I’m Thinking of Ending Things reminded me of something Stephen King wrote in Danse Macabre: “Is horror art? On this […] level, [it] can be nothing else; it achieves the level of art simply because it is looking for something beyond art, something that predates art: […] phobic pressure points. The good horror tale will dance its way to the centre of your life and find the secret door to the room you believed no one but you knew of.”
Also see: Four Totally Surreal Scenes in Horror
So… what makes I’m Thinking of Ending Things horror?
In other words, good horror can make things personal. Good horror does not have to be about gore or jumpscares or angry spirits (although it often is and that isn’t bad by any means). It can be about what makes us, the audience, feel horrified in our everyday lives; in our existences. What are you afraid of? Never finding love? The rejection of your parents? Being a mimicry, a fraud? Being mediocre, even untalented?… Dying alone? I’m Thinking of Ending Things touches all that… and more.
Our worst enemy is in the mirror: The face of existential horror.
Let’s just say that this is a very difficult movie to spoil, simply because if you just see it once and you don’t really think about it, there is not much you could spoil. What is certain is that from the beginning, everything feels off or abnormal.
Jake, essentially the only named character (it eventually becomes clear why), is picking up his girlfriend of many or no names; she is referred to amongst others as Lucy and Louisa, but as “Young Woman” in the titles. She narrates she is “thinking of ending things”. What does that mean? Throughout the film, this phrase, the title of the film itself, is repeated many times in different circumstances – well, different but similar. Hence, it invites many interpretations. The end of the relationship? Of an era? Of one’s own life?
They are going to Jake’s parents’ farmhouse somewhere off the beaten track. Jake seems to feel very conflicted about his parents to the point of inconsistency. Actually, if there is something consistent here it’s inconsistency. Jake’s girlfriend changes names and professions – occasionally, clothes and accessories too. She grew up on a farm or a flat in the city. Her parents are alive or dead or who knows? What we do learn is that according to Jake, she is ideal. Like the Lucy in Wordsworth’s poems. To deem someone ideal nears pretending they aren’t real. And not being real means struggling to survive in someone else’s mind (but those are things to think about while watching the movie).
“Coming Home Is Terrible…”
They arrive on the farm and Jake waves at -what he claims is- his mother, who is staring down from a top floor window. We can only see an opaque silhouette, not unlike a ghost. When they enter the house, it takes a while for the parents to come downstairs, to the point that we’re wondering if they are real. But they do. And it only goes downhill from there.
The dinner with Jake’s parents is unbearable. The atmosphere is rife with tension. Food is served, but when everyone is finished, it has remained untouched. And what is it with the parents? Are they middle-aged? Old? Young? Sick? Healthy? Senile? Sane? Yes. They try to compliment Jake, but the compliments are always bitter – implicative; antagonistic without realising it. And is that a photo of herself as a child that the Young Woman sees on the wall? Maybe. She just knows she needs to leave and return to her place to write a paper. Or because she has a shift the next day. The parents grow old and have dementia and then they become young and Jake is off somewhere being a child; and then the Mother is on her deathbed and the night has come; they must depart.
Their efforts to return to the city are even more surreal, only due to the lack of the confined space of the house. Snow is slowly covering the roads, which seem identical and never-ending. The weather is bad, the night dangerous. Treacherous, as everyone keeps calling it. But who is the one who has been -or will be- left feeling betrayed? And by what?
Being uncomfortable is the point.
This is a film that certainly defies traditional narrative structures and a cohesive plot, so there is not much else to be said; only the encouragement to watch it.
Also see: Four Totally Surreal Scenes in Horror
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is uncomfortable to watch to an alarming degree, so purposefully unnerving with something lingering under the surface that by the end you have terrible feelings about things; all kinds of them. Have you ever been made uncomfortable to the point where you laugh with this awkward, nervous laughter? Well, this pushes you beyond that point; I wasn’t laughing. Not in spite, but because of that it is a worthwhile movie to watch. It may be called “elevated horror,” but I don’t subscribe to such partitions; they only exist to help some people automatically label horror films as art or escapism. It is horror; just not the kind you’re used to.