Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, or: A Whole Load of Existential Dread

*Spoilers follow*

There’s Oscar bait and then there’s Oscar bait, if you follow me. Along with the big-budget period dramas following the tried and true formula (which, don’t get me wrong, I often enjoy), there are inevitably some very ambitious, high-concept films transparently hoping for a nod. This week’s film didn’t quite make the Oscars cut, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying.

The Film:

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

The Premise:

While driving with her boyfriend to meet his parents, a young woman notices an increasing number of disturbing discrepancies that cause her to question reality itself.

The Ramble:

After only about a month or so of dating, Lucy is troubled by the recurring thought that she should end things with her boyfriend Jake. This leads her down a pretty convoluted, philosophical internal monologue…which is a pretty good recap for this film, honestly.

Lucy, a young woman with curly red hair, looks in anticipation as she stands on a snowy street.

Despite Lucy’s misgivings, she agrees to take a day trip with Jake to meet his parents, who live on a farm in a very rural setting. Though Lucy is concerned that the heavy snow accompanying their drive will make it difficult to return in time for her to work early the next day, Jake reassures her that he has chains for the tires. As if that automatically makes driving in a blizzard easy to manage, but whatever.

As Lucy and Jake drive in the heavy snow to his parents’ farm, they engage in a series of philosophical discussions. Jake discusses a series of poems by Wordsworth to a young woman named Lucy, who died tragically young. Lucy observes the landscape, finding it somewhat beautiful yet unsettling. Additionally, Jake cautions Lucy that his mother has been unwell lately, so she may not prepare much for dinner that evening.

Jake, a man with blonde hair, drives along a snowy country road with Lucy as a passenger.

Lucy and Jake continue to make their way to the family farm, and Lucy learns that Jake is a secret fan of musical theater. He knows the musical Oklahoma! well, which is staged every few years. Confusingly, Lucy begins to recite her own poetry, though she also claims to be an artist and a physicist at different points. She does feel concerned when a billboard pig seems to speak to her, but chalks it up to her currently foggy memory.

Meanwhile, we follow the daily routine of a school custodian, who listens to a Christian radio station, one of the few he can pick up. The custodian cleans the school largely ignored as others go about their lives. He seems to enjoy media as he stops to watch a rehearsal of the school musical and has a generic Robert Zemeckis comedy on during his meal break (I lol’ed at this–apparently Zemeckis gave the okay on this gentle ribbing).

An elderly man sits in the driver's side of a pick-up truck, frost and snow on the vehicle's windows.

When the couple finally arrives at the farm, Jake offers a tour to Lucy. He tells her a farm horror story about pigs that were being eaten alive by maggots, squashing any dreams I’ve ever had of quitting everything in my current life in favor of starting a goat farm.

Though Jake insists he told his parents that Lucy would be visiting, they seem unprepared for the couple. Lucy notices there are creepy marks on the basement door, which Jake insists are nothing to worry about. And going into the basement? Not advised, but only because it’s unfinished. Not because it’s hiding any uncomfortable, dark secrets, okay? So stop asking about it, GOSH.

The family has a dog, though the dog only appears when Lucy asks about it…and it exhibits some pretty strange behavior. However, before there’s too much time to consider this, Jake’s parents come downstairs to greet their guests at last. Jake’s mom is Toni Collette (lucky duck), who is overly excited to the point of concern. Meanwhile, Jake’s father is very much the rugged farmer stereotype who has no patience for abstract art and is pretty quick to throw around the word “nancy” to describe men who are, IDK, not toxic?

Over a ham dinner (YIKES) that has been carefully prepared from farm to table, Lucy gets to know Jake’s parents. Jake’s mother is especially interested in the story of their meeting at a trivia night, which Lucy relates in a rather convoluted and contradictory manner. Though Jake’s mother has a lot of enthusiasm, she mixes up minor details, including his award for diligence during grade school. Jake snippily corrects her, reflecting bitterly that diligence is for people who work hard but aren’t particularly bright. But we can totally just brush that aside, right?

Sitting around a table featuring a dinner with many homemade dishes, a middle-aged man and woman smile with some discomfort.

Lucy changes her story several times, first claiming to study physics, then gerontology, then painting. Despite continuing to insist that she cannot stay for the night, she seems to think it’s inevitable that she and Jake will not drive home that evening. As Jake’s parents suddenly look much older, Lucy finds a nightgown belonging to Jake’s mother that she can sleep in. The only catch is that Lucy must go to the basement to wash the nightgown, which makes Jake noticeably agitated. In the basement, Lucy finds a series of paintings, books, and other items that suggest everything she has created really comes from the basement of Jake’s family home. That can’t be good.

Finally, Lucy and Jake put the snow chains on the car and leave. Their discussion now revolves around film, which seems to be another area of expertise for Lucy. Eventually, they stop for ice cream, though quickly lose their taste for the overly sweet dessert. Needing a place to dispose of the melting ice cream, Jake drives to his former high school, knowing of little else around for miles. And let me tell you: Shit. Gets. Surreal.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Whoa, this one is a puzzle. I feel like I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this film. It’s a frustrating viewing experience in a lot of ways, and very much a filmmaker’s film. Sometimes it seems like director Charlie Kaufman just enjoys throwing in all of the references he can–one of which is to an essay collection by David Foster Wallace because OF COURSE it is.

I will give a lot of credit for Toni Collette’s brief but compelling performance here (and I can’t fault any of the performances, actually). What’s more, I appreciate the high concept of the film; I am very much in favor of directors taking risks and embracing nontraditional narratives and techniques. The feeling of dread, disquiet, and strangeness are so powerful here, making for an effective but not particularly enjoyable experience. As a meditation on age, loneliness, memory, and reality, Kaufman sets up a story driven by metaphor rather than plot, which I do admire.

However, there’s a lot here that I just don’t get. The disjointed structure of the film is difficult to piece together, and a great deal of the extended dialogue on philosophical topics is…boring, honestly. I took the minimum number of philosophy credits required for me to graduate college and have never looked back.

On a side note, I would watch this again if it were made into a ballet. Same applies to Oklahoma!, a movie musical I dislike almost as much as Cats (I give Oklahoma! some credit for its iconic 1950s interpretation of American frontier fashions).

I would also accept, overall, more ballets with knife fights.

Would my blog wife prepare a lovely (non-maggot-infested) ham dinner for this one or leave it stranded in a winter storm? Read her review to find out!

men in a recording studio look dissatisfied
Collaborative Blogging

Berberian Sound Studio, or: The Equestrian Vortex

Another week, another disturbing exploration of the depths of human depravity.  And for once I’m not talking about the election.

The Film:

Berberian Sound Studio

The Premise (I love the Wikipedia summary for this):

British sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) arrives at the Berberian film studio in Italy to work on what he believes is a film about horses.

The Uncondensed Version:

Our somewhat surreal film begins as Gilderoy arrives in Italy to work on the sound effects for an Italian movie, The Equestrian Vortex.  After checking in at the recording studio, hejust wants reimbursement for his plane ticket, but fails to get a clear answer about which department handles that.  Worse news is that no one seems to have received a paycheck for months.  He’s even more confused as everyone speaks Italian around him in both reality and in the film he’s working on.

Contrary to what the title leads him to believe, this is not a nice movie about horses, but a horror.  (Can I just say Equestrian Vortex would be a great horror movie that could be the next Sharknado?)  Of course, the director claims it’s not a horror and is extremely offended at the mere suggestion.  But it’s horror.

The director, Santini, is rather easygoing and constantly smiling, hiding something sinister as it turns out.  The man determined to finish the film and put in the work is the producer, who is not an especially charming boss.  Perhaps the only reasonably nice character in all of this is Silvia, one of the actresses.  She does provide several ominous warnings to Gilderoy, who of course ignores them.

a man adjusts a microphone in a recording booth
“Hillary and Obama stole my microphone and took it to Kenya and now it’s broken.”

I still don’t understand what the equestrian vortex is, but the gist of the film is that witches have risen from the grave to torture and kill girls at a riding school.  At one point, the girls find the witches’ decaying bodies in the poultry tunnel, which I don’t understand outside of a slaughterhouse context.

To create the sound effects, there is so much screaming.  So.  Much.  Screaming.  We also see vegetables being dropped, melons chopped, juice blended—it’s not good to be produce in this film.  It’s actually quite fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at film sound effects.  I can’t think of any other movies about movies that focus so much on sound.

a man in a recording studio stands behind a table full of lettuce heads
So many heads of lettuce had to die to make this movie.

The increasingly disturbing plot of the film Gilderoy is working on parallels his frustration and mistreatment.  He very much wants to quit, especially as Santini emphatically declares he hates the exploitation of women in his film but must tell the story.  What a crock.  The highly artistic and intellectual film requires the witches to be stabbed, drowned, and stuck in the vagina with a red hot poker.

There’s also an extremely odd scene in which Santini feeds Gilderoy a grape and tells him to swallow the seed.  Er…?

a man puts his arm around another man in a dimly lit room
Trust me, there’s absolutely no subtext involved with this scene.

Gilderoy becomes very disturbed by screaming/crying sounds he hears at night.  He finds Silvia one night, who warns him about Santini, and reveals that he harassed and sexually assaulted her on set.  Finally fed up, she promises to destroy what he loves most and show him the real meaning of a curse.

It gets more surreal from here, and I don’t want to ruin the plot completely, most of which happens in the last 15 or so minutes of the film anyway.  One of the big questions of this movie is can you create exploitative art without yourself becoming exploitative?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is pretty light on plot, but extremely atmospheric.  There’s a mood of anxiety and confusion that becomes increasingly present as the film goes on, as well as a number of WTF scenes.  As soon as Silvia reveals the director’s harassment, the film begins to make a bit more sense–at least in one interpretation.

There is so much screaming in this film, which is so uncomfortable but which all of our characters become virtually immune to.  The “Silenzio” flashes in red repeatedly during recording, but it also serves as a reminder to the cast and crew to shut up and stop complaining.  This works when thinking about the women harassed in this movie and could more broadly speak to the film industry as a whole.

I am still scratching my head over some of the scenes in this movie (including a short film about the South Downs), and biggest complain is I hoped there was going to be an actual witch and really wanted Silvia to put an actual curse on some dudes.

Would Christa ride this one through an equestrian vortex or smash it like a melon creating a murder sound effect?  Find out by reading her review here!