In 1996, an American college professor turned the literary world by storm with his post-modern tale of a North American dystopia. David Foster Wallace’s 1,097-page encyclopaedic novel, Infinite Jest, was lauded by critics and even proclaimed by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. The book has since been translated into six other languages, reaching new audiences and creating new fans for the author from around the globe. Sadly, Wallace took his own life 12 years later. He was just 46.
After the novel was published, Wallace went on a promotion tour across the US. David Lipsky, a young writer at Rolling Stone Magazine, had read the book and he convinced his editor to let him join Wallace at the end of the tour for a story that would be published in the magazine. Up to that time, Rolling Stone had shied away from interviewing fiction writers, preferring instead to focus on music and politics.
Lipsky flew out to Wallace’s home on the outskirts of Bloomington, Illinois (and then on the road to Minnesota), and the two men spent the next five days together discussing literature, pop culture, depression, loneliness, the future of the Internet and fame – subjects Wallace tackled in his novel. Lipsky’s interview never made it into Rolling Stone but it did get re-worked into a memoir entitled, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, which was published in 2010 – two years after Wallace’s death. It is this book that was the source material for the film, THE END OF THE TOUR, starring Jesse Eisenberg (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) as Lipsky and Jason Segel (TV’s HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER) as Wallace.
If you haven’t read Infinite Jest or any of Wallace’s other publications, you won’t be lost in the woods watching THE END OF THE TOUR. However, it will certainly help if you have, otherwise you’ll be scratching your head wondering why you’re sitting through a film that is all talk and no action. It’s not a bore-fest, by any means, but if you prefer films where you can sit back and turn off your brain for 90 minutes, then you should probably skip seeing this one.
What was Lipsky’s motivation for wanting to write the story? Was it to get into the head of the writer who was being hailed as the new voice of his generation? Was it to win Wallace’s approval of his own writing work or was it to hope that some of Wallace’s genius would rub off on him? We learn in the film that it was all of the above. Lipsky’s own book, The Art Fair, had just been published but, while it had met with critical approval, he hadn’t received anywhere near the same acclaim and attention that Wallace had received with his. Lipsky wanted what Wallace had – fame – but, what we also learn from their conversations, Wallace didn’t care to be considered to be special or great. He just wanted to be a regular guy.
Segel does some of his best work here as he captures Wallace’s quirkiness and melancholy. Following Wallace’s death, his father said that the writer had battled depression for over 20 years and was taking medication for it. The two men do discuss his depression and we see it in his (Segel’s) eyes and hear it in his voice. What we don’t grasp, though, is how severe it is. Did Lipsky see it or was he too caught up in his own issues to notice?
For Eisenberg, he shows off Lipsky’s insecurity well but doesn’t the actor always portray someone who is insecure? Yes, Woody Allen made a career out of playing nervous and neurotic New York Jews, but does Eisenberg have to as well? Perhaps it’s time he finds himself a new role model. Certainly, he needs to take lessons on how to smoke a cigarette properly! He looked so uncomfortable with a cigarette in his hand or in his mouth.
I won’t go so far as proclaiming this to be a great film. It’s a good film because of its dialogue and its acting. However, I can’t help thinking that Lipsky’s story is less a tribute to his idol than it is an attempt to achieve the fame that he so coveted.
THE END OF THE TOUR was directed by James Ponsoldt, who also helmed THE SPECTACULAR NOW in 2013. Now, after making a number of critically acclaimed indie films, he is moving on to bigger productions and more commercial fare. His next film, a thriller called THE CIRCLE, stars Emma Watson, Ellar Coltrane (BOYHOOD) and Tom Hanks. It is expected to be released next year.
Time Magazine recently published a David Foster Wallace reading list. If you’ve never read any of his works, check the list out and start reading.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 32:05.)
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