At this point, the Netflix film “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” which premiered on Sept. 4, operates on a plane where worth is measured in exasperation, interpretation and the number of “explained” videos in your search history.
Such peerless nature doesn’t build overnight. I’d argue that the film offers a creative apex for both its writer-director, Charlie Kaufman and its distributor, Netflix. While this isn’t an in-depth analysis, some background into its significance for both parties can just as effectively offer a way to describe the year’s most indescribable film.
“ITOET” opens on a classic setup with a tweak: boy takes girl to meet boy’s parents, but girl is simultaneously falling out of love with boy. With elements of horror, psychological thriller, dark comedy and about three other genres, Kaufman crafts something that’s truly his own.
I personally believe “ITOET” is fantastic, and could very well be Kaufman’s greatest and weirdest work. Seeing as he is a filmmaker to whom both greatness and weirdness are no strangers, that’s not a small order of praise.
While it’s only his third directorial effort, the film is Kaufman’s eighth script and a definite continuation of a singular voice of surrealism and existentialism that’s been developing since 1999. Just browsing through his loglines is a doozy.
A puppeteer finds a portal into the mind of John Malkovich. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet erase each other from their memories. A stop-motion puppet sees everyone around him as having the same face and voice. The list goes on.
At some point, you wonder if Kaufman will hit a ceiling of weirdness that can still be reined in by our sense of normality, but if his films teach you anything, it’s that the abstract mechanisms we build to make sense of life are pretty much limitless – and the exact opposite of normal.
“ITOET” is likely his most inaccessible film yet, and with Kaufman’s deal to get the film streaming on Netflix after a week-long theatrical run, it’s playing out on an all-new scale.
Out of the seven Kaufman-written films that preceded it, the chance of budget recouping was only 57 percent. While this does leave out factors like how the films were directed, Kaufman’s stature as a cerebral connoisseur does present an uphill battle in getting common audiences to Kaufman’s doorstep. Thanks to this collaboration, he can bring the nihilism-soaked party to their door.
With everybody being in their homes and the year’s film output being reduced, the film arriving on a ubiquitous platform extends its immediate reach. This has worked tremendously in amplifying its surrounding chatter, and perhaps, on another level, propelling Kaufman’s name into homes and conversations that may have excluded it in the past.
That is not, however, to discredit Netflix’s role in shaping the wider film scene and helping films like “ITOET” to find audiences, both piquing the curiosity of common users and retaining established fanbases.
The company has a dense stock of big-name projects under its belt that have not just fared but prospered in the standard film circuit. Directors from Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”) and Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”) to the Coen brothers (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) and Bong Joon-ho (“Okja”) have shaken hands with the red N.
Even with the ilk of filmmakers he stands beside, Kaufman’s film has inevitably gotten attention all on its own for being an incredibly ambitious endeavor even by Netflix’s standards. An article from IT news website Ars Technica christened “ITOET” as the most “un-Netflix” Netflix film to date, and as much as it seems early for superlatives, it implies that the connotation of the term “Netflix film” is expanding in real time thanks to Kaufman’s film.
While it’s very understandable to equate “ITOET” to a fallen meteor of unknown origin shattering our peaceful land of normality, it doesn’t extract from the film’s staying power to learn a bit about the maximization of artistic and business capabilities that helped it make an impact.
Both Charlie Kaufman and Netflix have endless directions to go from here. The only question that remains is this one: given all the films that helped Kaufman’s work run, which films will Kaufman help to sprint?