What if the (Dead) Subject of the Movie Would Have Objected?

Posted on August 9, 2015 at 3:44 pm

David Foster Wallace was a very private person who committed suicide in 2008. He is also one of the foremost authors of contemporary literature. After his death, writer David Lipsky published a book based on the audiotapes from a four-day interview with Wallace, and now that book has become a movie called “The End of the Tour,” with Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky.

Wallace’s friends and family have objected to the film. I watched the film sitting next to Glenn Kenny, who wrote in The Guardian:

I found The End of the Tour risible. In my own film criticism I’ve often defended work that comes up short on historical accuracy, insisting that each picture is a circumscribed world in and of itself, for better or worse. This posture of detachment went out the window the first time I saw the movie.

And on Slate, Forrest Wickman says that the movie got its final scene completely wrong. He admits that this is in part due to misdirection from Wallace himself, so perhaps at least in this respect, he would have approved of the film.

Private people can become public property, sometimes by writing an important work and sometimes by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even the right place at the right time, as happened when a man was outed after a heroic rescue. There is no good answer for this. Wallace himself wrote a lot of non-fiction and portrayed real-life individuals in unflattering ways. And as a fiction writer he tried to illuminate the human experience through art, which is what this movie tries to do as well.

Perhaps the best we can do is look at the movie on its own merits, as The New York Times critic A.O. Scott suggests, and continue the separate conversation about what is right and what, at the end of the day, we can ever truly understand about one another. Which, by the way, is the theme of the film.

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The End of the Tour

The End of the Tour

Posted on August 6, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to suicide
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 7, 2015
Date Released to DVD: November 9, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B0153C71X8
Copyright A4 2015
Copyright A4 2015

Form illuminates content in this imperfect but compelling film based on the real-life audiotapes of a four day interview of author David Foster Wallace in the final days of his book tour for Infinite Jest.

The subject of the interview is David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), whose writing was densely and intricately layered. The journalist doing the interview is David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), also a recently published novelist, though his book attracted no attention.

Lipsky persuades his editor at Rolling Stone that Wallace, whose book is a critical and commercial hit, would be a good subject for the magazine. And Wallace, now in the final days of his book tour, agrees to let Lipsky come along. Their wide-ranging (in geography and subject matter) conversation over four days reflects a constantly shifting set of expectations, assumptions, and goals for a construct so essentially artificial it hardly makes sense to call it a relationship. And yet, Lipsky literally moves into Wallace’s man cave of a home and for that time there is a simulation of some kind of friendship between them, at times even a sense that they could be friends, which they both seem to find unsettling and appealing. Wallace’s writing had a fractured, self-referential quality, filled with asides and meta-commentary. So it makes sense that the film has some of those qualities as well. If there were such a thing as cinematic footnotes, they’d be here. Instead, the context itself provides the footnotes. Wallace, whose great subject was American consumer culture, ends up in Minnesota’s Mall of America, eating in the food court as the indoor roller coaster zooms by.

Janet Malcolm famously described a journalist as “a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.” We see some evidence of that in “The End of the Tour” but there are several other layers as well. The two men are about the same age, both writers, one lauded as one of the great novelists of his generation, one who released a book that got no attention at all. So Lipsky wants more from Wallace than a story. He is looking for guidance, validation, understanding. He acknowledges that he wants what Wallace has. At the same time he wants to understand why Wallace does not seem to want it. The two men are both relentless, even obsessive, self-observers. As Lipsky is recognizing the gulf between the kind of superficial details that make up a celebrity profile and what it means to actually know someone, he tries to find some kind of foothold. He wants to prove himself to his editor (in real life, the article was never published). And he wants to prove to himself that he is somehow in the same species as Wallace. There is a Mozart/Salieri element here as Lipsky’s greatest talent may be his ability to appreciate Wallace’s genius.

The commitment to verisimilitude is claustrophobic at times because almost all of the dialogue is taken directly from the tapes.  An opening scene where Lipsky first hears of Wallace’s suicide and digs out the tapes adds nothing to the story.  And yet again this is a case of form following content, as the near-obsessive, even fetishishtic, constricted particularity of the conversation is the kind of thing one of Wallace’s characters might do. The most telling moment in the film is when Wallace admits that he does not mind being profiled in Rolling Stone. He just does not want the profile to make it appear that he wants to be profiled in Rolling Stone. That is exactly the kind of fractured, Schroedinger-ian attraction/repulsion Wallace felt to the themes of his work: the gulf between presentation and reality, between observing and being, between attention and distraction. As Lipsky knew, it is a privilege to be a part of that conversation, even as we must be aware that it is the kind of entertainment — even at this ambitious level — Wallace would both want and not want to see.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, sexual references, drinking, and smoking.

Family discussion: Why did Wallace agree to the interview? Why did he get angry with Lipsky?

If you like this, try: the books by David Foster Wallace and “My Dinner with Andre” and listen to the excellent interview with David Lipsky on the podcast, “The Moment

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Trailer: The End of the Tour

Trailer: The End of the Tour

Posted on June 14, 2015 at 8:00 am

In 1996, David Lipsky was assigned by Rolling Stone to write a profile of author David Foster Wallace, and so they spent five days together while Wallace was finishing his promotional tour for his book, Infinite Jest.

After Wallace committed suicide in 2008, Lipsky published a book about their time together called Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. That book is now a movie, “The End of the Tour,” starring Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg. Here is the trailer.

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Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segal in a New Film About David Foster Wallace

Posted on February 4, 2014 at 3:55 pm

David Foster Wallace was the brilliant writer who struggled with depression and committed suicide in 2008 at age 46.  Jason Segal will play Wallace in an upcoming film called “The End of the Tour,” with Jesse Eisenberg as a Rolling Stone reporter accompanying Wallace on a 1996 book tour.  The script is based on Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky and the film will be directed by “The Spectacular Now’s” James Ponsoldt.

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Behind the Scenes In Production
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