A young woman (Jessie Buckley) is thinking of ending things. She’s travelling with her new boyfriend (Jesse Plimons) to the farm house he grew up to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewliss). She’s already not satisfied with the relationship and is thinking of ending it. As the journey takes more bizarre turns it becomes unclear exactly why she’s hear and how she will be able to leave.
It becomes clear early on that the initial scenario of a young woman considering ending her relationship or perhaps her life is not the main focus of the film. The actual focus is her new boyfriend who may be reflecting on this encounter from a period far in the future. Eventually it becomes clear that something all together more melancholy is happening. It’s a film that is about aging and loneliness and very potently so. It’s about living in fear of other people and how time can rush past like a bracing wind. Most of the actual narrative is clearly some sort of construct, but none of this novelty obfuscates or detracts from the oppressive tone and theme of isolation.
The tone of the film moves from manically strange to morosely naturalistic. Realistically awkward conversations play out to their own irregular rhythms with precisely messy camera work building feelings of anxiety in the audience. Lynch-like absurdity can build tension but also offer delightful diversions. Black comedy and observational humour afford moments of relief. Other eccentricities include inner monologues are carried out in real time, and can therefore be interrupted and maybe even heard by other characters. Although the film is quite dour in it’s theming and frosty aesthetics, there’s a playful voice at it’s core.
Stories in which female characters are essentially aspects of our main character’s quest for revelation can be very reductive. The inner life of the female character can be neglected. Kaufman has previously managed to negotiate this well with characters like Clementine Kruczynski and Lisa Hesselman riling against the confines of their roles. Jessie Buckley’s significantly variously named woman is no different. She may actually be a projection of our male character’s angst but she crucially does not want to be. She refuses to be a depository of other people’s opinions and work and follows her urge . Jessie Buckley is very involving and charismatic in her role. When the narrative becomes strange and frightening, she serves as the grounding figure. Her pathos guides the audience through claustrophobic labyrinth of emotion.
Buckley is fantastic in the lead role and is supported by a very strong supporting cast that includes Jesse Plimons, who is in fact ostensibly the main character, as this quietly intelligent but clearly frustrated man who is at turns menacing and completely tragic. Toni Collette provides another large but very honest portrayal of a man’s impression of his mother. He ably and flamboyantly encompasses the idiosyncrasies of a mother’s presence in a son’s life. David Thewlis plays the father as he would appear to a son. He is wilfully ignorant and small minded but also mild mannered and somewhat tragic. Thewlis is perfect in this role, delivering an understated but very authentic performance. We also have Guy Boyd in a crucial role as the old janitor, who potentially represents the stakes of the drama and does so in a very human and relatable way.
In terms of catharsis the film is ambiguous. The ending of the movie may represent a surrender to fantasy and a rejection of reality potentially even death. But it may also be the opposite. The final image is one of being overwhelmed but a final sound near the end of the credits may offer a glimmer of hope that our main character may finally be ready to move on with his life and get back on the road. At the very least the film serves as a warning to it’s audience. If you live inside your own head or as a prisoner to fear then these are the things you should think about ending.