A road trip to meet the parents turns into an exploration of reality and an altered perception in I am thinking of ending things. Jesse Plemons (The Irishman El Camino) plays his friend Jake, who brings his new girlfriend, played by Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose), to his parents. This is where the "normal" part of the story ends. Throughout the film, Oscar-winning director Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Immaculate Mind, Anomalisa) plays with time, memory, and reality to create an eerie, tightly wound metaphysical thriller that will make you wonder how much your own views are shape the reality around you.
Adapted from the novel by Iain Reid, the film examines regret, longing and the fragility of the human mind. Kaufman was influenced by the absurdism of Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, and Eugene Ionesco by painting an irritating commentary on romantic partnerships on the canvas of a traditional relationship. Anthony Bregman, who has produced films with Kaufman for 20 years, explains: “What is cinematic about the book and the film is that it is about brain time, our perception of reality and how we understand what we see and in Relate to something that happens in the real world. Not only do they try to keep track of these characters and what goes on between them, but as the film progresses, they also try to figure out what is real, what you imagine and what you remember. The portrayal of reality and the portrayal of memory and imagination are difficult to tell apart, and the film makes a great game of this. "
*** Mild spoiler alert – the ending of the movie is discussed below
The one-of-a-kind thrill ride reaches a climax in the final minutes as the entrenched live-action film turns into animation. The sequence, an ice cream commercial featuring a transparent pig, was produced by Oscar-nominee Rosa Tran, who previously worked with Kaufman on his 2015 Oscar-nominated stop-motion animated film Anomalisa. The veteran animation producer began her animation career on the Emmy Award-winning series Robot Chicken and is currently co-executive producer on the hilarious animation series Final Space. She is also executive producer on a new half-hour adult animated series that was lit all green by HBO Max, Santa Inc., starring Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen.
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In "I think about the end of things" the bizarrely charming animated commercial for the Tulsey Town soft ice cream stand was created due to a contractual complication. Kaufman wanted to use a vintage commercial that he saw for a large soft diskette, but that company refused to license his spot.
The animated pig sequence in the film, also produced by Tran, was complicated too. "The script was written for a real pig to walk down a hallway, turn its head, and talk to a man," said Kaufman. “But it turned out that pigs cannot turn their heads and panic on slippery surfaces. So we wouldn't be able to film a pig taking a slow, meditative walk down a school hallway. "
Kaufman held out his hand for Tran and the rest, as they say, is history. "Charlie called and said," Can you animate a pig? "She explains." He sent out watercolor paintings and took the time to describe to us what was going on in the scene. "
“When you work with animation, you go back and forth between versions until you determine the look,” she continues. “The pig is made up of about seven different layers – the pink base layer, shadows, lights, balloons, eyes – everything is on a separate layer. We alternate between working with the artist and working with the VFX department. "
Talking to Tran about her trial, she shed light on the really bizarre ending of the film. "Charlie was a huge fan of the old Dairy Queen ads," she notes. “He showed us these and also gave us art references. I remember he said he wanted the clown to look a bit sexy and he gave these clown reference pictures from the 1900s. "
Once a vision was set, the animated short film was created pretty quickly. Tran states that it "started for the first time in April 2019 and we delivered the final recordings in December 2019". The live action recordings and animations took place simultaneously. "The amazing thing was that they were shooting in NY and we were doing all the animation here in LA," she adds. “By the time Charlie spoke to us about animation, they were already well underway with the film. Since animation was an element of the shot it was great that they'd already been shooting and giving us ref footage and clean plates. "
The animation team consisted of Simon Wilches-Castro for the Tulsey spot and Yuan-Li Chao as assistant. For the pig, Tran had Mollie Ong along with Rafael Mejia as an assistant, and in the end VFX artist Derek Smith came to bring the project home. However, the dream team still faced some challenges. According to Tran, “(we) had the usual challenges of time and money, but we produced all of this remotely before setting up WFH and that was a difficult workflow. New people, new style, project already shot. There was a point where it looked like the pig animation was so far behind schedule so we all went on deck to help Mollie. "
Trans reveals that Ong was able to achieve the pig's appearance by hand-painting individual layers on paper. So you had the pink base layer, you had the dot layer, you had the highlight layer; for the eyes and mouth at one point it was up to eight slices for one exposure and then each slice had to be scanned and composed. However, when you're working alone and remotely, it's difficult to create the animation and then troubleshoot technical issues and everything else. "
Kaufman brought in a stellar team to bring the perception I think of Ending Things to screen, starting with producers Anthony Bregman (Synecdoche, New York), a frequent contributor, as well as Stefanie Azpiazu (Private Life) and Robert Salerno (nocturnal animals). Kaufman and Iain Reid are co-producers. The creative team also includes cinematographer Lukasz Zal (Oscar-nominated for the Cold War), production designer Molly Hughes (Hillbilly Elegy), costume designer Melissa Toth (Eternal Sunshine of the Immaculate Mind) and composer Robert Frazen (The Highwaymen) Jay Wadley ( Tales of the City) and choreographer Peter Walker (New York Ballet). The film also features Toni Collette (Hereditary, Knives Out) as Jake's mother and David Thewlis (Anomalisa, Fargo) as his father.
Prepare yourself mentally and watch out for trans flashy animated sequences as you watch me think of Ending Things released on Netflix worldwide today.
Laurén Alexa produces social media and entertainment Blurbage for AWN.