The End of the Tour, directed by James Ponsoldt and written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Donald Margulies, is a fictionalised version of the meeting of minds between writers David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace. The film is based on Lipsky’s book Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.
Wallace is best known – and revered – for his second novel Infinite Jest, which comes in at over 1,000 pages and about 1.5 kilos. It’s no ordinary man who writes such an opus, and Wallace is a character indeed. This is his first ever film treatment, and Jason Segel does an impressive job in the role. It’s kinda nice to see Segel put his acting chops to the test by not playing a goofball for once. Jesse Eisenberg is excellent as Lipsky, and the entire film is basically one long, highbrow conversation. Thankfully, it’s also an interesting one to eavesdrop on, and is accompanied by a great soundtrack including Pavement, Felt, R.E.M. and Brian Eno.
The story begins way back in 1996 with Lipsky, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, convincing publisher Jann Werner he should do a story on rising star Wallace. So he joins Wallace for the last stop on his book tour for Infinite Jest, and tape records all of their conversations. These will later serve as the fuel for Lipsky’s book (the one the film is based on), which isn’t published until 2010, two years after Wallace’s suicide.
Transcripts of Lipsky and Wallace’s repartee have been likened to the words of a Tom Stoppard play. Having seen the film, this comes as no surprise. Wallace is presented as articulate, shy, self-effacing, depressive, “pleasantly unpleasant” (so says an ex-girlfriend), and extremely self-conscious. He’s also addicted to TV, soda, and anything sweet. Watching the sugary road-trip diet of the two characters gave me a toothache.
The End of the Tour really nails the journalist-subject relationship, and the idiosyncrasies of a writer. The research Segel and Eisenberg put into their roles paid off: their performances are spot-on. Apparently, Eisenberg spent time with the real-life Lipsky, and Segel assembled a book club to read Infinite Jest, watched videos of Wallace, and listened to Lipsky’s tape recordings.
While the relationship between the characters of Lipsky and Wallace seemed intimate at times – like they were comrades – Wallace never forgot that in Lipsky’s eyes, he was the subject. We cringe when Lipsky reminds Wallace more than once “you agreed to this article”. And we really cringe when Lipsky asks the hard questions we’d love Wallace to answer but wouldn’t dare ask ourselves.
The film doesn’t cover this, but it’s interesting to note that Lipsky’s Rolling Stone article about Wallace wasn’t published in 1996. Lipsky didn’t even write it up because he was assigned another story, and then his coverage of the book tour wasn’t considered timely. The story didn’t become ‘relevant’ until 12 years later, at the time of Wallace’s suicide. The ensuing article, The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace, garnered Lipsky a National Magazine Award.
The End of the Tour ties in nicely with the PIAF Perth Writers’ Festival, and at the very least it will get you in the mood for some quality time with a good book. The film made me more curious than ever to read Infinite Jest. I just hope my local library will be happy to grant a 6-month loan…
You can listen to Gemma’s radio review on RTRfm’s Breakfast with Caitlin via podcast here.
The End of the Tour is now showing as part of Lotterywest Festival Films, Season 2. At UWA Somerville nightly until Sunday 21 February, then at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday 23 to Sunday 28 February. Tickets/more info: perthfestival.com.au