This film is one of those abysmally frustrating ones that traverse the protagonist’s minds and would sometimes leave the viewers wondering, even after the end credits start to roll, on what it was all about.
I’ve decided to watch the film when I found out that it was written and directed by the writer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has been one of the movies I’ve been raving about when I was in college. Based on what I’ve watched on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, films whose points of view are based on a protagonist’s somewhat broken mind could have a dream-like quality to them, almost like an abstract painting that would be interpreted differently by the viewers. But what could be frustrating about it, just like in my case, is that you want to know if you got it right. Right?
Unlike Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this film is more complicated to be understood by the viewer. Especially by viewers like me who don’t have a background about it from reading the novel that this film is based upon.
Another reason that made me want to watch it is because Toni Collette stars in it. Toni Collette is one of the most talented actors of our time, for me. I’ve watched her in Sixth Sense, Little Miss Sunshine, Fright Night, Velvet Buzzsaw and Hereditary (Hereditary being my favorite of her work). Watching her in those movies made me admire her range as an actor. And I can’t wait to see how impressing she will be on this one.
The synopsis is that a gentleman takes his girlfriend to his parents’ house and introduces her to them. And then the synopsis teasingly tells you that not everything is what it seems. Some would even go far as to categorize the movie as horror, which in my opinion is too far of a reach.
If after watching it you were stumped as I was with your shoulders in a shrug saying “What the f*ck did I just watch?” Don’t worry, that makes two of us, you are not alone. If you haven’t seen the film yet and you are planning on watching it, you should stop reading now because there will be spoilers from this point on. After watching it, come back to this article and let’s find out if we both arrive at the same conclusion.
The film opens with the start of their road trip to the man’s parents’ house and all the while they are seemingly being watched from an upstairs window by an old man who is in obvious solitude and who we will be seeing constantly in scenes that transition from the couple to him. The film gives us an idea that the scenes of the old man are from a different time or are not related to the couple’s scenes because of the color filter. The old man’s scenes give a more contemporary vibe because of the color; that his scenes are happening in the present. While the couple’s settings and color filter suggests that it has happened in the past; that it is a flashback. I also had the feeling that Jake and the old man, the janitor, are the same person.
Jake and the young woman are also the same person. The young woman was a figment of Jake’s imagination. The film will give you little breadcrumbs like Jake’s childhood photo that originally looked like the woman and then changes into a photo of a child that resembled Jake more. Another breadcrumb would be the scene in the basement where the young woman sees the paintings, which are supposed to be her work, signed under Jake’s name. She goes into Jake’s childhood bedroom and finds the poem that she supposedly wrote in a book that Jake read from his childhood. Through out the night where she meets the parents, her occupation changes as quickly as you would change a topic in a conversation. This is because Jake is imagining her and quickly changes her line of work to make her more of a trophy girlfriend.
Throughout the dinner with his parents, the young woman sees Jake’s parents in different phases of their lives and what we can conclude from this is that since we are inside Jake’s mind, it is possible that his memories of his parents get tangled in with what he is imagining. Have you ever tried imagining something only to find your mind wander into some of your memories? That was probably what was happening.
Throughout their seemingly never-ending road trip, Jake keeps asking her what she’s thinking and she is being given this spotlight where she could exhibit her intelligence on certain topics without being too unreachable and arrogant. Another point for the trophy girlfriend.
They go to Tulsey Town to get Brrrs and from there we get the idea that perhaps Jake has spent a lot of time on Tulsey Town (he even knows the jingle by heart). Maybe that’s where he hung out or probably worked there when he was younger. He was shown to be reluctant to approach because according to him some of the girls who work there are not nice. In retrospect, some of the girls who work in Tulsey Town are also students from the high school that the janitor works in. A meek girl shows up and is shown to have the same rash on the hands and arms as Jake’s. From this scene, we get an idea that Jake formed the notion that pretty girls won’t give him the time of day and are even mean to him that’s why he finds it difficult to approach them.
After getting ice cream from Tulsey Town, they drive to Jake’s high school to throw the food cups away. Thinking that the old man was spying on them while they were making out in the car, Jake storms into the high school to confront him. After being left alone in the car for a while, the young woman decides to follow Jake into the school and only finds the janitor. The woman asks the janitor if he has seen her boyfriend and the janitor asks her to describe him. And she couldn’t even describe him even if her life depended on it. In a burst of emotions, as if the young woman that he imagined suddenly had a life of her own, she began telling the janitor that she and Jake never really met. She went out for drinks with a friend and Jake was the creeper who kept staring at her to the point of making her uncomfortable. And since this is all happening in Jake’s imagination, we get to see that Jake, in one way or another, understands that she may not even remember him after all these years. Jake never approaches her that night. Given the insight that we had when they were in Tulsey Town, he was probably lacking in self confidence to approach her because his experience with girls was not really pleasant.
And the most bizarre thing happens before the movie ends: two dancers who mirror the young woman and Jake come into view and start dancing. This is the point where I totally lost it. I sat there laughing because I couldn’t understand what was happening. At first I thought that I was wrong; that Jake and the janitor are not the same person. That maybe the janitor killed Jake and kidnapped the woman. That’s what I understood from the whole dance. But who was I kidding, the premise of this movie is Jake’s mind, so it has to go deeper than that.
The dance was a representation of him as Jake, the gentleman and as a misunderstood outcast, the creepy janitor. And in the end he killed Jake probably because he has come into terms to what he really is: an old man who spent much of his life in solitude, invisible and always on the sidelines who wasted his life by imagining the life that he should’ve had if he only had the courage to approach the young woman he kept staring at that night. And now that the imagined life is finished and he is faced with that grim reality, he suffers a mental breakdown in his truck and dies there. Or so we thought, because after meeting the one who fetches him when he dies, which is the pig with maggots on his belly, the engine on his snow-laden truck suddenly springs to life (if you let the end credits roll).
In the end, we see a scene that’s reminiscent of John Nash’s speech in A Beautiful Mind where he accepts a Nobel prize. This could symbolize what the old man thinks could’ve happened in his life if things took a different turn. It reminded me of Missed Connection, which is a personal advertisement that can be seen on Craigslist, where if you feel like you have missed a potential connection with someone that you were too shy to approach, you send out an advertisement hoping that they were reading Craigslist too.
The man’s life centered around this missed connection that he had with a woman that he forgot how to live his life fully. And as he nears his end, he begins to realize that if he and the woman were given the chance to be together, he gathers that the woman would probably break up with him (which she tries to do throughout the movie), and he would still end up alone. And that is why he is thinking about ending things, hence the title. And based on what I wrote earlier that categorizing this film as horror would be a reach, now that I think about it, being inside this man’s mind would probably be enough to call this a horror.