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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