Friday, June 23, 2017

The End of the Tour

The End of The Tour (2015; dir. James Ponsoldt) is about genius, creativity, depression, and isolation. It's about a five-day road trip taken by a reporter for the Rolling Stone named David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace, the author of Infinite Jest and other works. After Wallace's death, some twelve years after the road trip, Lipsky assembled his notes and recordings from that experience into a well-reviewed book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself (2010), that became the basis for this film. The principal actors, Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, are both very good in their roles, but it is Segal who gives a truly outstanding performance as Wallace. Rarely has an actor so smoothly and convincingly fit into a role. He made me think not of his impersonation of David Foster Wallace, but of the actual person. It's a flat performance, muted, that captures Wallace's personality, that deftly portrays the delicately interconnected strands of depression, genius, and creativity that led Wallace to his greatest works, especially Infinite Jest.

I never met David Foster Wallace and have never seen him on film either. By saying that Segel successfully impersonates his character I mean that he comes across not as the Hollywood character stereotype so common in even the best films but as a human being: eccentric and weird and strange, brilliant, depressed, lonely, and convinced that his life in the wake of the success of Infinite Jest is about to fall apart or go somewhere quite different from where it's been before.

This movie mainly consists of a series of conversations and interactions between Wallace and Lipsky. They meet and become acquainted. A wary friendship develops (warier on Wallace’s part than Lipsky’s). Wallace at first is suspicious of Lipsky but gradually warms to him, though never completely. They have arguments, they insult each other, they have moments of rapport and understanding.

Even if David Foster Wallace had never written a book, we would think of the character we encounter in the film as brilliant and remarkable. He's a deep thinker, a deep diver, in the Melvillian sense, troubled by his personal failures, or his perception of them. He loves dogs. He is protective of his parents, and when Lipksky says he wants to interview them, Wallace forbids him from doing so. He is also jealous. When Lipsky asks a former girlfriend of Wallace for her phone number so that he can (supposedly) call her for an interview, Wallace becomes enraged and accuses him of “hitting on” her. Eisenberg’s Lipsky is a three-dimensional flawed figure.  He wanders through Wallace's house taking notes about what he sees in each of the rooms. He writes down the names of the medications he finds in the medicine cabinet in Wallace's bathroom. He deliberately intrudes into Wallace's life.

Lipsky is both a reporter and writer who had published a book of short stories at the time of the film (1992) as well as a novel which was positively reviewed but not financially successful. It certainly didn't cause the sensation that Infinite Jest caused. We can sense in Lipsky (as the film portrays him) a certain jealousy or wariness of David Foster Wallace. He's quick to ask awkward questions about Wallace's bouts with depression and rumors that he was addicted to heroin and other subjects. As much as he respects Wallace, as much as he shares certain common in with him as a writer, he seems in many ways clueless. It’s difficult not to find malice behind some of the questions he asks Wallace. Yet this is an unfair statement: I don’t know Lipsky as anything other than a character in a film, and I haven’t read his book, though I plan to. 

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