Restricting my fiction reading, as I largely do, to things written prior to 1950, there is nothing I can say about The End of the Tour’s representation of David Foster Wallace. I was aware of the Infinite Jest craze, and have read recently that it’s one of people’s favorite books to have pretended to read. I will say the movie’s a pretty good buddy flick, though.
The story is that Wallace (Jason Segel) has just hit it big with Jest and frustrated writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg)—himself having just published a little read book but also little sold and talked about book—cons his boss at Rolling Stone (Ron Livingston, Office Space) into letting him interview the lauded author. (As if Rolling Stone was interested in heady things like, you know, reading.)
As it turns out, Wallace is a bit of a weirdo, a kind of fragile shut-in in some ways, possessed of amazingly keen insight on the one hand, and completely oblivious on the other. It was interesting to see this so close to seeing the Marlon Brando documentary, because there’s an awareness here of how the media-packaged personality David Foster Wallace is not the real David Foster Wallace.
Basically, you have two guys who are part of the media machine: One who has this sudden fame and glory and is made uncomfortable by that, and one who wants that fame and glory more than anything. The awkward product (Wallace) and the uneasy producer (Lipsky). Unlike Brando, however, we’re not given any background to help understand why Wallace gets depressed—suicidal—as he does, and the interview is filled with these “don’t look into this or that” demands by Wallace, which Lipsky, as a guy both admires and wants to be admired by Wallace acquiesces to.
It’s a journalistic transgression, but since the whole selling point of the interview is to dig up dirt on Wallace’s alleged heroin addiction from the ‘80s, ethics are nowhere to be seen at a professional level.
Wallace’s character, as portrayed, is interesting because he’s a sort of lazy hedonist. He eats junk food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He doesn’t own a TV because, he says, he would do nothing but watch it all day long if he did. And when he gets in front of a TV, that turns out to be true, nearly to the point of missing a tour event.
He’s aware of some other issues, too, enough to avoid them. Such as parlaying his fame into easy sexual conquests. He has enough awareness to realize that would just make him sadder and lonelier than he is. But he’s honest enough about wanting to do it anyway.
He’s aware that his practice of shielding himself from his past failures by dismissing successful things as popular tripe backfires in the face of his own success.
He relates his depression to the American ideal of doing something about it. And he feels like that was his big mistake, because there’s nothing he can do about it. That really stuck out to me. It may be a strange thing to observe about someone who is considered one of the great wordsmiths of my generation, but his whole outlook was essentially juvenile.
The junk food, the TV, the lack of commitment to relationships, the “sour grapes” attitude toward the success of others, and the notion that because everything doesn’t always work out, you’re not even going to try—these are childish things.
It’s hard not to like these guys, though, even when they’re being petty, jealous and awkward. They’re trying. Wallace struggled along enough to where Lipsky could be surprised when he finally did kill himself.
Good performances. Joan Cusack has a good turn as the Minnesotan “handler” for Wallace. A low-key but not dull story. I liked the direction by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) but I didn’t object to his portrayal of Lipsky as some did.
And it’ll take a lot less time than actually reading Infinite Jest. Though less time than pretending to read it.