Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking Of Ending Things hit Netflix on September 4th. The surreal adaptation is based on a 2016 novel of the same name by Iain Reid. Kaufman fans will recognize that this isn’t the first adaptation that he has had a hand in bringing to the big screen. The screenplay of Spike Jonze’s Adaptation was originally based on The Orchid Thief but transformed into a completely different film due to Kaufman’s severe case of writers block.
Adaptation went on to earn numerous nominations and awards, including a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination and a Best Supporting Actor win for Chris Cooper, despite its deviation from the source material. Now, Kaufman has once again tried his hand at an adaptation, this time remaining much more faithful to the original text. But, when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations, there will always be differences in the finished products – sometimes minor, and other times major.
Before we go on I must warn you. There are major spoilers for both the book and movie adaptation of I’m Thinking Of Ending Things in this article. If you still have some questions after viewing the film I highly recommend checking out the book.
If you are cool with the spoilers, have already read the book or just don’t care, then let’s dive into the differences between each iteration of this sad, sad story.
Kaufman’s I’m Thinking Of Ending Things stars Jessie Buckley as Lucy. The film introduces Lucy as she road trips into the country with her new boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons), to visit his parents. Before they set off she lets viewers know that she is “thinking of ending things.” Throughout the film Lucy starts to take on different names, sometimes Lousia and other times Ames, as the real plot of the film is revealed. Lucy isn’t real, well at least the Lucy we see on screen. She’s simply an imagined version of a woman that Jake met at a bar many years ago.
The idea of Jake projecting issues onto other characters, namely the girlfriend and his parents, is expanded upon in the books but there is one major difference. Lucy is never named in the source material. The entire novel is told in first person from her perspective. The girlfriend in the books isn’t real. In fact, none of the characters introduced in the story are real in the sense that we read about their actual characters.
They are just reimaginings or projections of people that Jake had interacted with in the past. There’s an ex-girlfriend, a driving teacher, his parents and a girl he met at a bar, but was too nervous to give his number. That girl is Lucy, he’s just projecting what could have been through her point of view. It really throws you for a WTF in the twist ending, but also brings me to the next key difference.
Throughout the film Lucy is pestered by a number of calls at extremely inconvenient times. Upon closer inspection you may have realized that she is being called by someone named Lucy, her own name. Pretty weird, but the film barely touches on it until closer to the end when she is called by a Lousia who says: “There’s only one question to resolve. I’m scared. I feel a little crazy. I’m not lucid. The assumptions are right. I can feel my fear growing. Now is the time for the answer. Just one question. One question to answer.” It should be noted that the lines are delivered by what sounds like a grizzled, downtrodden old man.
However, in the book the person who keeps calling the unnamed girlfriend is known as The Caller. There are entire sections of the book dedicated to this mysterious caller and their incessant calling. The girlfriends first interaction was when she noticed the caller standing outside her bedroom watching her. The Caller plays as an anxiety inducing character for the girlfriend, she’s constantly ignoring the call but listening to the messages. The same one each night. The exact same one you hear in the film. Who is The Caller? We’ll it’s Jake’s thoughts of suicide. Constantly calling to his mind and prompting him to answer the ultimate question.
Even a good old fashioned dessert can’t save you from the gut wrenching sadness of I’m Thinking Of Ending Things. In the film Jake and Lucy visit Tulsi Town. A local dessert shop where they run into a pair of judgmental girls and an innocent but scarred girl covered in rashes. Jake is struck by these girls and avoids the entire situation as a kind of deer in the headlights. Lucy orders two Oreo Brr’s and they leave after a haunting warning from the scarred girl. While Jake pays, it’s revealed that he too has rashes on his arm. It’s an easy-to-miss scene, but an important one.
Now, this scene is pretty much the same in the books but there are a few minor differences. The first being that it takes place at a Dairy Queen. Why not a DQ in the film adaptation? Probably due to licensing. The second difference is that the girlfriend is lactose intolerant in the books. Another ailment that Jake himself carries but he projects onto the characters of his story.
Lactose intolerance comes into play multiple times throughout the book, but in this instance an Oreo Brr would be completely out of the question. So, the two opt for Lemonades, one strawberry and one regular. Everything else is largely the same, even the mention of varnish and the melting desserts prompting Jake to drive to a local high school.
At the end of Kaufman’s I’m Thinking Of Ending Things Lucy begrudgingly follows Jake into the high school and is confronted by an older janitor. What follows is a psychedelic dance routine featuring two dancers who wear the same clothes as Jake and Lucy. They dance, get into a theatrical fight and ultimately the dancer dressed as Jake ‘dies’. It’s really not that scary outside of the whole suicide context. In a pure horror sense it’s pretty tame, almost melancholic.
In the book this goes down in a completely different fashion. There’s no dancing. The school scene is straight up terrifying. The girlfriend frantically works to find Jake after being locked in the high school from the inside. All the while trying to escape the shambling janitor. She hides for what could be hours as she loses track of time. It’s reminiscent of a cat and mouse affair with the girlfriend playing the mouse.
Readers are treated to straight-up horror when reading her inner thoughts as she is hunted by the janitor that presumably killed Jake. Eventually, she relents and comes into contact with this janitor and he’s revealed to be old man Jake. He then asks the girlfriend the same question as The Caller. No dancing, just pure terror. This brings us to the climax of both versions and where Kaufman chose to take his biggest liberties.
The ending of I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is pretty damn bleak. You realize that Lucy isn’t thinking about ending things with Jake, rather Jake is an old man who is thinking about ending his time on this earth. Dark. But, after the dance session, the Nobel Prize ceremony and rendition of Lonely Room from the musical Oklahoma!, Jake ultimately decides to end it. He strips naked in his car, shuts off the ignition and the camera transitions to a snowed in truck at the highschool parking lot.
Jake presumably committed suicide via hypothermia, or did he? After the credits roll there is the faintest sound of the ignition turning over. So perhaps he lived and continued to fight his demons another day. It’s kind of hopeful, in an utterly depressing sort of way. I mean we are talking about Charlie Kaufman here.
Well if you thought that was depressing buckle up because the book leaves readers with no such hope. After the girlfriend confronts the Janitor who is revealed to be Jake/The Caller and the author of this entire story, she realizes that she is one in the same. Jake then leads her to a closet, prompts her to help him and hands her a straightened out coat hanger. She then bends it to two fine points and stabs herself multiple times in the throat, falling to the ground and ultimately dying.
In the end Jake was the author of this story. He was searching for reasons to keep living. In the end, he couldn’t find any. So he chose to end his life there, in the high school that he went to and worked for so many years. The book is actually interspersed with bits of conversation of folks talking about the death, the journal and scene of the crime.
Either way you cut it, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a dark story. Charlie Kaufman took his own liberties and made something with the smallest glimmer of hope. Albeit a sad story, I’d expect nothing less from the director of famous gut wrenchers like Synecdoche New York and Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind. As for Iain Reid’s book? It’s plain sad any way you cut just mixed with some more horror. Sometimes that’s okay, though. I sure know I loved both renditions. Maybe I should call a therapist?
For more coverage of I’m Thinking of Ending Things check back at CinemaBlend. We’ve got the latest on streaming, television and movie news. I promise it’s not all this sad.