S1: The following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: I want to tell you my secret now. I see.
S3: Charlotte, Braiden, Fabo, I Am Kosloff. What’s in the box, your.
S4: You’re blowing up damn, you know.
S2: Hello, this is Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic, here with another Slate spoiler special podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking about the new Charlie Kaufman film, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman called I’m Thinking of Ending Things. And joining me to talk about that very strange film is the very strange in a good way, Matthew Nessim. Hi, Matt. Matt, you are the nights and weekends editor of Browbeats Slate’s Culture Blog. Yes. And you are a person I’m very glad to get to discuss this movie with because I just feel like I mean, I don’t know you super well. We’ve met for drinks a few times. I’m a loyal reader of yours, but I somehow have a feeling that this movie is going to match with your sensibility in some sort of interesting way and that you’re going to have some maybe some explanations of it that I might not have had. And it’s an extremely enigmatic movie, ideal for spoiling. So I’m really I really hope for this one.
S1: Well, thank you. I’m really excited to be here to look forward to talking about it with you.
S2: So I guess we should start, as I usually do these spoiler specials by sort of getting evaluation out of the way. I just sort of ask up top whether you overall liked the movie and would send a friend to it or not so that we’re not really doing a review here. Right. We’re actually sort of doing a conversation about what happens, including all the stuff you can’t get into and reviews. So did you like it? And would you send a friend?
S1: I did, and I would, yeah. I think it’s a really interesting movie. I would think about what kind of mood my friend was in and maybe wouldn’t send a deeply depressed friend to watch it. But on the whole. Yeah, it’s great.
S2: Yeah, I would agree. I think that I would even go so far as to say that it’s my favorite. Directed by Charlie Kaufman, Charlie Kaufman movie. I mean, we tend to talk about movies that Charlie Kaufman wrote as though they’re Charlie Kaufman movies is one of the very few screenwriters right now working who who gets that kind of above the line recognition Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Right. Being John Malkovich adaptation, all have that particular stamp, but all were directed by different directors. The only three movies that he has written and directed are Schenectady, New York, which I think may come up in the context of talking about this one, because it has so many similar themes. And I’m Melissa, which was this really under the radar, but I thought wonderful stop action movie that he directed a couple of years ago. And now this one I’m thinking of ending things. So Charlie Kaufman as director is one thing that I want to talk about with you, because arguments have been made that Charlie Kaufman is at his best when someone else is directing him, that his mind is so imaginative and so convoluted that, you know, sometimes he gets too far up into the wrinkles of his own brain and that he almost needs like a balancing influence of a director. I think that I might have said that myself with Schenectady, which while I enormously admire certain parts of it and will never forget them, I think overall I did not worship the way some critics did. Anomaly says a little bit more of just a beautiful oddity. I, I really loved it, but I’m not sure that it’s really stuck with me and that I remember it as much. I think this is the most successful of the three movies that he’s made as a filmmaker. Would you concur with that?
S1: I would. I would concur with that. But I would say that it’s the most successful of the three movies that he’s directed that I’ve seen in that it is, in fact, the only one of those movies.
S2: Oh, you haven’t seen Necati.
S1: OK, I mean, you know, I need to it’s one of those incredibly embarrassing things.
S2: I mean, if nothing else, it’s just there’s so many bar conversations that you will be able to have that you could not have without Schenectady, New York.
S1: Well, I will get on it. It seems. It has always struck me as a very daunting film.
S2: It’s extremely daunting. And while I’m really glad I saw it and I guess I loved some parts of it, I sort of never want to see it again. Because you think this movie is a downer. I mean, Schenectady, New York, is really it makes Samuel Beckett look like, you know, I don’t know Burt or something. It’s a very, very dark vision of humanity.
S1: Yeah. I’ve got to be careful with that stuff on a personal level because I fixate on it. But anyway. Yeah, no, I thought it was a very well directed movie.
S2: So let’s get into enough of the story that we can at least give people who haven’t seen the movie and maybe don’t plan to see the movie. Some sense of what we’re getting into. In other words, you know, I don’t want to just start asking you questions about, gee, what the hell happened with so and so until we do so and so is and there aren’t that many so and so’s in this movie to get to. It’s really a small ensemble cast, wonderful ensemble cast, by the way, like if there were an ensemble cast, Oscar, I feel like this movie should be considered for it because everyone seems to understand exactly what strange kind of movie they’re in. But let’s set up who these these basic characters are. The very first scene of I’m thinking of ending things begins in a car where we’re going to spend a lot of the movie in which a young woman and her boyfriend, relatively new boyfriend, are driving to see his parents. They’re leaving a city, an unnamed city and going to a farm out in the country where his parents live. And the two people in this car are Lucy, played by Jesse Buckley and Jake played by Jesse Plemons. And we meet them in the midst of their conversation about driving to the parents farm already in the car. Before they get to the farm. Things start to be strange, although nowhere near as strange as they’re going to get later on. And I wonder if you could maybe describe just in that first twenty minute or so set up of their conversation on the drive. You know what kind of cognitive, imaginative world Kaufman takes us into, which is not quite realistic, but you start with a voiceover, which is Jesse Buckley, who sort of narrates it.
S1: And it comes straight out of the novel, an adaptation of a novel by the same name by Reed that came out in twenty sixteen and I think was pretty well reviewed. It’s a pretty good novel. I like the movie better, but so anyway, so it starts actually with just voiceover that is straight from that. And here in Jesse Buckley’s Narrating And it seems like she starts with the first words out. I’m thinking of ending things. And in that context, it seems like she’s thinking about breaking up with Jake as they drive. They have sort of an awkward conversation about all kinds of things. The first sort of bit of weirdness is they drive past a farm where there’s a brand new swing set, but no building. The buildings burned out and the swings that we’ve actually seen a shot of it earlier, whether it was in that shot, very decrepit. They’re going to see Jake’s parents are going to meet him for the first time. Lucy is not entirely sure we’re going to stay together. So she’s kind of thinking about whether or not this was a mistake to go to do this thing or whatever. And on the way, they have just sort of a young couple conversation. Jake tells her a little bit about Wordsworth and he’s been reading. She tells him that she has to get home because she’s working on a virology paper about rabies. They put on the radio. There’s a song from Oklahoma, and that’s when you see something that sort of keeps happening, which is that in the middle of this story of these two people on a road trip, it keeps coming to shots of a high school janitor sort of going about his day. You see him eating breakfast and watching cartoons. You see him walking down the hallway of a high school and getting made fun of by some students there. And this is kind of intercut with this is the road trip goes. And then the first really strange thing that happens is after it’s been established that Lucy is a virologist of some sort, they start talking about her poetry and she then recites this long poem about going home that she says she’s just written on the trip.
S2: Yeah. And that moment is remarkable because, well, it’ll come up later in other weird ways as well. But as you say, it suddenly broadens our understanding of Jessie like, wait, what is she a poet or is she a science student or is she somehow both? Is she changing or are we just learning more about her? That’s going to become a bigger and bigger question as the movie goes on. But even before that, there’s been this sense when he brought up Wordsworth, for example, that he can read her thoughts. Right. There’s these moments where we hear a voiceover as if she’s speaking only to herself. And I think one of the things she thinks is the child is father to the man, a line from a Wordsworth poem. And at that very moment, he says, hey, have you ever read Wordsworth? But she doesn’t seem to know that that line is from that poem. So that’s one of the first implications that we get, that there’s some kind of almost psychic interpenetration of their minds, of some kind.
S1: Yeah. Also, whenever she thinks I’m thinking of ending things, he seems to hear that and reacts not super great to it.
S2: It’s funny that you heard I’m thinking of ending things as being about their relationship, both when I heard that this was the title of the movie and when it’s the very first line, she says, I thought it was about suicide, which also, you know, becomes a theme in the movie later on.
S1: It isn’t. It isn’t right. But yeah, when she thinks that and he seems to have overheard her, Jake, he seemed to understand it that she was going to leave him. And she when she said it, she the context of her voiceover and then I think implies that she’s thinking of leaving him, that she doesn’t know him that well and that sort of stuff. Right. But either way, I mean, the opening lines are I’m thinking of anything she wants. The thought arrives. You can you know, you can’t get it out of your head. It’s about the way you kind of fixate on those sorts of things. And I suppose you can fixate on the thought of whether or not you’re going to leave somebody. But obviously, the primary thing, people roll over and over in their minds like that of Susan.
S2: Yeah. In general, the opening voiceover is sort of all about fixation, explicitly so self-referential, so in a very convenient way. You know, she seems to be aware that she’s having these obsessive thoughts and trying to turn them around. So really, what you get the portrait of at the beginning, I mean, when you still think you’re somewhat still in normal land, is that you’re in a car with these two neurotic young people who don’t know whether they belong together. And, you know, they’re trying somewhat unsuccessfully to communicate. There’s also this this referent reality that begins early on in the movie and continues in different ways throughout where other little bits of culture are constantly informing their conversation, whether it’s, you know, him talking about Wordsworth or the two of them later on get into a big discussion of a John Cassavetes movie in great detail or, you know, him naming all the musicals that he knows. And that seems to me like it’s bringing up an important theme in this movie and in other places for Kaufman, which is, you know, what culture and and especially mass culture does to our brains and the degree to which every human interaction that they have or that people in general have is kind of infiltrated and almost poisoned by pop cultural expectations.
S1: I like the word infiltrated because that happens a lot stuff sort of seems to bleed through from what the shots we see of what the gender is doing into this story, the road trip that the road trip these people are taking, like there’s a scene in that after they have a conversation about no before they have a conversation about Musicales. The reason they have it is. Because Jake turns on the radio and a song from Oklahoma is playing, and during that conversation in which Jake said something kind of odd, which is that he knows Oklahoma pretty well because they put it on every couple of years for obvious reasons. We see the janitor who is cleaning an auditorium where a high school cast is rehearsing Oklahoma and rehearsing that song, which you stop to listen to. And until one of the singers notices he is watching and gets kind of creeped out.
S2: Yeah. And so Oklahoma becomes important, too, and will be later in the mysterious ending of the movie that I can’t wait to ask you what the hell you think it means. All right. So that’s the car ride. And things of that point, I would say, have a sense of slight foreboding, but, you know, but not necessarily completely trippy. Then they arrive at the parents farm finally. And this all has to do, I think, with the editing, which is really remarkable in this movie. It could be argued the is a little bit too long. I think it could probably lose 10 minutes and be a little bit punchier and more powerful. But that said, there’s some really skillful editing tricks that happen. And one of them is that whenever they arrive somewhere in the car, it’s always right on top of some extremely mysterious and somewhat ominous line that someone speaks. And it’s always sort of unexpected, right, both for the characters and in terms of the pacing of the movie. And that happens when they pull up to the parents farm farmhouse. When she says something like jokingly, I can’t read what they’re talking about. But she says jokingly, Well, I guess we must both be dead. I don’t remember what the conversation is. And right then, you know, he says, well, here we are. And they’re there at the parents house.
S1: They seem to be going full speed. And then with no change, there’s a couple of them pulling in and parking without any of the usual stuff you see in a movie to say, OK, they’re getting closer to their destination.
S2: Yeah, it’s all very skillfully done. And you’ll see way later on when they’re driving in the blizzard to jump ahead a bit, that there’s very subtle things like the car not moving right. I mean, there’s there’s moments when the car seems to be filmed as if the snow is blowing past and it’s moving. But there’s other moments where they have to be parked, even though they’re acting as if they’re driving, which goes to this whole the question that becomes huge in this movie as to whether, you know, time is actually passing or whether they’re somehow statically frozen in some moment of time, while time, as her character puts it, moves through them to give you an idea of how metaphysical this is going to get. So they pull up to the parents house, but before they go in, they go on this strange and creepy trip around the farm. And I’m wondering what you think of that whole bit and if you can help me summarize it. He insists that he his parents understand that he needs to stretch his legs and that before he goes into the house, he’s going to take her on a little walk about on this isolated farm, which she does not want to do because it’s freezing out before they go.
S1: And he walks her out to the barn where there are some sheep. They have a conversation about them, but there are two dead sheep that are sitting just outside the barn, have been frozen solid. And she asks him what’s going to happen to them. And this is what they’re frozen. So they’ll probably be drowned in the spring. And then they go to what used to be the pig. Or be in the running. What do you keep pigs and die? The people are excited and says that they used to keep pigs, but they don’t anymore, and tells the story about how his father was taking care of the pigs that they had and was not paying a lot of attention to the villagers would feed them or whatever. And when they realized that they just haven’t moved in a couple of days, so it goes on them and lifts one of the pigs up and sees that they are being eaten alive by maggots and they have to be destroyed or whatever. And there’s a sort of ominous stain on the floor of the pig sty where the little pigs were undergoing their horrible fates.
S2: Yeah, that’s that’s a horrible image which we’ll return to in a strangely sort of cute form much later on. But but I think it also establishes you know, it’s the first time I think that the movie starts to seem not just like a psychological thriller, but like a potential horror movie and something we haven’t really mentioned. But we’ll explore as we go along is that this movie is, you know, basically completely, gleefully disregarding the notion of genre like is it a psychological thriller or is it a horror movie? Is it, you know, a metaphysical meditation? Is it a romance?
S1: Is it Oklahoma? Yeah, and it moves around.
S2: But that is the first moment. And there’ll be more stuff later with the basement in the house, et cetera, that, you know, that refers to kind of traditional horror movie tropes. I mean, after that moment, you can’t get the idea of a pig being eaten alive by maggots out of your mind, especially when the mom serves ham for dinner. Yes.
S1: And tells them everything on this table has come from the farm and that there’s a big shot of the.
S2: And that’s that’s a good example of one of the jokes in this movie that are cruel and gross, but funny. I laughed a lot watching this movie, even though I would say my prominent mood was not humor, but more, you know, kind of ominous, menacing fear. But there are definitely some some laugh out loud moments, too. So they get into the house. It takes them quite a while to see the parents to such a degree that I actually thought at this point, are we going down the line of the parents or entire figments of Jesse Plemons imagination? And we’re never going to see them. Right. But they do eventually show up after a lot of weird things happen that kind of imply that this is somehow either a magic, you know, in a bad way. That is either somehow a house under some sort of spell or that, you know, someone in it is going crazy. For example, there’s a dog, Jimmy, who only seems to appear when Jesse Buckley’s character thinks of him. Right. She asks, do you have a dog? And at the moment, she asks about the dog. The dog appears and we never see him, except at a moment when she seems to be asking where he is.
S1: Right. And we never see him doing anything except like shaking off water in a sort of continual seizure kind of thing. There’s only one shot that the dog is in, right? It is a shot of the dog shaking off water like a dog doesn’t goes in, but it just keeps going and it’s stuck in that moment.
S2: Yeah. So that starts to be we start to somehow think like this. This farmhouse is some kind of time sinkhole and that is somehow connected not just to Jesse and his parents, but to this janitor, the school janitor that we keep cutting back and forth you. But as you can imagine, I mean, we’re less than twenty minutes into the movie at this point, and it’s already quite mysterious. So let’s get into the parents, other members of this cast that I think belong in the best ensemble group because, again, they just get it. I mean, this is not easy dialogue to speak and not an easy, dramatic universe to inhabit because you have to play a lot of different things at once. You have to play comedy and menace and tenderness and, you know, incomprehension and all kinds of things. But when they show up, they’re played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis. How would you characterize them at first?
S1: Well, I think I mean, the very first conversation they have is kind of threatening because Jesse Buckley said something like, I’ve heard a lot about you. And Toni Collette says, oh, and you came anyway. And then she just laughs like way too long. And then you kind of a creepy sort of Toni Collette fashion. But, yeah, they come across like. Like semi embarrassing parents, I suppose they’re a little creepy when you first meet them, but when they once they sit down at the dinner table, the conversation is. Like, not one of the worst conversations ever between a new girlfriend and her boyfriend’s parents, but it’s not comfortable or it goes off the rails a couple of times, they talk about her work, which now seems to be that she’s a painter. And Jake’s father, David Pulis, does not like abstract paintings. He likes representational stuff. So they have that sort of conversation, I’m not sure. How would you characterize the relationship between Jacob’s parents?
S2: I mean, at the beginning, I guess it seems like that first dinner table scene is all about them undermining him. Right? I mean, that’s the moment when you start to realize that the Jake you met in the car, who is really pretty likable or the Jake that you first meet in the car, is this guy who’s interested in his girlfriend’s work, has questions about it, loves the poem. She recites for him, you know, wants to talk about all these cultural topics. He’s maybe a little overbearing and a little talky. This whole movie is very talky. Sure. But he seems he seems kind of like a catch to me at the beginning. And some of the stuff that happens at the table starts to undermine that image and to show that, you know, maybe perhaps some of it was either a projection of Jesse’s mind or that as some overacting on his part, because the parents, as they revisit his childhood, seem to be talking about this lonely underachiever. And and Toni Collette at one point proudly brags that he he once won a pen in school for his diligence. Right. And and then he points out, well, it wasn’t acumen, just those kind of contrast. Just the precision of vocabulary is so common. And like, I love how much he loves words and how precisely he chooses words. But there’s this whole discussion about whether it is truly an honor to be awarded for only your diligence and not your acumen. And, you know, does he have any real skills or is he just kind of a hard working slogger?
S1: There’s the usual thing where he’s a little embarrassed when it comes to his past. And as you say, there are stories that don’t really seem to match up with the present guy. But then they have a conversation where Toni Collette starts talking about how smart he is because he can answer all the questions in the genius edition of Trivial Pursuit and that just drive up the wall that she’s not saying the genius edition. Right. And that’s I think that’s the first time he seems to lose his temper, but he loses it with his mom, not with Jessie. Right. Just because she just insists on saying that it’s a genius that drives him up the wall.
S2: That trivia question comes up as well, because that’s the first time the story is told of how Jessie and Lucy met. And that story becomes important later on because it keeps being told differently and having different permutations as this movie starts to question both the identity of those two characters and the history of their relationship. But according to the first story they tell, they met at a Trivial Pursuit game, which would match with the characters you see in the car who were very cerebral and brainy and trading all these references and talking about ideas, etc.. I guess the first moment I would remark that seems like, I mean, for one thing is very cinematically effective, but also seemed like a great horror movie moment in that early part is when they’re all sitting around the table having this awkward conversation, still utterly going through these things and the camera. I can’t remember if it cuts or if it sort of pulls back, but the camera isolates Jesse in this door frame so that you can’t see anyone else at the table. And you hear her saying as she was talking about the Trivial Pursuit meet up. That all seems so long ago, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it seem impossibly long ago. And there’s this sense right then that maybe no one else is there. And she’s imagined the whole thing. And I had a strange flash forward, like, is this going to become like the very ending of 2001, A Space Odyssey, where suddenly she’s alone in a house, you know, really rapidly or something. There’s a sense at that moment that maybe she had imagined the whole thing. And I guess here I’m getting close to a question that’s going to become a big overarching question as I ask, like, what does this all mean and what is Kaufman trying to do? Which is which of these two characters? I mean, protagonist is maybe the wrong word, but whose perspective? Whose brain are we inside most of the time? Right. I mean, when we experience these strange temporal shifts or everyone seems to be gone for a second, I’m kind of assuming at least through the first three quarters of the movie or so that is Jesse said that she’s the protagonist. She’s the one who weird things are happening to. And, you know, the weird cinematic things that happen like that camera movement are echoing subjective experiences of hers.
S1: I think that she’s the narrator, but I don’t think it’s happening inside of her head. Can we get spoiler at this point?
S2: Yeah. I mean, it’s a spoiler special. I think we can get spoiler as much as we want and jump ahead. And I should warn listeners who haven’t seen the movie that I think from here on out, it’s sort of all bets are off. But hey, the title is the spoiler special. So you knew what you were getting into.
S1: Yeah, exactly. My read is that it’s narrated by Jesse Buckley’s character, but it’s taking place in the head of the gender.
S2: Interesting. So he is almost animating her as a character, as if he was the writer of the story.
S1: Exactly. I think he is the author of this story. He’s certainly I mean, if I can talk about the novel, he says that’s certainly the way the novel works in the novel, the text of the novel or the janitor, sort of a Henry Darger type. I would argue it was a janitor or custodian at a Chicago hospital who just sort of worked. As a custodian his entire life and when he died, they found in his place these manuscripts one of the longest works ever written in English, this science fiction epic about a child slave rebellion that he had written and illustrated himself. And it’s like hundreds of thousands of pages and then several other novels he wrote. At one point he tried to write apparently a an autobiographical novel, but he got about one hundred pages in and then sort of got to the point where he witnessed this tornado as a kid. And then he wrote like another thousand pages narrated by the tornado, which goes about having adventures and very strange, very strange guy. But the idea basically that he had this quiet, unnoticed life, but in his private time was creating this just. Bizarre literary work.
S2: Right, which which was also, we should mention, not to go too far down Dr. Lane, but he’s so fascinating. It was also illustrated by these extraordinary paintings of. Yes, sort of little girls at war with each other. This this big cosmic story that he was trying to tell. Anyway, just a fascinating figure who I’m sure the novelist Ian Reid must have had in mind as he was creating that janitor character. Yeah, absolutely. All right. But if that’s the case and now focusing on the movie, not the book, if this is all somehow taking place from the janitor’s perspective, is he somehow, Jake, as well? I mean, my assumption throughout the long period of the movie where we’re intercutting between, you know, the doings of Jake and company and the janitor was that the janitor somehow was Jake in sort of the ultimate universe that he ended up in, if you will, you know, that that somehow he was in a time loop where he kept repeating this trip. That’s very clearly implied many times that the trip has happened many times, maybe with different girls, and that the janitor is just somehow the the lonely outcome of all of those failed attempts at romance. Does that make sense? Did you ever either in book or movie, believe that Jake and the janitor were one in different time spaces?
S1: I think that they are. I mean, I think the basic thing that’s going on there is the janitors is thinking of ending things. And this story is sort of a hypothetical, looking back at that moment in its own past.
S2: OK, I get what you wait to get to what some of those are the the sort of lightly excruciating dinner scene comes to an end and we start to come to a stranger part of the movie where the time travel elements and, you know, the temporal bends that are happening get more weird. But before that, there was an extra textual incursion that you want to talk about a moment, one of the many moments when Charlie Kaufman brings in another sort of work of art from the outside. You want to talk about that?
S1: Yeah. The sort of horror movie moment that you talk about where Jesse Buckley is that is framed in the doorway and then it cuts to a full, long shot of her that kind of pulls back in the room is suddenly empty. Is that that first kind of like, as you said, very creepy horror movie moment, but it cuts directly from that to the janitor, again, who is now sitting in an empty classroom with a TV and a DVD player. And he’s watching a Robert Zemeckis romantic comedy on it. So the narrative completely stops at that point. And we go into him in watching this other narrative on his lunch break, which is a very you know, it’s the Charlie Kaufman deliberately clichéd Hollywood movie in this case, supposedly directed by Robert Zemeckis. It’s the end of romantic comedy. So this couple, one of whom is a waitress, the other who is training to be a waiter following him around, he gives a big, passionate speech about who this woman is, that she’s not just a waitress, et cetera, et cetera.
S2: It’s you know, it’s the end of a romantic comedy, the moment when all the customers applaud. Right. That has to happen in every romantic comedy.
S1: Exactly. And then we go back to the house and then things start getting really bizarre.
S2: I have to say that my first big laugh out loud moment was just when the words directed by Robert Zemeckis appeared at the end of that clip because he doesn’t reveal right that name until the end of the clip. And there’s just something so, so snarky and hilarious about it. But also, you know, it’s another acknowledgement of what they were talking about earlier in the car, about people’s minds being kind of invaded by tropes and ideas from movies and popular culture about what romance is supposed to be. And later on, we will see that that is almost like some sort of alternate universe meet cute the two of them might have had rather than the one that they did have at the trivia game. But I love the placement. That was just a moment where I just had sheer respect for just Charlie Kaufman’s audacity and the sense of humor.
S1: I love that transition, like smash cuts to that that credit at the end of it, just very abruptly, the same way it sort of abruptly cuts to them pulling in places. And it’s unexpected and really funny.
S2: It’s great. So then after that break, we go into a completely different mood, which which really is close to the closing of 2001 when we see, you know, care delay aging in these very fast spurts. There’s something like that about this next sequence of the movie where we’re back same night, same farmhouse, but the parents have changed and keep changing in different ways. So Jesse Buckley is starting to explore the house, sort of trying to figure out how the hell she’s going to get out of there that same night. So you might say that she’s not appropriately afraid for how strange the things are that start to happen. But then again, I think that is part of her also getting sucked into the psychological strangeness of this universe. Right. And this is kind of part of what Charlie Kaufman is trying to do is to disorient us and make her disorientation more understandable so that she’s not reacting in a sort of logical way, like what the hell’s going on here, but letting herself be sucked into the strangeness. And the first manifestation of that strangeness is that she goes upstairs to Jake’s childhood bedroom, which is labeled with the sign Jake’s Childhood Bedroom and is met by David Thewlis is the dad, but he’s older. He’s got he’s had a serious application of age makeup since last time. And he seems to be somewhat demented, as he admits. You know, he says, I’m losing my memory. That’s why there’s this sign on the door identifying Jake’s childhood. Bedroom, but there’s a lot of temporal things in that bedroom that are off. It seems to be the bedroom of a much older person, right? His memorabilia and his toys and things would be from a kid who grew up in the 50s or so. And there’s just something about that room that makes you start to think, OK, now we’re in a time travel movie, you know, where she is slipping between different time frames.
S1: The other thing that’s significant about that room when she goes in there is there’s a sort of bookshelf. And on that bookshelf are there’s a copy of a supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again. Out of the conversation, there’s a copy of a novel called Ice Spy and a Coven. There’s an anthology of Pauline Kael reviews. And I think it’s in this scene before the father appears. There’s a book of poems by when I’ve heard that Jesse Buckley picks up and flips through. And in the book is the poem that she recited earlier in the movie, in the car that she presented as something that she had written at that point.
S2: So all of these works like the Cassavetes movie that they later talk about, or like the David Foster Wallace book of essays that he mentions to her later are real works. But there’s a way that this movie weaves them into, you know, the characters stories so that somehow she also wrote this poem that is attributed to someone else on his table. And I suppose that if you were going to be as later on, I’m going to ask you to try to be a total pragmatist robot who is just trying to sum up exactly what was happening in some non-magical universe, that what you might say would be that this was his projection. Right. It was a good poem that he read in a book. And he wished that he could know the woman who wrote it. And he sort of created a girlfriend in his mind who had, in fact, read that poem.
S1: Yeah, but I think that it goes a little bit backwards. I think it’s more like the author here, the janitor or whatever, is creating a girlfriend and has to give her some sort of a character. And in the absence of having an actual person who he knows because he is so isolated and because he never actually knew this woman who sort of. Populates her head with things that he’s been reading and doing and seeing and so on. There’s also a virology textbook on that shelf. So the first thing she talks about, what she’s doing is a topic that’s in that book. And then when she’s a poet, what’s your poetry like? Well, it’s like this poem that you just read or that that is in his bedroom. And when they start talking about a woman under the influence, what she does is she literally recites polynomials, review or write excerpts from which is also on the shelf there. So it’s like he’s trying to imagine a girlfriend who’s smart about film and likes talking about movies as well. Who do you model that after?
S2: Right. I mean, we’re skipping ahead a bit, but that moment blows me away. Also, just as far as performance by Jesse Buckley, just the way she she does, he changes her voice. And I mean, without even looking it up, I knew that has to be Pauline Kael. It’s it’s it’s a different voice that she’s speaking in. And it almost had a sort of mid century cadence. It was just a brilliant little piece of performance when she transformed, transformed into Pauline Kael for that moment. But just talk through these these temporal changes with the parents so they start to happen kind of harder and faster during the next couple of scenes. Like the parents go back and forth in age. She goes into another room and Jesse Plemons, his character is still the same age, is now feeding his mother in a wheelchair and she’s much, much older. She seems to be on the verge of death. In fact, later on, we see her on what seems to be her deathbed, possibly already dead. But meanwhile, then David Thewlis pops up from the kitchen and he’s young again, not just as young as he was when we first saw him, but an even younger iteration of himself, which also happens to Toni Collette at one point showing up in an apron looking like a 60s housewife. And so it seems sort of clear that she is I mean, in a way that really brings back Being John Malkovich, I think. Or maybe it was an eternal sunshine where there’s a moment. Yeah. Eternal sunshine at a moment when Jim Carrey travels back into his past. Right. But he’s still an adult. This seems to be some dreamlike exploration of the various eras of his life that Jesse Plemons character has lived through in this farmhouse. And the last little moment in this farmhouse sequence that I want to mention is just the closest that this part gets to being a straight up horror movie, almost in a parodic way, which is when Toni Collette, as one of the younger iterations of herself as a as a mom, since Jesse Buckley’s character down into the basement, which has been identified before, and it almost joking way as this this place that Jesse Plemons character doesn’t like to go. It seems like it’s been taped off there, the scratches on the door that he attributes to the dog. But it all seems very suspect. And, you know, it’s a creepy horror movie basement on a farm which she has had been hesitant to go down into. But the young Toni Collette hands her this soiled nightgown, soiled, apparently with Jake’s baby poo. So that’s how far back in time she has traveled and says, hey, why don’t you go and put this in in the basement? There’s a pretty scary scene of her descending into the basement with Jesse Plemons character at the top, sort of inaudibly begging her not to go in. And the movie makes it into kind of a red herring because nothing monstrous does happen in the basement. But what happens, I think, is a good clue to your theory that the janitor was just making this all up in his mind the whole time, because as she reaches into the washer to put in this nightgown, all this in there is one after another of his uniforms, these custodial uniforms that he wears to clean up at the school that we’ve already seen with the logo on his body so that some kind of sign that he’s actually living in the house. And once again, this is the pragmatist robot speaking, trying to somehow make it all makes sense. Is it the person actually living in the house is just simply the older janitor who is possibly an old Jake and who’s imagining all of these other people, including the girlfriend being there? Yeah, why didn’t experience that in real time, I don’t think is just because Jesse Buckley’s character is so believable. I mean, you so feel that you’re inside the specific sensibility of a specific woman with a voice. She does not at all seem she is not at all written or played like a mere projection of male fantasy.
S1: Yeah, and two things about the basement, I say. One is that Jake from the very beginning does not want her to go down there. And before she goes down, young Toni Collette from the Sixties had a conversation about how Jake is so bossy and controlling and tells her that she doesn’t have to do what Jake tells her and kind of encourages her not to do what I tells her to do. So when she’s going down the stairs and Jake is just does not want to go down there, that’s if you believe that Jake and the agenda are the same person. It’s one of those kind of character rebelling against the author moments. The other thing that she finds down there are a bunch of not very good landscape paintings and posters for an exhibition of Albert Blakelock paintings which match the paintings that she had showed to the father earlier in the film and said said, we’re hers.
S2: Right. And that goes with your Pauline Kael theory. Right. So that the Blakelock painter would be a painter he admired and then subsequently subsequently projected that painter’s talent onto his imaginary girlfriend.
S1: You know, and I’m just thinking of this. But, yeah, the other thing is that during the dinner conversation, Toni Collette says that Jake used to paint but doesn’t do anymore. What we’re seeing down there are these just not very good imitations of Ralph Kwok’s style. So it’s also true that that place is for Jake or for if we think the janitor’s is, Jake, another sort of abandoned place where his life could have taken a different turn if he were a better painter. Right. Which is clearly something he does want to get into. But it’s another thing where she goes down there and sees work that exists in the real world and was done by a real person that she has previously claimed that she did herself.
S2: There’s just brilliant enigmas, and I love that they’re never solved. And I have a few negative things to say about this movie, but nothing so far. I will say I would say that for the first hour of this movie or so, I was just spellbound and just loved everything that was happening. And we’re still in that part. So they do finally. Managed to get away from the house and start driving back home again, although the idea of what home is keeps on changing and she’ll say, I really need to get home for tomorrow for my work. And he’ll say, you mean the farm? And so we seem to be losing touch with the idea that there is any city for them to go back to at all. And then I guess maybe the next little moment we should touch on is Tulsi Town, the all night ice cream stand that they decide to stop off at for a snack along the way home.
S1: Yeah. So as they’re driving, Jake sort of suggests and then insists that they stop and get lizards basically in the in the novel, the top of the Dairy Queen. But they they stop at this for some reason, open late at night in the middle of nowhere in a blizzard, a Tulsa town, which is a Dairy Queen, standon or whatever, to order these, I think of covers in the middle of the blizzards.
S2: I love stuff like that, too, just like Charlie Kaufman making up brand names. You know, he’s good.
S1: It’s like that much later in the film, you see sort of like the advertising and that is explicitly modeled after a like a drive in for Dairy Queen from the fifties. But anyway, so they get to Tulsa and there are two clerks there at first. And if you pay close attention, you’ll see that one of them is the girl who was making fun of the janitor in the hallway earlier. And the other one, I believe, is the one who was singing Oklahoma and then gets a little bit creeped out that the janitor watching her right there, the pretty popular girls from the high school where he cleans. Right, exactly. They react to Jake in a way that doesn’t make much sense if he lives in the city and is there often. But it does make a certain amount of sense if you imagine the way pretty popular girls might interact with their high school janitor if he showed up at their workplace unexpectedly. That whole sort of scene, your teacher shopping thing, where they’re a little creeped out to see him outside of that context. But in the context of that, Jesse Buckley and Jessie Collins character stopping there, it’s just incomprehensible. They’re just they’re just behaving very weirdly. And then there’s a third character there who comes out to actually make the burgers. And she sort of mousy looking girl. We’ve also seen well earlier in the thing while the janitor was walking down one of the hallways. And that shot, Jake, has a a monologue where he says, I look at the kids I see at school every day, which right off the bat doesn’t make sense because Jake doesn’t see kids at school every day. I see the ones who are ostracized, they’re different, they’re out of step and I see the lives they’ll have because of it. Sometimes I see them years later in town at the supermarket. I see I can tell that they carry that stuff around with them like a black or a like a millstone, like an amusing wound over that shot. We see the sort of unpopular girl in the high school hallway. And then she appears at Tulsa Town, sort of. And she’s nice where the other two girls are. Rude, and she talks to Jesse Buckley about how she thinks it’s maybe different because they’re pretty or whatever, but she’s also very interesting, very frightened, and she has a weird rash on her hand that matches a rash that we see only in that shot. It’s also an example of only one shot where money is a chance objects.
S2: And it’s a very strange thing. I didn’t see the transference of the rash in that scene. But, yeah, that that girl was interesting because she seemed to be one of the few lucid characters in the in the films universe outside of Jesse. To the extent that we even know that Jesse is real, she’s the person in the horror movie. He’s saying something wrong is going on here and you need to get away.
S1: Yeah, it’s the it’s the creepy guy at the gas station in the horror movie or something. Whatever she says, like, you don’t have to go with him to Jesse Buckley. They don’t. You don’t. I think she might say something like, you don’t have to go through with it.
S2: Well, and she also implies you can stay. I mean, whatever kind of temporal loop has been created, whether it was created in some universe way for various people or only in the mind of Jesse Plemons character, she seems to know about it because she sort of says, you know, they’d had that conversation earlier about time and we passed through time or as time passed through us. And and she seems to be saying, you can just stay here and let time pass through you almost as if he’s offering that opportunity. She also says this really creepy, never explained thing about that smell in the back. It isn’t varnish, like I said it was. It’s something else. And then that gives me the sense almost, which is also never really explained, that there might be some malevolent force above them all that’s keeping them fixed. They’re right. I mean, what is varnish do? It fixes something in time. Somehow this idea that, you know, the tulsi town ice cream place is some source of this, whatever factor it is that’s freezing them in time to be a pragmatic robot about it.
S1: I also think it’s possible that the janitor is just putting in a place where they’ve been doing some varnishing at that point in the story.
S2: But she says it’s not that great. She offers some scary idea that that there’s some there’s some other substance that’s keeping them trapped there anyway. I mean, I do know. Right, the enigma that not all this has ever explained. By the way, there are a few things at the end that I wish were explained a bit more and we’ll get to what those are. But in general, I just love that this movie is full of mysterious red herrings that you could think about forever and not be able to resolve.
S1: Yeah, the scratches on the door, for example, I think are like way higher than the dog. Right. Leave them. There’s a lot of stuff that just sort of left left unexplained in a very, very PHUMLA.
S2: So the next stop off that the couple makes after another long stretch of driving, which I think this is where they talk about Cassavetes and David Foster Wallace, I mean, there’s just something very funny about how how talky this movie is. It’s also very cinematic. And, you know, the camera is extremely important. It’s not that it could be a stage play, but there are long, long stretches, especially in the car that are actually, you know, my dinner with Andre in a car. It’s like about the ideas that they’re discussing. And and I really love that also that their references don’t always converge at moments. You know, you feel like, oh, I’m hearing a girlfriend and a boyfriend sort of commune about something. But in other conversations, like the one about Cassavetes, they really disagree. They strongly disagree or about the song Baby, it’s cold outside. They have a little argument that I’ve seen often being had on the Internet about whether that song is, you know, a song about sexual coercion or not. There’s something to be great about the fact that Charlie Kaufman is interested in those ideas. You know, that he doesn’t just want to satirize the fact that they’re having these intellectual conversations, but that he’s he’s interested in the subject himself.
S1: Yeah, I would agree with that. I would also say that if you’re an elderly janitor imagining a fight between a younger version of yourself and an entirely hypothetical girlfriend, it might make sense to. Give them an argument that you’ve seen a million times on the Internet or whatever you like, I think there’s a lot of this stuff that is I looked back at the script for Eternal Sunshine a little bit after I saw this and that movie also, I mean, just does this. But the female characters in that movie particularly talk about things they’ve been reading. Talk about Kate Winslet quotes a Tom Waits song at length and. There’s a sense in which there’s kind of a self critique going on here about. These characters that the janitor or whatever, I mean, again, if you find my read of it, the janitor is creating are not necessarily all that well thought out or well drawn that their conversation about baby, it’s cold outside, whatever it is, is also just like as you say, it’s a conversation that you’ve seen a thousand times and presumably as the as the author.
S2: Yeah. And so that’s almost like a kind of glitch in the Matrix that he’s created or something. Right. Because right. Because other conversations that they have seemed to be about their actual subjectivity. And I guess this is the mystery and my resistance to the idea that it’s only the janitor’s dream. Maybe just because I found Jesse Buckley’s character such a fascinating protagonist. And I it was very sad to imagine her just being reduced to the mere figment of someone’s imagination.
S1: Well, I mean, you could say that she’s been reduced to the figure of someone’s imagination, or you could say that she’s a character. I mean, any movie you see, there are a lot of people who are not real people. There’s some of the three of them up. Right.
S2: Yeah, yeah, no, you’re right, I mean, and that’s that’s kind of the mystery of Kaufman is that both things could be true at once, right? She’s a real fascinating character and she’s obviously a figment of both the author of the novel. And if Kaufman’s imagination. Yeah. So their last adventure that they go on after they’ve gotten their orio burs that they barely drink is that they wind up at the school itself. And that happens, I guess just because Jake is obsessed with throwing away these drunk BRX blizzard things. Right?
S1: Yeah. He’s afraid they’re going to melt or he says he’s afraid that they’re going to melt and get his cup holders all sticky. But he knows he tells Jesse Buckley that there’s a there’s a high school up one of these roads that he’s familiar with where there’ll be a trash can you can do about it, and insists against her objections to driving up there in high school. And when they arrive with another one of those abrupt, like overhead shots of them parking, Jake gets out of the car with the birds and goes to the nearby trashcan, opens it, and apparently doesn’t like what he sees there, and then goes into the high school and disappears and leaves Jessica alone in the car, in the parking lot. Eventually, he comes back having thrown them out. And they have sort of a fight about the fact that he walked off the mood changes in over the course of the fight from Jesse Buckley being furious that he’s taking her on this crazy journey to throw away the Oreo burs to them, sort of you along. And they’re about to kiss when suddenly Jake pulls away, we get to like a psycho insert shot of the janitor looking through. It looks like like a hole in the wall.
S2: Isn’t he supposed to be in his car rubbing the snow off of the window of the car? Is that what that shot is? Know, you’re right.
S1: It kind of like he was standing in a room. So it cuts to a sudden shot of the gender. And then back to Jake. And Jake is really mad. And he says that this janitor was looking at them and something along the lines of I know that look very well. And he says, you can go talk to him because this is not OK with him, that this guy’s a peeping Tom or whatever it was watching them. And again, against Jesse Buckley’s protests, he disappears into the high school and she eventually follows him into this well lit but empty high school at night in the middle of a blizzard.
S2: And after she gets into the high school, I mean, which which is all in keeping with the theory that that the janitor is the future, Jake. But after she gets into high school, I feel like reality gets the most bent that it ever gets. And we’ll see, though, some of the ways that that happens. And I would also say if I were writing a review this movie, this would be the part where I wouldn’t say the movie completely falls apart, but where the tautness of the spell that it extends over, the viewer starts to slacken a little bit. And a huge part of that may just be because Jesse Buckley becomes a smaller and smaller part of the movie. And maybe this is just my conventional last girl, you know, expectation that we’re going to stay with Jesse until the end. But in fact, she starts to some degree to disappear from the movie. She does have this wonderful exchange with the janitor in the hall, this strangely tender kind of encounter with him, where she asks if he’s seen Jake, but she can’t seem to remember anything about Jake, possibly, maybe even his name. What he looks like the story of how they met has now completely changed. And she tells the story of their Trivial Pursuit meet up. That was so romantic and cute when they told it to the parents now, as if he was just kind of a creeper who was bugging her and her girlfriend. Later earlier on, she called this person who we never see her girlfriend. And you thought that she meant it as a platonic girlfriend. But now she seems to mean that that was her romantic partner and she’s annoyed that this man was creeping on her at a bar. So I guess in your theory, I mean, the pragmatic not you are, but the pragmatic robot, one of what would be happening here is simply that the janitor has a moment of lucidity where he realizes, oh, that time that I flirted with a girl in a trivial pursuit did not turn into a promising relationship. It was just me pestering a lesbian who was trying to celebrate your anniversary with her girlfriend. And she said something like, you know, you might as well ask me to remember what a mosquito looked like that bit me forty years ago, which would be pretty harsh to hear if you were the old version of that person.
S1: Yeah. If you were telling the story to a third party, she seems very angry with the janitor while she tells it in a way that wouldn’t be right if Jake, the janitor, were not the same person she sort of annoyed by did it concludes with her giving the janitor this hug?
S2: That seems very genuine, right, that they share this moment of her sort of thanking him and pitying him in whatever place she’s in mentally. Right. Then she seems sort of seems to think of the janitor as some kind of helpmate or salvation.
S1: Well, I think that that’s where maybe she understands what’s going on better than necessarily the audience does. I mean, I think like, one way that you could read it is it’s sort of like if you if you say it’s the janitor who’s dreaming all of this up or whatever, he’s created this hypothetical girlfriend and he’s sort of been flushing her out, trying out different names, different professions, different colors or sweater. I mean, all of that stuff keeps shifting as he goes. And it’s like he’s he’s you say it’s like a moment of lucidity. It’s also it’s like he’s. Finally, on that character, precisely enough that she can reject him. It’s like she’s come to life more than he necessarily wanted her to, I think is one thing.
S2: So, yeah, it’s as if her figment of his imagination side has been overtaken by the actual content of her.
S1: Right. And there are all these conversations that they have from very early on about being seen basically about the gendered sense that he’s or it’s Jesse Buckley saying it about the sense of being invisible unless she’s with Jake and part of a couple. And you’ve got to think about the point in his life that the girlfriend gets to see they’re in the house. It’s stuff that he did that he thought was good that he didn’t get any credit for. They have a conversation. He says something to her about that, about it feels like people don’t see the good that you do in your life. And it just all goes to nothing. And what you’ve seen is that this character has over time cared for his parents with dementia and failing health and all that stuff. And I think that character has reached a point where she. Is sort of reclaims her own identity, says, no, I’m not this person we would never have dated, I would ever talk to, goes back to that moment, but also is real enough to have kind of seen his life in a way that nobody, no one ever did. I mean, I think that’s why he’s kind of dreamed up a witness, you know? Mm hmm. I took that moment of tenderness between them as real and as a real sort of like if it’s in the janitor’s hands, the janitor passing knowledge on himself. But I think she sort of understands like that whatever purpose she was feeling in the stories that killed it.
S2: Mm. Yeah. And so maybe in that sense it makes it makes sense that she would drop out and maybe my sense of deflation with the end is just simply that I really liked the actors and the performance of Jesse Buckley and a certain amount of energy went out of the film after she left it, although there’s not a lot of movie left after that. But what they’re doing is very different.
S1: Yeah, so here in a cell.
S2: So now we get into. Yeah. The true vortex of weirdness of this movie and Oklahoma comes back in a big way. So after her hug with the janitor, Jesse Buckley’s wandering through the halls, she does see Jesse Plemons again. They sort of spot each other from a distance down the hall. And then this wonderful, strange, incomprehensible dance sequence ensues, where a double for each of them dressed exactly like them. But, you know, a dancer, in fact, I think maybe the young dancers that we saw before the hall rehearsing Oklahoma, I don’t know if they’re the same people or not.
S1: I’m not sure I looked at that. But you don’t really see their faces in that earlier.
S2: Yeah, at any rate, they they echo those two young people that the janitor had early, earlier passed, you know, rehearsing in the hall, the two Jessy’s you know, the two actual actors we’ve been watching all along as these characters kind of drop away and their two dance doubles dressed exactly like them, go into this extended kind of romantic dance sequence that reminded me of the, you know, like an MGM dance sequence within a movie. Right. Those moments in Singin in the Rain or American and Paris, where the story drops away and Cyd Charisse shows up and, you know, there’s this non-negative dance sequence that happens and that happens all over the school. It’s quite extended. This is one of those moments where I thought, like, although I’m enjoying this and the idea of it is great. It is extending the movie to two hours and 10 minutes. And I kind of get the idea of. But it culminates Oklahoma style in this fight dance in the gym where a different dancer shows up. Who’s a double for the janitor. Right. This kind of older man wearing the janitorial costume suit and and then a knife fight breaks out during the dance. Something again, that happens in Oklahoma. And the finale of this knife fight is that the dancer janitor kills the dancer Jessie, who’s then. Oh, and snow is falling, which at this point makes perfect sense. For some reason, even though they’re in a school gym, the same snow is filtering down. It’s been snowing throughout the whole movie, which I think really speaks to, you know, it’s a beautiful detail that speaks to the interpenetration of inside and outside, right inside and outside of a building and also inside and outside of these people’s minds. Yeah, absolutely. And who shows up to sweep up the snow after the dancer Jessie has died, but the real janitor guy. So now we’re at least back in a world where that fantasy dance sequence has ended. But what does it mean? OK, here. And here’s where I just going to get into some flat, like bring out the pragmatic robot. What does it mean? That fake dancer janitor killed fake dancer Jesse?
S1: And, you know, if you were going to map that onto some kind of allegorical graph that was equal to this movie in Oklahoma, I mean, what happens with that dance sequence is the I don’t know the characters names in Oklahoma, but the female character of the Jesse Buckley character or whatever is has taken a lot of them and has like a fantasy dream about her two suitors. One of the people who’s pursuing her kills the other one. And so I think, like, if you want to do the pragmatic thing with this, you’re seeing the old version of the gender killing the young version of the janitor. I mean, it’s old age destroying youth.
S2: Right? Right. And also the fantasy dream of romance that that dancer. Yeah. Jake represented. Right. Having been killed by the reality of loneliness and old age.
S1: Yeah, exactly. Do we see either young Jake or Jessie again after that sequence? I think they just disappear from the movie.
S2: Right. I think the next time we see them is in this closing scene that we’re about to talk about.
S1: That’s right. Yes. So you then follow the janitor who has cleaned up this thing or whatever as he leaves the school gets into his truck, but he doesn’t start it. He just sits there as snow is falling around him. And I don’t know if it’s a dialogue or whatever, but you get the impression that he’s waiting there to freeze to death, basically, that he’s just decided this is how you first start seeing him shiver and then he just takes off all of his clothing, what he’s trying to speed that process along.
S2: He also is remembering in fragments, little scenes from his childhood that we see. So we see some more David Thewlis and Toni Collette right moments from his childhood. And he seems to be having this kind of emotional breakdown or crisis of some kind.
S1: So he’s in the car, he’s got naked, and then you see through the windshield like it’s being Predrag. There, this Tulsa town ad from the 50s, a black and white sort of animated ad about the queen of Tulsa town and an ice cream kind of fantasy land.
S2: Brilliant piece of animation, by the way, that has a lot of strange, scary details in it, like the moment when the little ice cream man sort of forms from the ground and then, yes, the queen of Chilltown steps on it and squashes him down.
S1: Yeah, it’s an amazing little thing. But then there’s this animated pig that I think comes from the ad, begins talking to the janitor and encourages him to sort of follow it, says follow me or something like that. The janitor at this point, totally naked, follows the animated pig back into the high school. And as they go, the pig has this conversation about. Essentially fate, I guess I should say also that this pig is dripping blood, it’s apparently being eaten by maggots.
S2: Yeah, he’s he is one of the maggot pigs, right? I mean, he establishes that. He says, hey, I’m a pig being eaten by maggots. It is what it is.
S1: Yeah. Somebody’s got to be a pig eaten by maggots or whatever, which I think is sort of somebody is also got to be a high school janitor. You have a shot of this naked elderly janitor following an animated pig down a high school hallway, and the pigs are something like, let’s get you dressed. And then there’s a snatch cut to the high school auditorium where the Oklahoma State is still basically up there. But there’s also a Nobel Prize podium and. Jake, not the janitor, but Jake is standing behind it wearing a tuxedo and old age makeup, but bad high school, old age.
S2: Right. And this is this is key because we saw a good old age makeup in earlier in the movie on Tony Abbott’s character and David Thewlis character. And suddenly, as you say, it’s this clearly amateur level high school makeup with big dark creases for for wrinkles, et cetera, which not only Jake is wearing, but everyone in the audience is wearing, including all the characters we’ve seen his mother, his father, Jesse Buckley, even the ice cream girls are there.
S1: Yes. And he gives them the speech from a beautiful mind, which verbatim. Yeah, verbatim.
S2: Oh, wow. I hadn’t seen that movie in so long that I got the reference, but not that it was actually lifted yet.
S1: Also on that shelf in the bedroom is a DVD of A Beautiful Mind. The speech that he gives us is verbatim from that, and it’s a speech about how love is the most important mathematical equation. It’s the John Nash speech from from that movie. I didn’t look to see if it was cut the same way, but it has that sort of stuff. When he starts talking about love, it cuts to Jesse Buckley or Jesse Buckley sitting in the audience of the Nobel Prize ceremony with tears in her eyes and so on and so forth. My read of that is that the gender is trying to kind of imagine what it would have been like if you had a long and successful and happy life, because that’s kind of alien to him to stage that scene. His brain goes to the end of a beautiful mind, which is either seen recently or likes very much, I would guess.
S2: Right. He’s kind of making a mash up of my beautiful mind in Oklahoma, two works and that have been meaningful to him and making it into his ideal life. And if you go to your theory that this whole thing is a figment of the janitor’s imagination, this would almost be his dying fantasy, right?
S1: Exactly. Yeah. This is him thinking as he’s sort of freezing to death or in the novel, he cuts his own throat at some point. But whatever’s happened to him at this point, his mind is not is the story that he’s crafted is kind of falling apart, let’s say, right, Jake. An old age makeup sings Lonely Room from Oklahoma, which is a song sung by Jud Fry, who is the character in the Dream Ballet, who stabs the other love her to death. And it’s a song specifically about imagining a life where the line is like something like all the things that I wish for turn out how I want them to be. It’s not a movie, but it was in them. It was in the original musical. So he sings a song about imagining. A life in which he was happy, which she’s just done.
S2: Yeah, I wasn’t familiar with that song, not having seen the stage musical Oklahoma, only the movie. And I thought it had maybe been written by Charlie Kaufman as a you know, as a fantasy addition to the to the cast album of Oklahoma, because it suits the themes of this movie and in general, Kaufman’s obsession so completely.
S1: Yeah, it’s a very authentic addition to the musical, because it wasn’t it, but it was not in the movie. That song was only used in the stage. OK, so he finishes singing the song and then he gets a standing ovation from the audience. And then there’s a shot of him standing up. He’s wearing the beautiful man costume. He’s a white guy and wearing a Nobel Prize medal. And that really, really slowly kind of that shock fades to blue over the sound of all this applause that he’s getting first performance. And that blue then kind of fades in on a shot of the high school.
S2: The next morning is the blue sky or buried under snow.
S1: But it is not the pickup truck with the genders driving it. It appears to be from the shape, the car that we’re just driving.
S2: All right. So in that, since I keep making you channel this pragmatic robot who has some sort of logic, like I’m not channeling it. I mean, I feel like obviously both of us would agree that this movie doesn’t want all those questions to be answered. Right. It wants there to be a lot of open interpretations. It wants to be enigmatic and mysterious. And I love that about it. But I still can’t help asking a question about the very last shot that we see after that fade to blue and that becomes the blue sky of the next day. Right. And and we see the parking lot with this shape of a car underneath snow. What do you think from a pragmatic point of robot view is happening in that car? I mean, it’s clearly the car of Jesse Plemons and Jesse Buckley. It’s not shaped like the pickup truck of the janitor. So even if they were figments of his imagination, there does seem to be some material reality of something that happened in that car the night before. So when you picture, you know, getting a squeegee and squeezing off the windshield of that car, are there two frozen bodies inside? Are there one frozen body? Is there no one? Are there just to Orio Burgers or I guess this got thrown away, but like, what do you see as being the coda to this movie, if there were one?
S1: I think it’s that some piece of this story. I mean, again, pragmatic robot explanation, that’s one piece of this story has bled into reality that the janitor leaves the pickup truck and dies or kills himself, freezing to death. Whatever happens to him on the inside the school, I think we can assume it’s not great. And but in the morning, his car has been replaced with the car from his story. I mean, I think it’s just a gesture towards magic, really, or an inexplicable way. That story’s complete until.
S2: Yeah, it’s this Meditech actual moment, right. Where something that seems like it was a fantasy actually reveals itself as true. Which reminds me of this. I don’t think I’ve ever told you about this, but all the times that I watched Wizard of Oz growing up, I always had this belief that at the very end of the movie, when it goes back to black and white and she wakes up in her own bed and, you know, the farmhands are all there and everything that after she says there’s no place like home that the camera tilts down to below the bed and below the bed are the ruby shoes. And only the ruby shoes are in color. Everything else is still in black and white. There was some period where I didn’t see that movie for many years because, you know, it was before DVDs or whatever. And then when I saw it again as an adult or maybe a teenager, I remember being shocked that the Ruby shoes weren’t under the bed. That was just something that I had imagined into the movie that I thought should be there because it would prove that there was some reality to her visit to Oz. Somewhat immaterial, but maybe that’s kind of the role the place plays at the end, right?
S1: I think anyway, I that’s my my take on it. I just have to tell you one thing, which is that my my mother’s was a devout story. Yes. Which is that she they used to run it on TV every year, I think around Thanksgiving or whatever. Anyway, they had a black and white TV and she’d never seen it on film. But she loved the movie and watch it every year, every year, every year, and had been told that it was in color. And then finally one year they went over to another family’s house where they had a color TV and the movie sucked up. And of course it opens in black and white. And she just started crying and crying and crying. Oh, it’s gone terribly wrong. And it wasn’t in color. And she waited four years to see it.
S2: But then she must have been so thrilled when the color kicked in.
S1: They explained it to her and then it then it happened or whatever. But her initial reaction to the opening shots was just extreme childhood distress.
S2: Oh, my God, that’s so sweet. You should write about that. All right. That is basically the explanation for the car at the end, right? It’s the remnant of mystery from what the pragmatic robot can’t explain.
S1: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think that’s the way I read it.
S5: All right. Well, that’s our show. Thank you so much, Matthew. That was one of my favorite spoilers I’ve done in a while because that movie has actual riddles to untangle. And it’s really fun doing it here. It was a blast. Thanks so much for having me. Let’s do it again very soon. I should mention that you wrote a piece on the book in the movie and comparing and contrasting some of the things about them, which should be up on Slate and readable by the time you listen to this podcast. So if you want to read some more of Matt Decem on thinking of ending things, go to browbeaten look for our producer. Today was Rosemary Bellson. Please, as always, subscribe to the show and you can read us in iTunes as well if you want to bring other people’s attention to this point, our special and if you have ideas of future movies or TV shows or even podcasts that you would like us to spoil, you can write us at spoilers at Slate Dotcom for Matthew. I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks so much for listening. We will bring you next when a special.