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There’s a moment in The End of the Tour when David Lipsky is about to say goodbye to David Foster Wallace. Left alone briefly, Lipsky rushes from room to room, dictaphone in hand, attempting to absorb every detail of the house. “Dogs, Alanis Morissette poster, a draped Barney towel in the bedroom. In the bathroom, postcards: the Clintons, St Ignatius prayer…” Into the writing room he goes, which, unlike the rest of the house, is without light—only the outline of a computer screen visible. He is fascinated by Wallace, and still perplexed, aware that an unseen life remains here, obscured in the dark.
The End of the Tour, directed by James Ponsoldt, is adapted from the book And of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, written by David Lipsky, a reporter for Rolling Stone, who spent five days with Wallace at the end of his release tour for Infinite Jest. Lipsky meets Wallace at his home in Bloomington, Illinois, and they travel together to Minneapolis, where Wallace gives a final reading for the tour. Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), also a writer, is both jealous and admiring of his talent. Wallace (Jason Segel) is guarded, wary of Lipsky’s ability to shape public perception of him.
What results is an interesting, sometimes intense dynamic between the two central characters: the reporter and subject, the fan and the artist. But as the two travel together, they sort of become bros—riffing, smoking, driving, discussing relationships, America, the illusions of fame, the importance of authenticity in art. What makes that more compelling is that these are actually Lipsky’s questions, and Wallace’s words, the screenplay has been mainly adapted from the interview transcripts provided in Lipsky’s book.
Infinite Jest, the 1079 page experimentalist epic Wallace had just released (and the novel he struggled to follow), looms in the background of the film. In the film, one of the contentions between Lipsky and Wallace is the author’s insistence of his own normality, which Lipsky cannot reconcile with the visionary work. Segel gives a subtle performance of Wallace—he is funny and compassionate, and there is a sensitivity to his silences. But Eisenberg is equally impressive. He brings a familiar, nervous energy to dialogue and behind that, a deeper emotional nuance. As Lipsky, he can be jarring in his persistent, intrusive questioning, and it may be his desire to understand the author that fuels this.
The film is not a biopic of Wallace, a neat summation of his life. But it is the portrayal of a fascinating conversation between two writers, an exploration of their ideas. It’s also about writing, about the mysterious and difficult bond it can create.