Reading, Writing & Smoking: A Literary Road Trip (Film Review: “The End of the Tour”)

You don’t need to have read David Foster Wallace to appreciate the acerbic, provocative and at times heartbreaking conversation depicted in this film, interspersed with lots of cigarettes and junk food.

SnapShot Plot

In the smart and engaging The End of the Tour, Jason Segal is a revelation as the late novelist and essayist, David Foster Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast as the erudite and ambitious Rolling Stone interviewer, David Lipsky, whose memoir, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace formed the basis for the film’s screenplay by Donald Margulies. Published in 2010, two years after Wallace committed suicide by hanging, the memoir and the setting of the film take place during the 5 day interview in 1997 – in essence one protracted conversation  – between the two Davids on the last leg of the author’s book tour to promote his electrifying novel, Infinite Jest, clocking in at over 1,000 pages and taking the literary world by storm.

Living in relative isolation and obscurity in a small Midwestern town, teaching creative writing at a local community college, Wallace is more shaggy dog than literary superstar. His home resembles more frat house grunge than cerebral chic, matched by his seemingly insatiable appetite for junk food, soda and cigarettes. When Lipsky arrives on the scene, their mutual apprehension is palpable, only marginally expiated by a sharing of those very same appetites, upon which vast quantities of fast food are consumed and countless cigarettes are smoked. But it’s clear from the start that these two are matched on a profoundly deeper level, of course. When the talk turns to the larger themes at hand, such as the Art of Writing; the pitfalls of Fame; the siren call of Celebrity; and the subversive nature of Addiction and its sister-demon, Depression (in all their occult forms) the movie is riveting.  And what makes the interaction between these two even more challenging and at times prickly is the overriding dynamic of interviewer and subject, as well as fan and idol, which of course colors the conversation, suggesting the imbalance between them and the fact that even though Wallace is the far superior writer, Lipsky holds all the cards in how he will portray the other in his article. Therefore, neither they themselves nor the audience can ever truly know which bonds are authentic and which are tainted by the commercial reason they ever met in the first place.



Parting Shot

To say that David Foster Wallace was an enigmatic and conflicted artist would be a gross understatement. He was all conflicted feeling. Conflicted about who he was and what he wrote about and why. Conflicted about our modern techno-culture and its promise of interminable entertainment and the effect of all that on the collective soul, rendering an ironic sadness to a generation so steeped in education and unbridled privilege. Conflicted about it all, yet still determined to be understood, to be fairly represented, and – it seems – to be considered to be good. It’s a very worthwhile conversation indeed.


Here’s a fascinating interview which David Foster Wallace did with NPR’s Fresh Air, from 1997:

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