James Ponsdolt’s The End of the Tour gives us two guys chatting for the duration of the film. It’s a beautiful, philosophical conversation that requires you to lean in and listen. If you invest in this film you will revel in the genius of its protagonist the author of the 1996 novel Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace. Ponsdolt breaks away from the feel good romantic comedies of his earlier work and creates a pensive, moving tribute to an author who left us all too soon.
The film is based on a Rolling Stone interview conducted by journalist David Lipsky, who, after reading Wallace’s 1000 page novel, realised he was the voice of a generation and went to seek out the notoriously reclusive Wallace. Wallace committed suicide in 2008, but the film traces the end of the book tour for Infinite Jest, a tour which he never wanted to do. The film is a powerhouse conversation as the two intellectually try to figure each other out while both acknowledging that they have a hidden agenda. Lipsky wants to get under the skin of Wallace, to ask him about his drug addiction and depression in his late twenties. While Wallace is insistent on passing off an ‘everyman’ image, despite being well aware that his mind was far more capable then most. They are as much opponents as friends, but this what makes the conversation so compelling to watch.
Nothing really happens except two strangers’ discovery, of shared interests and mutual dislikes, of personal boundaries and professional duty, through Donald Margulies’ remarkably literate adaptation of Lipsky’s chronicle of events. Wallace’s obsessions with privacy, junk food, late night movies and Alanis Morissette keeps Lipsky on his toes, tape recorder always on. But underneath this image that Wallace portrays you get an overwhelming feeling of a man at odds with his image and himself, burdened by his intellect and loneliness.
Jason Segel does the finest work of his career shedding his comic façade and embodying the troubled character, he carries a lumbering nervousness and introversion that is perfect for Foster Wallace. On the other side, Jesse Eisenberg plays the perfect opponent with the same inquisitiveness that made his role in The Social Network so distinctive.
The End of the Tour asks a lot of its audience, it requires the same patience and attention that reading Foster Wallace would. Whether Foster Wallace would agree with his life being made into a biopic is another question, but for those of us who want a little glimmer of the man’s genius then this is a great reminder and a fitting tribute.