The first time I watched Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I lost myself for a little while. Everything was a vague haze, what I call “me” became blurry, the words I said seemed… if not meaningless, then at least useless. The movie was a prolonged assault, it attacked me from the inside, I left exhausted.
The second time I watched I’m Thinking of Ending Things, this made more sense. It wasn’t just that my brain had been overwhelmed by the movie’s density, or by trying to make some sort of sense of it. It’s that this was part of the point. I very much value both experiences: the first, because it made me feel a big piece of what the movie wants to explore; the second, because I could step back and see more clearly how much of it addresses themes that obsess Charlie Kaufman.
Everything Kaufman has written—from his first screenplay for the magnificent Being John Malkovich—and everything he’s directed—including his magnum opus, Synecdoche, New York, which may well be the best movie so far this century—has dealt to varying degrees with identity. How do we create who we are? How much of a say do we really have in that? Where’s the line between “me” and “you”? Is there a line? Is it a gradient? Is there any difference at all? And, maybe even more strongly, he wrestles with the reality that none of us can actually know anyone else. We cannot truly, on a fundamental level, connect with another person, because we are not that person. No matter how much I know about you, I am not you, I do not feel your feelings, I do not think your thoughts. To me, you can only be my idea of you.
Of course, I haven’t really told you what I’m Thinking of Ending Things is about. But this would be as useful as trying to describe to you what I see when I see the color green. We cannot see the same thing, we are not the same people. So here: I’ve told you what I think about I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and that’s all I can do.