The set-up of Netflix’s I’m Thinking Of Ending Things seems simple enough: a young woman, full of misgivings, travels with her new boyfriend to his parents’ secluded farm. As Stylist’s Almara Abgarian explains, though, there’s far more to this surrealist horror than meets the eye…
I’m sitting in the garden of a restaurant. My boyfriend has gone inside to order drinks, and all I can focus on is how much I don’t want him to come back out. In that split second, I know that our relationship has reached its expiration date.
And for good reason.
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First things first: it’s important to point out that this is probably the strangest film I have ever seen.
Based on the novel with the same name by author Iain Reid, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things centres on a woman who contemplates breaking up with her boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons), during a trip to meet his parents at their remote farm.
It’s jam-packed with introspective scenes, interspersed with incoherent ramblings about everything from sad poems to musicals, as well as a three-minute homage to the 80s movie Under The Influence.
But, for the purpose of not getting lost in the jumble of surrealist madness, let’s focus on the main storyline – and what it tells us about fears of letting go of relationships.
Watch the trailer for I’m Thinking Of Ending Things below:
Jessie Buckley’s female protagonist, Lucy (she goes by multiple names) describes Jake as the epitome of a ‘nice guy’. But there is something missing – which she contemplates during their journey to his parents’ house.
In this moment, I am Lucy – and Jake has somehow morphed into the accumulation of all the men I’ve ever dated who I didn’t really fancy, should never have dated, or was just too bored to break up with.
My aforementioned (ex) boyfriend, for example, was a wonderful man. He was kind, treated me like his equal and took an interest in my life.
I thought about ‘ending things’ between us many times during the relationship, but for some reason, I couldn’t let go. I assumed it was because I loved him.
It wasn’t until years later that I admitted to myself that, although I may have been infatuated with him, what I felt was certainly not love.
This situation is not unique. Almost every woman I know has at some point dated a man that she knew was a stepping stone to someone or something else.
And, while that sounds awful, it’s important you understand that none of these people set out to be cruel.
Society, you see, has embedded this crazy idea in our minds that we must hold on to love, whatever way it presents itself, as hard as we can – because if it slips through our fingers, we have somehow failed.
It doesn’t matter that you’re unhappy, because it’s better than being alone, right?
Setting my “nice guy” ex aside for a moment, I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I have made bad choices in partners over the years.
There was Eric*, who I was with for months even though he had children (I don’t want any), and lived five hours away. And Peter*, who was extremely jealous and insecure, to the point where he would start a fight if I spoke to an attractive man, including the barista at our local café.
And let’s not forget Jonathan*, who was quite possibly the worst sex I’ve ever had but who I persisted with – even though we both knew there was no real connection.
While I’d love to put the blame with these men, that would be unfair. They are not solely responsible for dragging things along – as they say, it takes two to tango.
But back to Jake and Lucy.
As the couple arrive at his parents’ house, we see a new side to this ‘nice’ guy, where he displays abusive tendencies.
He loses his temper several times, becomes manipulative and ignores Lucy’s repeated requests to go home. She also keeps trying to finish the sentence “I’m thinking of…”, and is consistently interrupted by Jake, who for some reason appears to be able to read her thoughts.
It’s quite possible that Jake is suffering a breakdown and I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is just a compilation of the loneliness he feels. This may not be his childhood home, but the inside of his mind – a house filled with sad memories, acted out by his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis).
But there is an added layer to the storyline which will resonate with women in particular: misogyny, with a touch of coercive control.
“Jake can be controlling,” says his mum, played to deranged perfection by Collette. “Yeah, I’m probably to blame. And all this guilt causes me to feel obligated to bend over backwards to accommodate his every little whim.”
It is at this point during the film that my feminist spidey senses start to tingle.
The uncomfortable knot in my stomach is magnified during a different scene, where Lucy sits crying in the car, because Jake refuses to drive her home.
“It’s hard to say no,” Lucy says to herself. “I was never taught that. It’s easier to just say yes.”
And it is this, I feel, that serves as the subdued meaning behind I’m Thinking Of Ending Things.
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It’s female nature to say yes (or stay quiet) when we want to say no, whether it’s ignoring our gut and continuing a relationship that we know isn’t good for us or pandering to a man’s emotions for fear of hurting his ego.
It has been drilled into us since we were young; ‘good girls do as they are told’ and all that.
Years ago, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship where an ex slowly chipped away at my self-esteem by telling me that everything in our relationship was my fault, including his random bursts of anger, which were always directed my way.
We broke up many times, but always got back together.
I loved him. I thought, as so many others do, that my value and self-worth was linked to him – to someone loving me.
But it’s a lie. I am just as worthy as a single person as I am in a couple.
Here’s the main point I’m trying to make: we, especially women, need to demand more for ourselves.
Sometimes, we hold on to the wrong people to keep loneliness at bay, to mend a broken heart or because we’ve been treated so badly in the past, that we feel we need a ‘safe’ choice.
But that’s not fair to you or the other person. So do yourself a favour; don’t think about ending things, just do it.
I have mixed feelings about Kaufman’s surrealist thriller. For better or for worse, it evokes emotions that I don’t always sit so comfortably with.
And there are scenes that serve as excellent allegories for the utterly human emotion of feeling like you’re about to unravel and have lost all control.
Yes, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is – at a 2hr 14min run-time – a long film. In a weird way, though, that is also part of its charm: just as in life, it takes its time when it comes to ending things.
While you may be tempted to ‘end it’ early, I suggest you don’t. That being said, though, don’t go in hoping for a neat conclusion and an explanation to the madness.
Because, just as we see so often in life, there isn’t one.
Netflix’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is available to stream now.
Please note that some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
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