There are moments in life where once they’ve past, you immediately realize that your life has been significantly altered and changed. I have experienced this several times, like the time I found out Santa Claus was not real. Also, the time I lost my virginity. Then there was the time I figured out that Taco Bell now delivers. Moments like that change your reality, for better or worse. When I finished reading David Foster Wallace’s incredibly complex and perception-shattering magnum opus, Infinite Jest, I felt like Wallace opened my eyes to a world of experiences I should have been critically analyzing and perceiving instead of complacently/passively watching happen before my glazed eyes.
David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) experienced a similar moment that lasted five days when he followed David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) near the end of his tour for his book Infinite Jest. Lipsky idolized Wallace not just for his talent, but also for the fame that came with it. Wallace didn’t care for or didn’t even want to embrace the fame, especially since it is something he wrote against. Throughout the trip, they talked about their dreams for the future, joked about pop culture, and gorged themselves on snack food. Ultimately, they challenged each other to look deeper and analyze their lives, with Lipsky being more on the receiving end of that lesson. Wallace saw the world as it really was, seeing the full picture where most people are stuck still analyzing the pieces of the puzzle. He saw the same in Lipsky, and in that long moment, he would never be the man he was five days ago.
There is no implied agreement between a film and the viewer that a film has to be “truthful,” with the obvious exceptions being biographic films. This film is not a biographical account, but instead a one-sided account into almost a week the writer spent with Wallace. It carries an inherent bias, since it is from a person’s first impression of the author and not told by a long-time friend. There is an unavoidable slant when a story is told through a person’s perspective, but that doesn’t make it any less true than any other story we’ve heard from a first-person account.
Sure, they are sometimes prone to over exaggeration or light embellishments or even some kind of stylization, but ultimately we never realize it when it is put in for the sake of enhancing that story. I don’t know whether Lipsky’s account is completely honest from an objective standpoint, or if anyone can dispute the veracity of his telling of the events, but ultimately the point is a moot one. The story is completely nuanced, thought-provoking, and an overall respectfully accurate representation of Wallace.
The End of the Tour is a powerful cautionary tale about fame, addiction, and all the evils inherent in the American Dream. The entire film is magnificently performance-driven, and that is why this film works so well. Director James Pondsoldt is no novice when it comes to bringing to life complex characters through conscientious and veracious exposition. In his previous films (Smashed and Spectacular Now) he was able to draw out career-making performances from now-stars Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, and this film is no exception. Jason Segel showcases an intensity we had yet to see from him, embodying Wallace’s mannerisms and down-to-earth demeanor while still providing deep insight through conversations.
Having read Infinite Jest, I can say that the way Wallace was portrayed felt more than accurate and honest. Eisenberg shows us how well he has honed the self-obsessed jerk character type that he always seems to get typecast into. This time, he is able to add a layer of emotional depth by showing how the character of Lipsky is permanently changed by his encounter with Wallace. This meeting-your-heroes scenario is so personally enlightening that it makes him question his life goals and ambitions. As a completely intentional side effect, the film’s message will probably affect you and cause the same near-existential crisis Lipsky faced. This was the extent of Wallace’s powerful influence, and that projects even beyond the scope of the film.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★★ (9/10 stars)