'I'm Thinking of Ending Things' spoilers: What changed in the movie

Spoilers! Why Netflix's 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things' changed the book's 'very violent' ending

Patrick Ryan
USA TODAY

Spoiler alert! This story has major details about the ending of Netflix's "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" so beware if you haven't seen it. 

Where to begin with "I'm Thinking of Ending Things"

Charlie Kaufman's freaky, fantastical relationship drama (now streaming on Netflix) ends not with a bang, but a haunting musical number, as the forlorn Jake (Jesse Plemons) performs for his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) and parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) in a high-school auditorium.

His song choice – "Lonely Room," Jud Fry's ballad from "Oklahoma!" – is no coincidence. Like Jud, Jake is a social outcast who's desperate for romantic connection but struggles to talk to women. The nameless "girlfriend" he brought to his parents' house earlier in the movie? She's just a woman he saw at a bar one time – they never met or had any kind of relationship. In short, she's a delusion Jake created to fill the void of his loneliness. 

"That song, there's just something really exhilarating about it," Plemons says. "It was nice to give that to Jake, even though it's obviously not totally real. I think that's safe to say with that scene." 

Jake (Jesse Plemons, left) and his nameless girlfriend (Jessie Buckley), whose relationship isn't all that it seems.

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Like Iain Reid's 2016 novel on which it's based, "Ending Things" culminates in Jake's imaginary girlfriend running into an empty school on a blizzard-y night, where she finds an older version of Jake, who is now a janitor (played by Guy Boyd). But that is where the book and movie wildly diverge. 

In the film, the janitor and young woman have an emotional conversation about how Jake was just a "creeper" at a bar who she never spoke to and quickly forgot. She bids the janitor goodbye, and Old Jake walks out to his truck and appears to commit suicide. An animated pig shows up and escorts the now-naked man to the "afterlife" through the school hallway. (At least that's how we interpreted it, but it's truly anybody's guess.) 

In a nod to the dream ballet from "Oklahoma!," Jake the janitor (Guy Boyd) imagines what his life could have been like had he found a partner.

The book, meanwhile, is much darker and somehow even more existential. Before leaving Jake's parents' house, his mom gifts the young woman a small portrait of Jake. But when the young woman arrives at the school, she looks at the portrait again. This time, she realizes that she is Jake, and as a figment of his imagination, they are the same person. Old Jake appears and hands her a clothes hanger, which she uses to stab herself in the neck, thus killing them both. 

"It's a very, very violent ending in the book and I didn't want to do that in the movie for a couple of reasons," Kaufman says. "There's a reveal in the book that's kind of a twist ending, and I didn't want the whole thing to hinge on this reveal. So I basically planted the seeds of what the truth of the story is throughout the movie, and tried to treat the ending as if there was something more to learn and explore about this relationship. And also, part of giving Jessie's character more agency was ... I felt like she needed the ability to walk away from (Jake)."

A pig leads the janitor (Guy Boyd) down a hallway at the end of "I'm Thinking of Ending Things."

Kaufman remains purposefully vague about the significance of the animated talking pig at the end, saying, "I always encourage people to have their own interpretations." But he does reveal that they initially planned to use a real pig in the scene, as the animal leads naked Old Jake down the school hallway. 

"It turns out that pigs panic on slippery surfaces and the trainers didn't think they'd be able to get control of the pig once it got onto the floor of the high school," Kaufman says. "The other thing is that pigs can't turn their heads. Their necks don't operate the way other animals' necks operate. So the idea of the pig turning and talking to Jake as he walks down the hall was something we weren't going to be able to accomplish anyway."

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