": This element has confused me a bit since Oliver Platt is credited as "The Voice". I assume it's Platt's voice we hear on the phone messages. Is he also providing what could be called a secondary voice-over or is that Guy Boyd who plays the janitor (I've just seen the film one time)?
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There's every reason to believe "The Voice" does come from the janitor since he's the one corporeal character in the film, so is Kaufman using Platt to disguise the identity of the janitor or is the voice meant to be a separate entity that the janitor conjures and/or is fighting against to preserve his fantasy?

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#87 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Sep 15, 2020 1:01 pm

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That's a good point, since the voice seems to serve the function of intrusive thoughts that directly disrupt Jake's fantasy from remaining stable. The interruptions don't affirm his mastery over this experience because they de-stabilize Buckley, but they also do initiate a form of control by molesting her autonomy to think freely and operate untouched. If we view Buckley as an extension of Jake (one of his parts, that he can't seem to control) these intrusive thoughts could be both a desperate attempt to reign her in and an uncontrollable reflex that further expose his lack of authority in his mind. In the scene where Jake asks her to pick up the phone, it's difficult to say what the intent is: Does he believe that the voice on the other end will help reel her back to his will, subvert her dominance that she's shown differentiating from his directions already, or is he self-destructively permitting her to access a part of him that will work against his own fantasy? Regardless of the 'intent' this feels to be another symptom of Jake's subconscious exhibiting its incongruous essence as an unsafe space when paired with the expectations for security and comfort he clearly has as he enters it on each occasion with a smile, a kiss, and optimism about the journey.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#88 Post by dustybooks » Tue Sep 15, 2020 11:59 pm

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i realize the book (which I haven’t read) contradicts this, but was I alone in interpreting Buckley’s character not as a wholly imagined figure but as a memory that’s been corrupted and confused over a great length of time? It’s entirely possible that something in the film, which I’ve just seen the once and finished moments ago, explicitly precludes this, but I find myself preferring this interpretation for several reasons. I did read over everyone’s posts — which I will now do in more detail — but I may have missed this being addressed.

Would also like to say that the scene at the ice cream shop is maybe, immediately, one of my favorite moments in a film ever. Just so wickedly funny and inspired.
Not entirely sure how I rate this compared with Synecdoche, which is a deeply important film to me, but I certainly found its fusion of cultural ephemera with despair more effective than in Kaufman’s novel Antkind, which made me laugh a lot but on the whole seriously failed for me.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#89 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Sep 16, 2020 12:18 am

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I think that's a pretty good way to describe Buckley, certainly more than simply an imagined figure, since she clearly has a will of her own. That's why I see her more as an internal 'part' - or perhaps a memory that is inhabited by a part and works against Jake's expectations. Whether a memory or a part detached from Jake, the dissonance is still there, and I definitely agree that she resembles the tainted memories we all have that glamorize and simplify a person into a concrete optimal icon that Jake makes his saving grace (hence the repetitive journey placing her on a pedestal for meaning-mining, and final fantasy speech dedicating his life's significance to her love).

The ice cream shop scene is amazing, and while its absurdism was actually pretty funny at times (and so relatable, with the aggressive parts/memories taunting him and the traumatized one cowering in fear), nothing I can think of offhand gets that close to depicting one's core beliefs staring them in the face and reinforcing the fear had when daring to confront them. Ugh, devastating.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#90 Post by willoneill » Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:53 am

dustybooks wrote:
Tue Sep 15, 2020 11:59 pm
SpoilerShow
i realize the book (which I haven’t read) contradicts this, but was I alone in interpreting Buckley’s character not as a wholly imagined figure but as a memory that’s been corrupted and confused over a great length of time? It’s entirely possible that something in the film, which I’ve just seen the once and finished moments ago, explicitly precludes this, but I find myself preferring this interpretation for several reasons. I did read over everyone’s posts — which I will now do in more detail — but I may have missed this being addressed.
SpoilerShow
My interpretation from both the book and the film (though maybe the book biased me for the film) is that Buckley's character is a memory of a woman that the janitor, a long time ago, saw across a bar but never had the nerve to speak to. So her physical appearance is real, but all other aspects of her such, such as per personality, are made up in the mind of the janitor. This is explicit in the book, but even in the film I believe Buckley's dialogue with the janitor at the end implies this.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#91 Post by Nasir007 » Wed Sep 16, 2020 11:05 am

willoneill wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:53 am
dustybooks wrote:
Tue Sep 15, 2020 11:59 pm
SpoilerShow
i realize the book (which I haven’t read) contradicts this, but was I alone in interpreting Buckley’s character not as a wholly imagined figure but as a memory that’s been corrupted and confused over a great length of time? It’s entirely possible that something in the film, which I’ve just seen the once and finished moments ago, explicitly precludes this, but I find myself preferring this interpretation for several reasons. I did read over everyone’s posts — which I will now do in more detail — but I may have missed this being addressed.
SpoilerShow
My interpretation from both the book and the film (though maybe the book biased me for the film) is that Buckley's character is a memory of a woman that the janitor, a long time ago, saw across a bar but never had the nerve to speak to. So her physical appearance is real, but all other aspects of her such, such as per personality, are made up in the mind of the janitor. This is explicit in the book, but even in the film I believe Buckley's dialogue with the janitor at the end implies this.
SpoilerShow
I think the visual that the janitor is using to represent his imaginary girlfriend could have been acquired anytime and i think it can be reasonably concluded to be a more recent acquisition. So yes, the imaginary girlfriend is someone who he saw in a bar years ago but the visual is newer, because he has forgotten how the original girl looked.

So I think it can be something like - the janitor sees a young woman walk into the school in a snow storm. Then he goes into the car and masturbates. And then imagines the story we see in the movie. He has forgotten how that girl looked 50 years ago, so uses this girl as the visual and everything else he projects on to her. And because this is a modern girl, he imagines everything to be contemporary even though his youth was decades ago and happened in the 70s.

And then later on dies in his car after having a stroke or something.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#92 Post by dustybooks » Wed Sep 16, 2020 11:54 am

willoneill wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:53 am
SpoilerShow
My interpretation from both the book and the film (though maybe the book biased me for the film) is that Buckley's character is a memory of a woman that the janitor, a long time ago, saw across a bar but never had the nerve to speak to. So her physical appearance is real, but all other aspects of her such, such as per personality, are made up in the mind of the janitor. This is explicit in the book, but even in the film I believe Buckley's dialogue with the janitor at the end implies this.
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This does make a bit more direct sense than what I was thinking, which was that her remarks reflected how a self-loathing character like the janitor may imagine himself being seen/remembered by any woman, even one with whom he had an actual relationship.

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Re: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

#93 Post by DarkImbecile » Thu Sep 17, 2020 1:57 pm

willoneill wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:53 am
SpoilerShow
My interpretation from both the book and the film (though maybe the book biased me for the film) is that Buckley's character is a memory of a woman that the janitor, a long time ago, saw across a bar but never had the nerve to speak to. So her physical appearance is real, but all other aspects of her such, such as per personality, are made up in the mind of the janitor. This is explicit in the book, but even in the film I believe Buckley's dialogue with the janitor at the end implies this.
SpoilerShow
In retrospect - and it's been a more than a week since I saw it, so I might be slightly off on the exact order of events here - I thought the brief shot at the beginning of old Jake looking down from the window above at Buckley as she waits in the first flurries of snow (to be picked up by young Jake, he imagines) was his first and only glimpse of an attractive young woman into whom he can pour his substantial insecurities, stunted ambitions, casual interests, and unfulfilled desires.

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