Iain Reid’s ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is now a Charlie Kaufman movie

Kingston-based author Iain Reid has done what authors both fear and love: handed over his story to the big screen. But in Reid’s case, he was delighted when Hollywood came calling in the form of Charlie Kaufman, the Academy Award-winning writer and director behind Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Anomolisa. 

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things. David Thewlis as Father, Jessie Buckley as Young Woman in I’m Thinking Of Ending Things. Credit: Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX © 2020

Kaufman wrote, produced, and directed I’m Thinking of Ending Things, based on Reid’s 2016 critically-acclaimed novel of the same name. It was declared one of the best books of 2016 by National Public Radio. The film will be released on Netflix on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. 

Shortly after the book’s release, Reid’s agents started talking about shopping the story for a film. He didn’t think much would come of it. 

But then he was told that Charlie Kaufman was interested, and that delighted Reid.

“I was really shocked,” said Reid. “I was shocked and surprised that it got to him that he had read it. And, of course, he likes it. But yeah, just the fact that he did read it. I didn’t want to get my hopes up or anything, but I was certainly pleasantly surprised when things progressed.”

Reid’s agent had some interest early on from other directors and producers, but none were piquing Reid’s interest. 

“At first I thought it was kind of cool to talk to some producers,” said Reid. “But a lot of them felt disingenuous. There were always a bunch of other people on the call and it often felt like they didn’t even read the book, like they just wanted to acquire the rights and maybe do something later. But with Charlie, it was just the two of us on the phone, and we just talked. About lots of other books, music, and movies. And he was just a really pleasant, kind, generous, humble guy, and I really enjoyed that conversation.”

Reid acknowledged what many readers surely have thought: this book does not lend itself easily to the screen.

“It’s an odd, challenging movie,” says Reid. “I loved the script, and it’s beautifully shot. And the acting is really, really amazing. The whole cast is brilliant. These roles aren’t easy. I was able to go and see them work on set and then seeing the final product — they’re so talented. I’m really grateful for that.”

The film’s stars include Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad), Jessie Buckley (Chernobyl, Fargo), Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, The United States of Tara), and David Thewlis (Harry Potter film series, Wonder Woman).

I'm Thinking of Ending Things. Jessie Buckley as Young Woman in I'm Thinking of Ending Things. Cr. Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX © 2020
I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Jessie Buckley as Young Woman in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Credit Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX © 2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic limited the amount of pre-release exposure at film festivals that were slated to screen I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Reid is grateful for the Netflix platform during a time when movie theatres are seeing reduced audiences.

“Netflix stepped up and made a strange movie that is really sort of unclassifiable,” said Reid. “I really commend them for that. In a lot of places, this would be considered more of an arthouse movie. In the traditional world of studios, they probably would not have made a movie like this and put the money out for it. Netflix did, and I think they’re giving filmmakers like Charlie an opportunity to make weird, different, odd, challenging movies like this one. Charlie just does what he feels like he has to do. It’s an inspiring approach not to try and fit something into what we think it should be.”

While Reid was open to the idea of I’m Thinking of Ending Things becoming a movie, and was enthusiastic about working with Kaufman, he acknowledges the book and film are separate entities.

“I read the screenplay in one sitting,” said Reid. “I thought it was brilliant and unlike anything I had ever read, so I immediately read it again and was excited the whole time. It felt like a distinct piece of work. I think the book is the book, and the film is the film. I love what Charlie’s done with it, and where he’s taken it.” 

Reid also made a point of letting Kaufman have the freedom to interpret the book in his own.

“I feel pretty fortunate,” said Reid. “Charlie and Netflix were open to having me be a part of the process and they agreed that I could be a co-producer. We get along very well, and I didn’t want to be in the way and make demands, but I wanted to be available kind of as a consultant if they needed me. I thought, maybe they’ll see something in this story that I don’t.  Sometimes a book isn’t finished until someone else reads it.”

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the novel, is the narrative of a woman who has conflicting feelings about her new relationship as she travels with her boyfriend to meet his parents for the first time. There is tension and confusion at his parents’ farmhouse, and much is explained, and left unexplained, about her boyfriend’s life at home. 

The premise of the film is largely the same, and it tackles our assumptions about identity and relationships in Kaufman’s signature surrealist style.

“The dreaminess of the novel is what I responded to most,” said Kaufman in a release from Netflix. “It felt like it existed in some sort of slightly irrational realm. Once I started writing, there were things in the book that I wanted to explore and understand more. I wanted to give the woman character a sense of existence, an agency, that almost by definition she doesn’t have in the book. And I wanted to make the story more complicated in terms of human interaction.”

Fans of Reid’s second novel, Foe, can look forward to a film version of it as well — it’s been optioned for an upcoming movie, and Reid is currently working on the screenplay, which will ad screenplay writer to the list of new titles for him, along with movie producer.

“None of these titles really feel authentic or real,” he joked. “Everything has been delayed for Foe, but I think it was good to slow down. It’s still progressing. Even a year or two ago, I didn’t think I’d be doing anything in the film world. I was really happy to get a Canadian publisher, and then an American publisher — because it’s a weird book. It’s just the way it goes when you put something out into the world, sometimes people react to it. There’s no way to predict some of this stuff.”

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the novel, is available from all major booksellers, and the movie version will be available on Netflix on September 4.

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