I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

Impression: Oh, where do I begin. I like Charlie Kaufman‘s films. A lot! I’ve seen all the ones he has directed and all the one’s he has written. They are quirky and mindbending and definitely the most creative thing coming out of mainstream Hollywood. So, this movie. It’s a relatively simple set up, a woman is going with her boyfriend to his parents house for the first time. At first it seems like a fairly normal movie about 2 hipsters driving to a dinner, having some pseudointellectual conversations on the way. Slowly some weirdness creeps in. First she talks about a biology paper, then she’s apparently a poet, and recites a super long quite powerful poem, at some point she is a painter, then a waitress. Stranger and stranger things keep happening and you realize there is this dark undercurrent, but this is not a horror film, things are just off, and no one seems to realize it.

The point of the movie seems to be that it’s all performance: they are all just going through the motion (the dance?) of saying something to keep conversations going, and what they say is unimportant. Whether they are talking art or science or film, all that matters is that the other person doesn’t quite agree and keeps the conversation going. It’s a little weird to make a very talky movie where what they talk about is completely irrelevant. The characters never notice that their conversations are non-sequiturs or that the stories they tell to each other about themselves change or that who they are talking to ages or changes clothes or that sometimes they are a totally different person. They just keep talking. Sometimes the characters get emotional for no reason. Behind the endless talks there are possibly some truths about anxieties of modern life, but there might as well not be. It seems like none of that is the point.

After finishing watching the movie, I felt I needed to know a lot more about the musical Oklahoma (I know nothing more than it exists) to understand the plot. But instead I got sidetracked and read about the novel on which it was based, and it seems to have been pretty true to it, and there was no mention of the musical in the plot of the book, so maybe it’s not so central.

I don’t know, it’s a film that makes you think, and it looks good. But… did it really need to be 2 hours 14 minutes long to make you think about the purpose of conversations, about how we relate to each other and how well we really understand each other? I would argue it would have worked much better as a short film.

Facts: A couple on a surrealist road trip through snow and windswept Oklahoma.

My Buddhist reading:  Idle chatter is one of the 10 non-virtuous actions in Buddhism. The film uses a lot of idle chatter (which passes for deep conversation) to illustrate the pointlessness of it.

The Dance of Reality (2013)

Impression: I think I saw another Jodorowsky movie, possibly El Topo 7 or 8 years ago and all I can remember is that it was set in a desert and it was very strange.  This one is also very strange. It’s a surrealist version of the director’s childhood told through a series of vignettes with a backdrop of politics of 1930s Chile and mixed with some commentary on religion. It’s impossible to extract what real event may have inspired each short story from the fanciful tale that he spins around it, but maybe that’s not the point. The point is maybe how our imagination influences memory and distorts reality. In the film, his mother sings all her lines opera style, and has magical powers. She is able to summon his father back from a quest where he has gotten stuck and lost his memory, by tying a rock to balloons which then track him down in a town far away, drop on his tin roof and return his memories. Unlike his mother with her magic, his father is a stoic atheist, who worships Stalin in an almost religious way. The young Alejandro faces a series of struggles to do things to win approval of his mother and father, but it’s a balance, and usually winning one, means losing another. A number of other visually stunning sequences stand out as well. As a boy. Alejandro likes to throw rocks into the sea. He is told this will kill all the fish, and soon after, a giant tsunami-like wave spits out all the fish onto the beach, the seagulls start eating them, and he is torn between feeling responsible for bringing a demise to all the fish and feeling good about feeding all the birds. What an awesome metaphor for how any action has ambiguous consequences?!  People’s motivations are also laid bare. In my favorite sequence, a group of diseased people is quarantined on the beach and given no food or water, and his father wants to use the situation to be a hero. He  breaks through the quarantine with his donkey cart full of water, which he passes out. Once they’ve had enough water they turn on his donkeys and kill them for meat. He is flabbergasted and yells out “But how will I bring you more water  tomorrow if you kill the donkeys?” to which they reply “But we are hungry today!” It’s one of those movies whose visuals and stories stay with you for days.

Facts:  The director recalls through a surrealist lense what it was like growing up in a small town in Chile in the 1930s.