A young woman (Jessie Buckley) goes on a trip with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to his family farm while she contemplates ending their relationship. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But as with previous Charlie Kaufman films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich), the nature of the reality we see on the screen is soon thrown into question. As the couple drives from the city in a winter blizzard, we see them in tight, claustrophobic shots, trapped in the car. We are also trapped in the mind of the young woman, as we hear her inner monologues. But despite being in her mind the whole time, the young woman remains something of a mystery. We don’t quite know if she is a physicist, a poet, a film student, or something else entirely, as her monologues and her conversations with Jake cover a range of topics. Her name also changes throughout the film (Lucy, Lucia, Louisa), which makes the task of understanding her even more confusing.
Things only get stranger as the film goes on. When they arrive at Jake’s family home, his parents, played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis, age rapidly throughout the night, as if by being in their house, the young woman can somehow see them as they are in every stage of life, from middle-age until death. While this is going on, we are also shown scenes of another character, an elderly janitor (Guy Boyd) who cleans the halls of a high school and watches Robert Zemeckis movies on his breaks. What does he have to do with the couple? That is a question that doesn’t really become clear as the film progresses, but we begin to suspect that perhaps the couple isn’t real, but are figments of this man’s mind. Jake is a younger version of himself, and the young woman is a fantasy he’s conjured to combat loneliness, their relationship one of wishful thinking.
But whether she is real or not, the film hinges on the existence of the young woman, and is anchored by a tour-de-force performance by Jessie Buckley. We stay with her as she grapples with her own identity and existence, and her relationship to Jake. It works as a dramatic piece because we see everything from her point-of-view and are invested in her journey. As with all other Kaufman works, it is a strange film, and probably isn’t for everyone, but Buckley’s emotive performance alone makes it worth a watch. If you’re a fan of Kaufman’s other work, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a must see, as it is every bit as good as his past films.