I’m Thinking of Ending Things review and ending explained: Charlie Kaufman’s film is not your typical thriller
Figment of your imagination
On first watch, the trailer behind Charlie Kaufman's latest book-to-movie adaption, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, presents itself as a straightforward thriller. Boy meet girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy brings girl home to meet his parents at their isolated farmhouse. Naturally — as things do when you're at a remote location with no civilisation, law enforcement, or neighbours for miles — sh*t happens. We're treated to some unnerving scenes over the course of two minutes: Toni Collette's chipper, hysterical laugh; an ominous warning from a waitress; and our leads standing over a body in a gymnasium.
From what we've witnessed, it's fair to assume that we're in for a murder-mystery of sorts. A macabre comedy, even, perhaps with supernatural elements. And yet, I'm Thinking of Ending Things subverts all expectations, instead delving into metaphysical fare that is mindboggling as it is fascinating. See: how characters appear and disappear from the same frame in a matter of seconds, or when the narrator refers to herself as Lucy in one scene and Lucia in the other.
Nothing is as it seems — nor is it decipherable until you've watched and re-watched the film several times. Seeing as how it's our job to make things easier for you, we've done just that and solved the key mysteries within its (confusing) 134-minute run-time. Last chance to look away before you assailed by spoilers, folks.
#1. The narrator, Jake, and the high school janitor are the same person
Jake's girlfriend doesn't actually exist. Rather, she is an idealised version of a girl Jake briefly met at a pub quiz in a bar. This is why she is referred to by different names throughout the film (Lucy, Louisa), with her profession changing alongside her persona. Her jobs are selected based on Jake's personal interests. She claims to be an artist, but we soon discover that her art is actually an existing work by a known painter Jake likes and frequently tries to copy. She's a film critic, because Jake is a fan of Pauline Kael and has a book detailing the intricacies of her productions.
The janitor, on the other hand, is actually an older version of Jake. At first, Jake's in-depth knowledge of the high school and its students implies that he has a psychic connection or sorts with the janitor. Later, however, it is revealed that it is because they're the same person, simply at different points in time.
#2. Jake's parents are actually dead
There is a lot of confusion associated with the accelerated timeline, where Jake's parents transition from their younger selves to elderly dementia patients in a matter of minutes. Creep factor aside, it is supposed to convey the deteriorating condition of his parents, which eventually culminates to his mother's death as evidenced by the deserted house shown at the start of the film. The chair his mother uses is later spotted in the apartment the janitor owes as well, further cementing this theory.
#3. The dance scene symbolises Jake letting go of his dream girl fantasy
The rather bizarre dance number between Jake and the narrator concludes with the janitor stabbing and killing him. This is meant to show that Jake is finally letting go of the fantasy he had of the girl he met fleetingly at the bar; an acknowledgement that everything that has transpired is occurring in his head.
#4. I'm Thinking of Ending Things actually refers to Jake contemplating suicide
It is a lot more clear-cut in the book, with there being tons of exposition between two strangers discussing a horrific incident concerning a janitor that occurred at the school. Near the book's end, we find out that Jake takes his life by stabbing himself in the neck with a wire hanger. The movie skips out on the violence, but rather, chooses to let it close on an ambiguous note by showing the janitor's truck in the school's parking lot. Jake's car, however, is nowhere to be seen.