'The End of the Tour' pays fitting tribute to David Foster Wallace
In 1996, David Lipsky wanted what David Foster Wallace had, what any serious writer would want. Lipsky says as much, both in the pages of the book on which The End of the Tour is based and through Jesse Eisenburg, the actor who portrays Lipsky in the movie version.
At the time both the book and the film take place, Wallace was completing a book tour for his 1,000-page, critically acclaimed postmodern masterpiece Infinite Jest, while Lipsky was a 30-year-old writer for Rolling Stone with a published novel under his belt. He pitches a profile on Wallace and is sent to spend five days with Wallace—first at his home and later in Milwaukee for the last stop of the Infinite Jest tour.
The film is not your standard artist biopic. We never see the artist at work; we don't even catch a glimpse of his writing desk until the last few minutes of the film. In the scene, Lipsky frantically records into a tape recorder every detail about Wallace’s home, while Wallace scrapes snow and ice of his car. Confined to just a few days in the life of Wallace, and a particularly “unreal” few days at that, the script is primarily dialogue between Lipsky and Wallace, conversations that take place in cars, planes, diners, or in Wallace’s home over McDonald’s and a shared Pop-Tart.
The End of the Tour has been controversial among Wallace fans. His estate didn’t want the film to be made, and it’s hard to imagine that Wallace himself would have given it his blessing. Even if you’re unfamiliar with his work or any work about his work, this ambivalence is clear from the film itself. Wallace is brilliantly portrayed by Jason Segel, another initial spot of controversy, as Segel is better known for playing goofballs, not geniuses like Wallace. Still, his Wallace is complicated and contradictory, at once larger than life and as knee deep in it as the rest of us. Eisenberg is also great, though less inspiring, and perhaps that’s appropriate. Lipsky knew he was spending time with a giant; one early scene has him dwarfed by copies of Wallace’s books that literally tower over him.
The End of the Tour is an intriguing film that is a meditation on the brilliance and banality of modern life, a true homage to the late David Foster Wallace.
Image: Courtesy of A24 Films