The seasons are changing, and parents of school-age children may feel it most acutely. Yet time in the COVID-19 era also seems to be standing still, or (like the timeless Groundhog Day) repeating itself. Consequently, our answers to the big questions may be mutable: Does time heal all wounds? Does tragedy + time = comedy?
This week’s highlighted movies invite us to feel and experience time in ways that, in normal circumstances, would be out of the ordinary. These three films offer, or at least suggest, a bouquet of redemption.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman came to public attention as a screenwriter of absurdist, turn-of-the-century fables of colliding realities (Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). When he was given the opportunity, with Synecdoche, New York and Anomalisa, to direct his scripts, he confirmed that linear time was way too prosaic for his restless mind.
If you’re a Kaufman fan, you’ve already seen his latest obsessively constructed opus, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which premiered on Netflix at the front end of the Labor Day weekend. If not, the less you know the better. (Except that a familiarity with the 1950s musical Oklahoma! is exceedingly helpful.) It’s the kind of movie whose surprises, from one moment to the next, and steady accretion of detail provoke evolving interpretations.
So I won’t deprive you of the pleasure of discovery. Well, other than to say that the film, inspired by Canadian author Iain Reid’s 2016 novel, is mainly structured as two long, car-bound, snow-swept conversations between culturally astute college students (Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons) driving to and from his parents’ farmhouse, sandwiched around that awkward and disconcerting visit.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things takes its title from Buckley’s character’s first words, which she says to herself as a tentative first step toward breaking up. The yarn expands and inflates beyond this narrow circumstance to encompass, in my reading, an entire life span. Time is fluid: Now is then is the future. The whole ball of snow, uh, wax, if you will.
I’ll refrain from offering my interpretation of this brilliant movie, but I’ll make this observation: (spoiler alert) Plemons’ performance is an homage and a monument to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (who starred in Synecdoche).
Bay Area filmmaker S. Leo Chiang and Chinese director Yang Sun collaborated on this lovely and touching documentary about the intersection of art, work and family. And time, as the title temptingly promises.
As a way of connecting with and honoring his father, the Shanghai artist Maleonn devises the idea of an ambitious theatrical piece entitled Papa’s Time Machine: A Sci-Fi Stage Play with Mechanical Puppetry. Maleonn’s primary aim, among several goals, is to acknowledge, confront and transcend the fact of his father’s gradually fading memory.