James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour is a film about two nervous writers.
To elaborate, the film focuses on critically acclaimed author David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. In 1996, Lipsky was assigned to profile Wallace. Up until then, Rolling Stone had never published an interview with a writer. Lipsky accompanied Wallace on the last stop of his book tour for Infinite Jest, a 1,000+ page postmodern work of art that found its place on the bookshelves of college men everywhere in the late 90s.
The End of the Tour is about these two men and the relationship that develops between them over the course of a week and the mistakes that are made, both short and long-term, during one long, complicated conversation.
Jason Segel was given the roll of Wallace and Lipsky is played by Jesse Eisenberg. Before the film’s release, the most prominent speculation was that of casting a notorious “funny guy” for such a serious role. Segel made a name for himself in romantic comedies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You, Man. In the months leading up to the film’s release, Segel gave a series of interviews that clarified his ability for the role and detailed how he created a David Foster Wallace book club with his friends and poured over the tapes of the interview that actually occurred ten years ago, largely in the front seats of a ’95 Pontiac Grand Am.
The film begins in Lipsky’s apartment in 2008, when he receives a phone call alerting him of Wallace’s suicide. The call prompts him to search though boxes until he comes upon a collection of tapes, one of which he slides into a voice recorder. The interview begins and the film flashes back 12 years.
The majority of the 106-minute feature is spent intimately with Wallace and Lipsky— in Wallace’s Bloomington, Illinois home, in cars, hotel rooms and airplanes. The two talk about everything from childhood and family to loneliness and intellect. While the conversation becomes increasingly engaging, it serves as the center of conflict for Lipsky— concerning both his personal career and Wallace as a subject.
Within the film’s first ten minutes, it becomes apparent that Lipsky is curious about Wallace. This curiosity transforms into fascination, then to jealousy and ultimately anger. Lipsky pitches the idea for the profile to his editor, who eventually grants him permission to do the piece. Lipsky is sent on his way.
Over the course of the next 50 minutes, Lipsky’s voice recorder switches on and off as he and Wallace volley back and forth in conversation. Lipsky begins making mistakes that could potentially mar his journalistic integrity in effort to maintain Wallace’s trust. The first of these mistakes is that he opts to stay in Wallace’s guest bedroom instead of getting a room down the road at the Holiday Inn. This decision only begins to uncover the subplot of Wallace’s loneliness.
Between long shots of sprawling, snow-laiden Midwestern landscapes and midnight constellations of fast food signs, Lipsky and Wallace develop a sort of forbidden friendship. This fact is brought to light when Wallace asks Lipsky about his childhood to which Lipsky replies, “Now who’s interviewing who here?” What follows is not a momentary laugh but a punishing silence; a reminder that the two aren’t friends, and that this is merely business.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of The End of the Tour is that 90 minutes of the film is devoted to dialogue between two people. When was the last time a film largely featuring only two people was this captivating? Even more so, why is it so captivating? There are many answers to this question, but the most obvious are the performances put on by both Segel and Eisenberg— the two manage to be honest and intimate while remaining convincingly genuine.
The entire film can be summed up in its last few minutes. When the pair finally part, Lipsky goes in for a hug but is only met with Wallace’s handshake. Wallace is then seen dancing freely with a crowd of people at a Baptist church before the credits roll.
The End of the Tour is as much about David Foster Wallace as it is about David Lipsky. It is a jarring examination of creativity, loneliness, and journalism. One of the characters in the film labels Wallace as “pleasantly unpleasant.” This characterization can be given to the film as well; something that is equal parts calm as it is raucous.
After Wallace’s suicide, David Lipsky ended up publishing his experience in a book titled Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Although the original Rolling Stone interview was taken off the website, there is this interview from 2008 where Lipsky chronicles some of his thoughts.