2/8/21: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) — Portrait of the Blocked Artist as an Old Man #poetry

2/8/21: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) — Portrait of the Blocked Artist as an Old Man #poetry

Charlie Kaufman is a surrealist of the subjective point of view

The setting of his films is the unsettled psyche

An individual’s mind in Cinemascope

A mind projected on a screen

or digitalized

and streamed

Streaming of consciousness

Epic views of microscopic events

Thoughts and feelings made cinematic

ripples in a person’s conscious and unconscious and subconscious and pre-conscious seas

All of the layers of human existence are fair game

our perceptions, our realities, our empathy. our lack thereof, our wounds, our blindness, our emotions

and what lies beneath them

“Inside Out” (Disney/Pixar) on steroids and for adults

Kaufman made an animated cartoon about a psychological disorder being penetrated by love

Cupid’s arrow lances a psychic boil

or at least the process begins

in “Anomalisa”

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is live action

“live action” seems a funny way to describe Kaufman’s films

To be or not to be

Is that really the question?

It is for Kaufman’s characters

For us all?


Kaufman’s movies are told in a peculiar and challenging way

a distinctive voice

but the movies are easier to follow once you know who you are dealing with …

Isolated intellectual janitors are big on Netflix this season

The chess master mentor custodian of “The Queen’s Gambit”


the high school maintenance man

who is the host of the archetypes

animus, anima, mother, father,

and the arts, poseurs, ideas and pontifications:

Pauline Kael, John Cassavetes, the canon of the American musical theater, David Foster Wallace, Ron Howard, Dairy Queen and some writers and visual artists that I never heard of …

in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

The conceit of this hypnotic movie

where set pieces are connected by long drives through a snowstorm

of near zero visibility —fogged windows and blizzard conditions, presented with an air of resignation,

an acceptance of mortality,

a shoulder shrug at the notion that disappointment is the primary emotion attending the human condition,

the conceit of this hypnotic movie,

is that every character and every allusion to anything

exists only in the mind of a sad, alienated, lonely, elderly man

speeches taken from film criticism, screenplays of famous commercial films, books of poetry etc.

and the memories of a person who rarely or perhaps never did a thing that he wanted to do

never kissed a girl

or sang a song

or wrote a poem

or did anything more than the requirements of bare survival

cleaning other people’s toilets

invisible to others except when he was the object of their ridicule

a man

weighed down by regret

locked in his adolescent bedroom

is it fear or inertia?

who condemns himself as a failure

a life of consuming books and paintings and DVDs

and remembering every human interaction that never happened beyond his imagination

remembering every rejection that he survived

how fast he was discounted and dismissed

he didn’t have to say a word

he looked at people and he heard the words form in their minds

“Go away!”

Humiliated by his strangeness

Staring across diners at pretty, young waitresses

Averting his gaze when they look back at him

Feeling like a sex offender

Having once imagined an ideal female partner

but now too old to even keep the thread of his own imagination

exiled for so long from his own masturbatory desire

he can’t even recall what it was

that he liked in a woman

trying to imagine warmth and connection

grimacing in a constipated way …

He listened and watched so many writers and actors and singers and dancers

and now as an old man he has no opinion about their work

He is just an old man happy to listen to anybody

He recalls their creations

and is grateful for the illusion of company

He’s not there

and they aren’t either

He can’t be provoked anymore

He can’t even connect to an image in his mind

The spectres in his mind come and go

The center doesn’t hold

but something is there

one thing is left

the pain is there

the dead don’t feel pain

His soul is pain

that’s all …

No wonder he is

thinking of ending things.

I knew a man in Rochester …

I was friendly with him

We met at the bagel place in the strip mall

He wore a jacket that was a little too short

and a tweed cap

He was nice and sad

He told me about a young woman

who worked at the Worldwide News

behind the cash register

He said that she was so pretty

She could have had a job as a receptionist at one of the big law firms downtown

He didn’t have intellectual interests like the protagonist in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

but he had his avoidances

the stock market

the sports page

the news


He told me that he wanted to be a pilot when he was young

He told me about old time record stores

where you went in a booth and listened to a side before you decided if you wanted to buy something

An old lady walked by and said, “he never did anything like that”

I suspected that she was right

He was a watcher

He heard about those stores

Always wanted to go to one

Never did

I don’t think he ever broke apart like Charlie Kaufman’s victim

The old man in Rochester wasn’t an artist

Kaufman’s guy was

What is more pitiable than an artist who has never acted on his or her impulse

who betrays his own essence

or worse never understands her essence

not oppressed like closeted gay people in the old days

who were shamed by the general culture

the blocked artist is the victim of an existential malaise

something beyond social or psychological oppression

a mysterious illness

deserving of great sympathy and largely misunderstood or ignored

Rochester man was just an ordinary introverted guy

who felt life passed him by

and the feeling became a self-fulfilling prophecy

“Don’t let your mother ruin your life” he told me

He didn’t know my mother

“Find a nice girl and make some money”

The lonely Rochester man was a simple man and he had simple answers

answers that he could keep track of

He just couldn’t reach his promised land

I don’t know why — his malady is as sad as that of the failed artist

If an unhappy person reaches old age

even he or she knows that there is no one to blame for their life of regret

except themselves

and that is just not fair

Some babies go to Limbo

and some old people go to Purgatory

through no fault of their own

Eleanor Rigby and Father MacKenzie

where do they all belong


A Carmelite monk in a bare apartment drinking himself to sleep

Lives apart

Nature has miscarriages

Children die of cancer

some beings never come to term

Rochester man must have passed away by now

I’m sure he died alone

having connected with one or two of his final healthcare workers

in a way that approximated friendship

The Rochester man was the epitome of Thoreau’s famous “most men”

who live “lives of quiet desperation”

He was only a cousin to Charlie Kaufman’s blocked artist

who knew how to love women and write and paint and sing and form intellectual treatises

but never did

but both suffered

because …

everything doesn’t come to term

and that that doesn’t fully grow deserves our sympathy

Charlie Kaufman wrote a screenplay about suicide

I wrote a poem about compassion for those who never get to enjoy the parts of life that we love

and an admiration for their heroism

The woman with down’s syndrome rides her bike to her job at McDonald’s

and has a social life and a career

The people who can’t access their desires and attractions and their essential natures

still have their imaginations and interests and glancing connections in rehab centers and coffee shops

and maybe that is something to celebrate too

Do people live lives of quiet desperation or live all of the life that they can handle?

I think it is the latter

The suicidal impulse is in the imagination of the screenwriter, not the heart of the janitor

Somewhere an old person about to die

turns her face to the sunlight coming through her hospital window

and is grateful

and somewhere a disappointed person who knows that their dreams never came true

gets up in the morning and has coffee and a bagel

Books need edgy chapters but the good ones end somewhere else.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

2 thoughts on “2/8/21: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) — Portrait of the Blocked Artist as an Old Man #poetry

  1. I find this poem compassionate and very forgiving of those who are scorned by those who believe they have not fulfilled their potential. They should be celebrated for getting up in the morning and having their bagel. They “live all of the life that they can handle.” I love that! I feel a little foolish, like a bad student, not taking the time to give further study and thought to this poem. It deserves more than two readings! How wonderful for us and you that you continue to create. I hope I can find this movie. Thank you, Rick.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s