Seminal writer and notorious recluse David Foster Wallace appears to have his innermost thoughts and fears laid bare in the new biographical film The End of The Tour. Tangible chemistry and striking performances from the leads make this drama an intense movie-going experience.
The new film, directed by Jason Ponsoldt, details the final portion of David Foster Wallace’s tour following the release of his wildly successful 1,000-page novel Infinite Jest. In the movie Dave Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), burgeoning writer and reporter for Rolling Stone, interviews David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). Despite being visibly jealous of the interviewee’s success, Lipsky manages to forge a friendship with the highly relatable author, who emanates a highly intellectual air despite his best efforts to portray himself as an everyman. As the film progresses, the conversations between the two writers expand from initial pleasantries to brutal indictments of basic tenets of American culture and the human condition. The subject matter oscillates from humorous observations on human foibles to dramatic reflection on mental illness.
Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg have palpable chemistry in their well-casted matchup. For a movie that revolves around two guys riffing, boring moments are few and far between. Instead, strong performances from Segel and Eisenberg perfectly encapsulate what the experience of road tripping with a total stranger might be like. Male bonding interspersed with humorous awkwardness injects unexpected comedy into this heavy film that raises more questions than it answers. As their relationship evolves so does the subject matter, along with our understanding of this highly celebrated but enigmatic writer and his interviewer friend. The use of Wallace’s suicide in the beginning of the film to set the stage serves as an ambitious plot point that successfully lays the groundwork for the film and frames Segel’s character without dominating the subject matter.
Foreshadowing of his suicide comes in the discussions about his issues with depression and substance abuse during the interviewing process. Wallace is portrayed as a troubled man seeking to find his own meaning and to communicate it to the rest of the world, without betraying his values.
Interestingly, the movie is completely devoid of a major obstacle to overcome or a singular goal. Sure, Eisenberg’s character is using Wallace’s fame as a way to advance his own career by producing an article about the mysterious writer, but beyond that the movie centers solely around portraying David Foster Wallace in an intimate fashion. In this regard it is remarkably successful. Segel demonstrates his skill in creating a layered character, a man physically, mentally and emotionally isolated from the outside world and those who care about him. The astute observations he makes in his writing broadcast him to a wider audience in a profound way, but the expectations that come with fame weigh heavily upon him. The fear of disappointing his fans or becoming something he’s not inhabits him throughout the film and presumably throughout his life.
In a cinematic sense, the movie is remarkable in that the plot is driven almost solely on the relationship of the two characters. Wallace and Lipsky discuss philosophies on life, love, honesty and art over the course of their five-day road trip, and at no point during the two-hour runtime does the movie drag or the viewer become bored.
The film has generated some controversy by those who were close to Wallace, complaining that he would never have acquiesced to being the subject of a film were he still alive. The hullaballoo is no surprise; it is rare that a biographical movie is met with little criticism. Regardless of its historical accuracy or whether Wallace would have signed off on it, The End of the Tour tackles profound issues through an insightful examination of his final days of the “Infinite Jest” book tour.