Directed by Charlie Kaufman, the mind behind the 2004 hit Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Do you remember that one? Starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet?), I’m thinking of ending things is another magnificent puzzle that deserves to be seen on more than one occasion. And maybe then, we can see the big picture.
And yes, I get it, this is a world where the trend in cinema (and almost everything else) is to go easy, the not-so-challenging (look at the numbers on the box office of Fast and Furious , and the Marvel Cinematic Universe ), and a film like this implies a challenge, since it tests the viewer to analyze a myriad of details strategically placed by the director to understand them.
But don’t worry, because if after watching the 134 minutes of this movie, you still have no idea what exactly happened on screen, and especially what the ending of this movie really means, don’t worry, because then and without further ado, we open the analysis and explanation of I’m thinking of ending things .
What the heck is going on in “i’m thinking about ending things”?
Let’s not beat around the bush and get straight to the point. At the beginning of the film we see two segments, which apparently have nothing to do with each other:
- The story of “Lucy” (we’ll get back to that soon) and Jake. The couple is on their way to visit the big man’s parents.
- Scenes of a school janitor, which seem rather random.
The janitor scenes are real, Lucy and Jake’s story is primarily a hallucination of the school janitor.
Why would the janitor have such a hallucination?
A mix of two pretty serious factors, by the way:
- The janitor suffers from a condition called Lewy Body Dementia, a neurodegenerative disease that includes symptoms that we saw in the scenes where the old man appears: tremors, stiffness, slowness; and also the appearance of quite vivid hallucinations that include not only the sense of sight and hearing, but also of taste, touch and smell. In other words, someone with this condition can have a rich sensory experience, without distinguishing it from reality.
- The janitor was left in his truck, in the middle of a snowstorm, in freezing temperatures, and therefore is suffering from severe hypothermia. This type of hypothermia -which we could see because the old man took off his clothes- aggravated the preexisting mental condition, and caused the possible mental defenses to fall completely, causing the hallucination that we saw in the form of the story of Jake and Lucy.
And how do I know that the janitor suffered from Lewy Body Dementia?
Well, it is one of the details that you have to pay close attention to. When the hallucination begins to crumble (evidently the janitor is dying), Jake’s father appears elderly and informs Lucy that he cannot remember many things, and that she has to label the rooms and objects in his house, to remember them.
Lucy asks him if he suffers from Alzheimer’s, but the old man confirms that it is not about that, but about Lewy Body Dementia, evidently it is a reflection of the condition the janitor suffers from.
Who really is Lucy?
The key is in the conversation over dinner. Lucy tells Jake’s parents that they met on a trivia night, where Jake was playing games and somehow they started talking and then she gave him her phone number.
But, here comes the glitch in the Matrix, or well, a mistake in the hallucination. First of all we see that Lucy completely changes her mood when she tells the story. Then we see that the story changes, first she says that she started talking to Jake when she asked her for the name of her trivia team (Brezhnev’s eyebrows). Then she says that they had not spoken, but only exchanged glances, which causes commotion at the table.
This is obviously an invention of the Janitor’s mind. The Janitor surely saw a woman with Lucy’s face once one trivia night, but they never exchanged a word, and even her name is made up, that’s why we see the girl sometimes called Lucy, other times Louise, other times Louisa , and even Ames. Those are the names of some women whom the Janitor felt afection to, or even loved, but up to there.
Also consistently inconsistent is the fact that Lucy changes occupation almost every scene, being a physicist, a poet, a film critic, and even a waitress.
In conclusion: Lucy is the version of the ideal woman that the sick and dying mind of the Janitor created from all the women who were important in his life, and that works as the way to externalize his own misery.
So Jake is the Janitor?
Indeed Jake is the most faithful representation of the Janitor, when he was young. In one of the dialogues, Jake affirms that being young is the ideal version of each person, and that is why his mind decides to see himself that way, in his best years of youth. And we can say that the Janitor’s name is indeed Jake.
But all the characters in the hallucination correspond to a part of the experience, or of the Janitor’s personality.
Who really is the Janitor?
According to the pieces that we can rescue from both the hallucination and the real scenes of the Janitor, we can assume the following about Jake:
- He grew up on a farm, along with his parents, who must have provided him with some kind of comfort, but who were also quite weird and even violent.
- He was an only child, and over time he had to take care of his parents, as they aged, feeding them and watching them die.
- He never left his parents’ farm, where he lived until his death.
- He was quite literate, consuming books, and especially a lot of popular culture, cinema and theater, especially musicals.
- He also had to read a lot about other subjects, such as physics, and science in general.
- Being tied to his parents and to his farm, he was never able to develop strong enough emotional ties to be independent, and therefore did not have the motivation to grow professionally, despite being very intelligent.
- When he wanted to find someone to share his life with, his previous lifestyle, he simply made it impossible, until he ended up alone on his parents’ farm, with a job as a Janitor and with a serious mental illness.
What does the end of “i’m thinking of ending things” mean?
The end of the film, involves the conflict in Jake’s mind, between dying peacefully in a hallucination that gives him some peace (at least he is not alone, he is with Lucy), and his survival instinct that tells him he has to do something, and that he should not let himself die locked in his truck in the middle of the snow.
This conflict is observed in the dance scene, Jake is dancing with Lucy, enjoying his moment of happiness, but his survival instinct (the policeman) tries to force him to come out of the hallucination and fight. But in the end, Jake ends up accepting his death, thinks of the end as his only way out, and achieves it in one last act in which he receives all the applause he never received in life, for the achievements he never had.
What is the message of the movie?
Message? Well, rather, messages … the film refers to various written and audiovisual works that indicate Jake’s reflections, which incidentally invite us to reflect as spectators.
- Ralph Albert Blakelock’s paintings : in which the expression of trauma through painting is discussed. A very well posed metaphor, since the film itself is a deep and artistic expression of a monstrous trauma such as living a lifetime in complete solitude and without having achieved any of your dreams.
- A woman under the influence : Oscar-winning film directed by John Cassavetes and starring Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk. The film here implies the extent to which the labels and expectations of society towards its individuals generate in them the aforementioned traumas. In the film, a woman suffers the consequences of fitting in with the labels of being a good mother and a good wife. Labels can also be negative, and the worst part is that it is usually much easier to fit in a negative label than to try to reach a positive one.
- Ice by Anna Kavan: A novel in which after an apocalypse, which covers the earth in ice, a man tries to get the attention of a woman. This is a reference to the very build of Jake, a man nearing the end, and trying to achieve a little happiness with an invention of his own mind.
- Rotten Perfect Mouth by Eva HD: A book by a Canadian poet, in which she tells with an open heart, the emotional traumas she has been through.
- Something Supposedly Funny I’ll Never Do Again , by David Foster Wallace: Where he recounts the experiences on a pleasure cruise, and how the very structure of the cruise, where his needs are met at every level, drives him to despair. This work is in tune with the following book.
- Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord: It is a book that very openly analyzes how society was transformed by its representation in the mass media. Basically the author indicates that the media have created an artificial template for life that we, the new generations, try to emulate, considering the achievements on screens as the quintessence of our existence. Here, and in conjunction with the previous book, Jake, a fan of musicals and cinema, tries to reach the pinnacle of existence imparted by the mass media: a perfect girl who shares his same mental scheme, tastes and who also finds him physically desirable. Never able to come up with such a panacea, he goes into despair (like Wallace on the Cruise Ship) and ends up completely alone.
- Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Frank Loesser: It is a song originally intended to tell people that it was time to leave the bars, back in the 1940s (the movie perhaps incorrectly indicates that the song was written in 1936). It is a conversation between a girl and a boy, the boy wants to go with her, she claims that she has other things to do. Feminism has found the song an apology for rape, for including references to giving the girl alcohol to have sex with her. It’s an interesting inclusion because it implies that Jake has also faced the clash between her prevalent mindset in her youth (homosexuality is a disease, women should stay home), with the new awakening. And like, maybe, because of that, another layer of alignment was added against him. He is not only an old man,sick and without achievements, but on top of an old man who does not understand current times, and nobody is willing to guide him, either.
What can we learn from this movie?
We all have dreams and aspirations, but this movie forces us to wonder how proper and appropriate those dreams are. Some have dreams associated with the pattern imposed by society: marrying, having children, going into debt to have a house, a car, perhaps a farm, perhaps a business. Others have dreams associated with what the media impose: A hot body, being sexually active, finding someone who is a perfect fit for you, and living a romantic and intense love at the same time. There are also other templates, the good son who cares for his parents until they die, or that of conformism, out of fear or lack of motivation to go as far as possible.
The film invites us to reflect on what it is that will make us at the end of our days really happy with our decisions. It invites us to think that perhaps by thinking too much of others, we end up destroying ourselves. It invites us to double think on establishing life patterns as models to achieve, without really thinking about what makes us happy. It invites us to be careful with our decisions.
But even more importantly, it invites us that in the process of knowing ourselves, and seeking our happiness, we do not just dismiss others, simply because they are not precisely what we are looking for.
Questions? Annotations? More doubts? The comments section is open just below this post so feel free to use it. See you in the next installment of Ending Explained here at El Sabanero X.