When Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky embarked on a road trip from New York to Illinois in 1996 to interview David Foster Wallace he was unsure of the kind of story he would uncover. He had recently read Walter Kirn's glowing review of Infinite Jest which led him to read what stands as Wallace's magnum opus. Lipsky's own novel, The Art Fair, was released that same year to critical praise but nothing compared to the magnitude of Wallace's second novel. Lipsky was envious of Wallace, but it was his unshakable curiosity of meeting the man behind the work that ultimately led him to insist on covering a topic that Rolling Stone had not reported on in over a decade: a fiction writer.
Over the course of five days, he accompanied Wallace on the end of his promotional tour in what would turn out to be much more than a profile piece. Interestingly enough, the interview was never ran in Rolling Stone at the time probably in large part due to the lack of sensational and shocking content. In 2009, Lipsky published a piece on Wallace that was awarded the National Magazine Award, and followed it with a book length transcript of the massive interview in 2010 titled Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Even though these publications were greatly appreciated by Wallace fans and critics, the circumstances that they were released under were anything but joyous, as David Foster Wallace tragically took his own life in 2008.
Next week, the adaptation of Lipsky's book is set to release in theaters across the country with the name The End of the Tour. While this film is already getting significant buzz from respected publications given its subject matter, there seems to be two distinct spectrums of opinion. There are those who are declaring it a triumph and others who are writing it off for various reasons, such as Wallace would not appreciate it, that it is an odd bromance, or even just because they do not want their favorite writer being commercialized to the masses on the big screen for popcorn level enjoyment. I maintain the opinion that Wallace was the best writer of his generation, and that Infinite Jest is the best work of fiction released since Catcher in the Rye. When considering this movie, I tried to detach myself from that fandom in order to evaluate it in on its merits as a motion picture instead of trying to compare it to Wallace's decorated fiction itself.
The End of the Tour is an almost two hour film that spends the vast majority of its runtime displaying the two men conversing. For those that are unable to enjoy a movie that does not have action, violence, sex or various other common Hollywood ploys, this movie will be boring disappoint and you will likely stop watching twenty minutes in. However, it cannot be said enough that eliminating these normal preferences for just two hours is strongly recommended.
This film is sad, funny, unsettling, and poignant. It has the capability of causing significant internal thought about what it means to be a human being, which falls in line with Wallace's notion that "fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being." Most of the dialogue is taken verbatim from Lipsky's book which allows viewers to hear the words of David Foster Wallace audibly almost seven years after his death. The biggest question surrounding this movie was how would Jason Segel be as David Foster Wallace?
Thankfully, Segel did his homework. He read Infinite Jest prior to filming and has even called it a "roll of a lifetime." The comedic actor bravely took on the role of the most brilliant fiction writer of his generation, and the results are more impressive than probably anyone could have imagined. Everything from his spot on verbal delivery to his facial expressions and idiosyncrasies is uncanny. The amount of respect that he has for Wallace is evident, and throughout the whole movie he continues to deliver an effective David Foster Wallace persona. Since the film is dependent on the conversations between Wallace and Lipsky, Segel's acting is not enough to keep it afloat, but Jesse Eisenberg gives a valiant performance of his own as David Lipsky. He is timid in the right moments, curious in others, and always preoccupied with what is going on inside the mind of his interviewee.
When the book tour is over and Lipsky returns to New York, the bond that he formed with Wallace over that short period of time is resounding. This should not be called a bromance, despite the mutual respect and admiration that they share for one another, and the personal conversations about life, love, and the human condition is a representation of what is sometimes lost in modern day society. It is refreshingly beautiful to see two intelligent men opening up to one another by sharing their fears, hopes, and personal achievements and disappointments. The film begins when Lipsky learns of Wallace's death, and then proceeds to chronicle the interview, only to end with the visibly shaken David Lipsky giving a reading from his book about the late writer while allowing the tears on his face to remain visible to audience as his voice projects out with a noticeable tremor.
The End of the Tour is focused on human connection through conversing openly, and considering that the contents of these conversations came directly from two perspicacious writers, it never ceases to fascinate and enlighten. It is distinctly self-aware, and for that, it demands viewers to pull off several layers to become self-conscious and full of questions about the aspects of life that are rarely talked about in public, let alone with a new acquaintance. There has not been two actors from the same movie nominated for an Oscar in the same category for over twenty years, but Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg are both worthy of being considered for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The End of the Tour abandons conventional, popular film tropes and ideologies for a stripped down, bare bones look at what it is like to be a human being, and in 21st century society and entertainment, that is not only rare, but deceptively powerful and thought provoking.