So we had a rare opportunity to see a movie together, viewing The End of the Tour while I (Walter) was in Winnipeg. We both thought it was an excellent film (especially me), and we decided to write this review together. (It seemed fitting.)
Vic: The End of the Tour stars Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace, the writer of the novel Infinite Jest, which became a major literary event in 1996, and Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky, the Rolling Stone reporter who joined Wallace for the last five days of the Infinite Jest book tour across the U.S. Lipsky’s interview with Wallace was never published in the magazine, but Lipsky wrote a book about those five days called Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which is the basis for the film.
The relationship between the two men starts tentatively (Wallace was a strong introvert) and there was tension throughout their time together, but they do find some connection and their long conversations provide considerable insight into their characters. It’s those intelligent conversations that make The End of the Tour such a great film, and yet they were also the source of my biggest disappointment. I had hoped for more dialogue involving Wallace’s ideas and less about the day-to-day experiences the two men have together.
Walter: Yes, I get this. There were a few shining moments when Wallace's penetrating insights into some aspect of culture emerge. One of those times was fascinating because you watch Lipsky completely miss the significance of the analysis being offered because he is so focused on his own agenda.
However, what made up for the lack of focus on Wallace's ideas (for me) was the interplay of the relationship. The potent juxtaposition between the intellectual sparring on the one hand and the reaching out for friendship (sometimes feigned, sometimes genuine?) on the other was unique and fascinating.
Vic: I can agree with that. Certainly the dialogue remained entertaining throughout. It was often quite funny and, even apart from Wallace’s ideas, involved important reflections on the cult of celebrity and the meaning of life (Note: Wallace committed suicide in 2008 after a long struggle with depression and the medication prescribed to fight it).
I’m not a huge fan of either Segel or Eisenberg, but they seem perfectly cast for this film and they perform brilliantly, with the help of solid direction from James Ponsoldt. A solid ***+ from me.
Walter: Yes, the acting was amazing - particularly Jason Segel. I've read a critique from one friend of Wallace who was not impressed with the depiction (nor the film as a whole), but frankly that article comes across as much less convincing than the film (he seems to have his own biased agenda). I'd be interested in hearing from a broader swath of those who knew Wallace. Eisenberg's performance (which seems typical for him) is of a less attractive character, but it very much captures the complex mix of admiration, jealousy, vulnerability and an insight of a kind quite different than Wallace's, which seems to mark Lipsky's role in the ongoing conversation.
In the end, it's the mutual vulnerability that emerges, largely made possible by Wallace's longing for real awareness and authenticity beneath the culture's temptations and superficiality, that made the film for me. Oddly, a powerful moment was the setting of an early conversation: driving in a car down a typical Midwestern commercial strip - framing the intellectual and existential hunger of two bright, young minds (which we tend to convert into abstract thought) against the backdrop of the (gross) reality of franchise-dominated, meaningless commercialism. It's what we're all up against.
(Vic: Couldn’t agree more.)
I found I could connect with each of the characters and feel the pull of the ideas and the truth of the emotions and longings. I found that a deeply satisfying experience and give it ****