In this article, we will try to explain the most obscure moments of the film and talk about cool references that you may have missed or missed. Our material will be partly based on an interview with Kaufman himself for IndieWire, where he personally gave an interpretation of some episodes and clarified his vision of the characters and the situations in which they find themselves.
Charlie Kaufman, one of the most extraordinary and daring screenwriters, and more recently directors of Hollywood, is known to the masses as the author of cult projects such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich.
His works often turn out to be quite difficult to perceive and open to the most different and surprising interpretations. Speaking about the film “Thinking of a Finish”, Kaufman said that he likes to let the audience give meaning to his ideas:
I let people have their own experience, so I don’t have specific expectations about what people think about what they see. I strongly support individual interpretations.
However, his new film needs an explanation like no other. Fortunately, cooperation with Netflix provided Charlie Kaufman with absolute creative freedom, which he took advantage of to the fullest, plunging even deeper into the jungle of the human psyche.
Literary source and departure from the original
To understand the essence of the film “I Think How to End It”, you need to know that it is based on the novel of the same name by Canadian writer Ian Reed . However, Kaufman’s adaptation can hardly be called a direct transcription of the Canadian’s text on the screens.
For his work, he took Reed’s storyline: a guy named Jake ( Jesse Plemons ) invites his girlfriend Lucy ( Jesse Buckley ) to meet his parents (played by the brilliant Toni Collette and David Thewlis ). The bad luck is that Jake’s lover is thinking about leaving him. And then they are waiting for a strange and awkward family dinner, a trip through empty snow-covered streets, a visit to the school where Jake studied and where the mysterious janitor works, which is shown in a parallel course throughout the film.
The book provides a classic climax with a bright twist that explains everything that happened before. Instead, Kaufman scattered subtle and not very hints of a denouement throughout the film, and filled the climax with a mass of ambiguous scenes, dialogue, and even animated inserts.
The result of this approach to adapting the book is a mesmerizing narrative, overloaded with information that is almost impossible to absorb when viewing the film for the first time. At the same time, it is absolutely not necessary to delve into every nuance and a single reference in order to enjoy the story. They only further enrich the already intellectually rich content of the film.
And now it’s time to move on to explaining the points that could be incomprehensible.
Why does Jake seem to hear Lucy’s thoughts?
The film opens with a long scene of Jake and Lucy’s trip to visit the boy’s parents. On the way, the girl thinks that she should leave him. At the same time, the hero Jesse Plemons turns to Lucy several times during her mental monologues, and sometimes even asks her again, although she does not say anything out loud.
It may seem that Jake is a telepath. In fact, everything is much simpler
or not – Jake and Lucy, whose name changes several times in the course of history (Lucia, Ames), are one person. This was the key twist in Reid’s book. Yes, something in the spirit of “Fight Club”.
ake (who is also a janitor at the school) came up with Lucy, collecting her image from the books she read, the movies she watched, and casual acquaintances. In one of the episodes, for example, she reads a supposedly own poem, which is actually a fantasy figment of the poetess Eva HD called Rotten Perfect Mouth .
Lucy is the main character, but she doesn’t exist?
Formally, that’s it. In fact, everything is a little more complicated, otherwise Kaufman would not be himself. He decided to experiment with narration and propose an option in which fantasy can exist separately from the author, as if by itself. Here is what Kaufman himself says about the status of the heroine Jessie Buckley:
I didn’t want to make a twist out of this. I was sure it wouldn’t work in the movies now. You can see the actors playing their characters, so they are real. In my opinion, it would be wrong to use an actress by telling her to play something that is not really there.
So Lucy is not a real person?
Right. She is a product of fantasy, but she has some representational power, as Charlie Kaufman puts it, because Jake tacitly accepts the impossibility of his own delusion.
At one point in the film, Plemons’ character asks Lucy if she has read Anna Kavan’s novel Ice. Here it is worth clarifying: in this book, the action takes place in the post-apocalyptic wastelands (this echoes the desert roads that Jake and Lucy drive on), and the protagonist of the story in the story pursues an unnamed woman, struggling with the complex nature of his attraction to her.
Jake experiences similar feelings, but the heroine in the movie “Thinking of a Finish” rebuffs him. Charlie Kaufman explains that he really liked the idea that the character can not control what is happening even within the limits of his own fantasy. Therefore, there are scenes where Jake imagines something, and then he himself comes up with how this or that idea does not work. Lucy might think he’s going to be boring, or she might think he’s not smart enough and stuff like that.
Some of Lucy’s freedom, given to her by Kaufman, is emphasized by the ending of the story, where the responsibility for the fate of Jake does not fall on her shoulders, as the audience might assume during the viewing. Instead, the man concentrates on himself and the invention of more and more people.
In one of the funniest scenes in Thinking of Ending Things, the school janitor watches the final scene of a fictional romance film allegedly directed by Robert Zemeckis . Why exactly him?
Charlie Kaufman said in an interview that it happened completely by accident. His assistant offered him a list of directors’ names that he got on the Internet. Then the director caught the eye of the name Zemeckis. Explanation from Kaufman himself:
Sometimes things are funny just because they are really funny. It’s unlikely, but I think Zemeckis could make a movie like this.
At the same time, irony creeps into Kaufman’s words, because, according to him, this fictional film is more like the work of Nancy Meyers . And yes, permission to use the name of Robert Zemeckis was officially confirmed, for which he received a special thanks in the final credits.
Why do parents keep changing ages during dinner?
Returning to moments that are incomprehensible at first glance, it is worth paying attention to a strange dinner at the parents’ house. Over the course of that evening, Jake’s parents go from getting old to suddenly becoming younger versions of themselves, and this mess leads Lucy (and the audience, for that matter) into complete confusion.
The interpretation of these scenes is quite simple: Jake goes through various stages of life with his parents and tries to find the perfect moment where his passion would fit. What is ironic and tragic at the same time is that such a moment does not exist in any of the time periods. As hard as Jake tries to stay at home with Lucy and his parents, they end up leaving their parents at her insistence.
Who is Pauline Kael?
While at Jake’s house, Lucy finds herself in his children’s room. There she sees dozens of films, books and other materials related to pop culture. The highlight of this episode is For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies, a film review book by film critic Pauline Kael , which was published in 1996.
During another conversation on the road, Lucy and Jake discuss everything from Goethe’s color theory to David Foster Wallace ‘s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. But most of the attention is paid to Pauline Kael’s review of John Cassavetes’ film A Woman Out of Her Mind (1974). Lucy literally repeats the words from that review, talking about the game of Gena Rowlands.
Charlie Kaufman admits that he was a big fan of Kael, grew up with her materials and always considered her much smarter than himself. He emphasized this with Jake’s actions. He, after Lucy’s convincing monologue about the film, which he generally liked, lost the gift of speech and counterarguments.
Ice cream and women
The car ride is cut short by a stop for ice cream from the fictional Tulsey Town Ice Cream chain, which springs up out of nowhere in the midst of a blizzard. The couple stays there, Lucy chats with three female co-workers who add to the mystery of the story.
According to Charlie Kaufman, all these women are the personification of those ladies that Jake met earlier in his life. This whole episode is like a dreamy stop in his past.
What was the dancing for?
When the heroes arrive at the school, Jake is angry that the janitor is watching them from afar and runs inside. Lucy goes after him, but instead of her Jake, she meets with the same janitor. He sends her to go her own way, which means that the hero finally decides to let go of his fantasy.
Following this, Lucy meets Jake in the lobby, but they are quickly replaced by ballet dancers in the same clothes and start dancing. The choreography for this scene was inspired by a similar moment in the musical Oklahoma!
As a child, a terrible image of a pig with larvae traumatized Jake’s psyche, bringing an imbalance in his vision of the world. It is to him that he returns in the last moments of his life.
Fake old people
In the film’s final scene, Jake climbs onto the stage to receive the Nobel Prize, with the scenery for the infamous Oklahoma! musical in the background. It is obvious that the man is wearing make-up disguising him as an old man. But he is not the only one: everyone in this room looks like elderly people in disguise, including parents and Lucy.
In one of the early scenes, the janitor finds a makeup book. This allows him to turn everyone into old people at the right moment in his mind with a simple trick. Interestingly, all the other extras in the auditorium are high school students that Jake met while working.
Direct quote from the movie “A Beautiful Mind”
As he accepts the award, Jake delivers a touching speech that may seem very familiar to you. This is true, because it is completely taken from the movie “A Beautiful Mind” with Russell Crowe . Well, in general, the whole scene is specially constructed in such a way as to resemble the finale of Ron Howard’s tape .
And do you think it’s a coincidence? Of course not. Previously, a A Beautiful Mind DVD could be seen in Jake’s children’s room.
In terms of meaning, both films are quite similar in terms of a person’s struggle with his own psyche, however, Kaufman shifts the focus to a plane where the absorbed information becomes part of the personality, and the struggle with oneself never stops.
And dreams of “Oklahoma!”
After a fiery speech, Jake begins to sing in front of the set, reminiscent of his room. He sings Judd’s song “The Lonely Room” from the musical Oklahoma! In it, he dreams of a woman he could call his own, which echoes the desires of Jake himself.
Sitting on a set built from the fragments that define his life, Jake becomes the star of his own story and is simultaneously limited by it.
And that’s it?
Yes and no. The final scene shows us a car covered in snow, where the janitor Jake apparently died, having lived through the memories of the failures of his life before his death. Over this picture, credits are superimposed, in which many of the references in the film are signed, which was very important for Charlie Kaufman. And there is a scene after the credits, or rather a sound that can be interpreted as your heart desires …
All the riddles in I Think How to End Everything do not try to hide the main meaning from the viewer, they serve the purpose of showing what a person can go through in the fight against his demons, and in what form this can be expressed.
Conclusion, what movie I’m Thinking of Ending Things about?
The plot of this musical overlaps somewhat with the story told by Kaufman. There, the girl Lori finds herself at the center of the conflict between the cowboy Curly and the worker Jud. Their fight in the musical ends with the death of Jud, and the “dancer Jake” immediately takes death, thus symbolizing the acceptance by the hero of the impossibility of his love. In other words, Jake pretends to be someone else and uses the Oklahoma! narrative structure to get rid of his obsession.
And that talking animated pig…
When janitor Jake gets into his car, he has a seizure that possibly leads to his death. In his death throes, he sees an animated advertisement for ice cream that we already know, and then he meets a revived animation in the form of a pig with maggots on its stomach. We saw this image earlier in the movie when Jake gave Lucy a tour of the farm. The pig becomes for a man a kind of companion to the last stage of introspection.
So, let’s say right away the basis of everything: “Thinking how to finish everything” is not about the girl who is on all the posters, in the center of the trailer and whose thoughts are heard throughout the viewing. The film is about her boyfriend Jake, or more precisely, about the janitor, whom we see in permanent inserts. This whole road trip to his parents is his fantasy, an attempt to invent a relationship for himself, a chance to live the life he has always dreamed of. The whole point lies in the strange remark that we periodically hear in the film.
“There is only one question left to answer. I’m scared. I feel a little crazy. This is not a hallucination. The assumptions are correct. I feel my fear build up. It’s time to answer one question. Just one question.”
Remember it, because we will return to it to reveal the meaning. So, the line is first heard at the beginning of the movie, when Jake picks up the Girl (we’ll call her that because the name keeps changing) on the car – at the same time we are shown the Janitor who is looking out the window. It’s shown twice, and in this cut-and-paste right at the beginning of “Thinking How to End It” a major plot twist is revealed.
We are immediately told: Jake = Janitor, and that’s it. The fact that the road trip to his parents is his fantasy will be confirmed later, but for now we will take it for granted. It is difficult to say exactly where and how it began, but it seems that it was from this look out the window. The janitor saw a beautiful red-haired woman on the street, who immediately started dreaming, became a Girl and went with Jake on the road. This at least converges chronologically, because further in the film they show an ordinary day in the life of the Janitor (workday, everything), during which he is in the clouds.
And so begins the first act – a long road to the parents. Here the main focus is on the thoughts of the Girl, who is thinking how to finish everything. At the beginning, she says this phrase in her head twice: the first time Jake asks if she said something, the second time he silently looks at her. Perhaps this is a hint that he hears her thoughts, as we do, but this is not certain. The wildest thing is that even the Janitor’s fantasy, this idealized Girl, wants to part with him. Just imagine a situation where even your imaginary friend wants nothing to do with you. The sign is the worst.
The image of the Girl is constantly changing, and this is precisely the confirmation that we are in fantasy. In the first act, this is not so clearly read, but throughout the film she is either Lucy, then Louise, then Yvonne, then Lucia; now a physicist, now a biologist, now a poetess, now an artist; now in an orange sweater, now in yellow, now in gray, now in blue. The janitor corrects her image on the go, and this is best seen in the episode when he eats alone and watches the series (or rather, in the difference before and after).
Next up is an evening with Jake’s parents, which gets weirder and weirder by the minute. The janitor imagines how his girlfriend’s acquaintance with his parents would go, how they would spend their lives together and witness their withering. Unpacking the second act can take a long time. At least the view of what is happening changes a lot when you realize that all the characters are the same person. Kaufman hints at this a lot, especially with the voices in his head: they are not heard by the mother, but by the Janitor, so all the heroes hear them and they all scratch their ears. Plus, look at how similar the laughter of the Girl and the mother is.
Let’s focus on the mother, because this is an extremely powerful image. On the way home, the Girl accidentally called Jake’s mom cold and it provoked him. He immediately moved on to excuses that all the shortcomings of a person are constantly blamed on his mother. The girl lists that in the 20th century schizophrenia, autism and narcissism were attributed to her mother, and calls it all “Freudian nonsense.”
Now remember the dialogue when Mom was collecting toys and sent the Girl to the basement. She says that she blames herself for the fact that Jake is closed from the world, and because of the guilt she begins to overprotect him, and because of this, her son closes even more – a harmful cycle is obtained. From the interaction of these two characters, you can see what she means by “cutting off”. If you think about it and remember that all the dialogues are the Janitor’s conversation with himself, then the thought suggests itself: it seems that he is hiding something in himself and is trying to dissuade himself from this. This version is supplemented by the fact that Kaufman did not just insert these dialogues into “Thinking How to Finish Everything” for a reason.
Well, the most important thing in the second act is Jake’s children’s room, because it hides the semantic anchors scattered throughout the film. See below for a detailed description of what, where, where and when (there is a gallery, scroll through).
On the way home, we see the Girl turning away from Jake more and more. To justify this, he invents that she got drunk. The girl sinks deeper into her thoughts and ignores him. To spice things up, he turns her into Pauline Cale. Once Cale’s quote ends, the Girl reverts back to her depressed self. To bring everything back, Jake starts singing a song about ice cream. The janitor’s fantasy begins to rebel against him and is about to say that everything is over between them.
Fast forward to the scene at the school: Jake makes one last attempt to get what he wants – a kiss. But as soon as the lips of the heroes touch, he realizes that the Janitor is watching them. Here Jake is already rebelling against the dreamer, that is, he himself. He himself knows that he loves to watch, he himself recognizes himself as a pervert and can no longer carry this burden. After that, the Janitor’s fantasy begins to spill over into reality.
Let’s go back to the first act, because it contains the most important dialogue, which begins with the phrase The Girls “everyone wants to live, including viruses.” Jake counters, “Not everyone. There are bugs that explode for the good of their society.” Further, the conversation about beetles (or not quite about them?) Continues, but this is already for you to recapitulate. Jake decided to object – why? The thing is that it is not she who thinks how to finish everything, but he. Jake, the Janitor doesn’t want to live. His life is empty, his fantasies turn away from him, in the real world he is invisible – so why continue all this?
You might think that this is about suicide, and the book on which the film is based ends just like that, but it seems to me that Kaufman decided to reinterpret everything. Remember the line: “I’m scared. I feel a little crazy. This is not a hallucination. The assumptions are correct. I can feel my fear building up.” He does not think of committing suicide, but feels the approach of his death. And the very last question he wants answered is: can I, at least in my fantasy, live a normal life and have a relationship?
The answer is obviously no, but it’s followed by a positive note: The Girl’s meeting with the Janitor. Why is he smiling at the end? Why is he visually happy when she just compared him to the mosquito that bit her forty years ago? Because although this fantasy rejected Jake, it accepted the real him. She was kind to him, was not afraid of him, saw him, even hugged him. He was looking for an answer to another question, but what he found turned out to be much more important. His fantasy was more kind to him than to his self-image. He realized that he was real.
To close his fantasy, the Janitor came up with a whole play about a couple arriving at school at night. The story of Jake and the Girl is over, they went their separate ways because they weren’t supposed to be together. They’ve freed themselves, and now it’s time for the Janitor himself. He finishes his work and goes to the car. Remember when the Girl was left alone in the car to freeze, she thought that “hypothermia is not such a bad way to die”?
Now, the Janitor doesn’t commit suicide, he allows himself to die of hypothermia. The difference is that he does it with a calm soul, and not because of some kind of torment. His journey is over. He received his answer. He does not need anything else, well, except that the latest fantasy about the Nobel Prize is a kind of adjustment to the main dream of his life. Everyone applauds him, including the schoolgirls who used to look askance at him. And the last to applaud is his father …