The End of the Tour (2015)
Written by Donald Margulies
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Writer/journalist David Lipsky wakes up one morning to the news that David Foster Wallace killed himself. Wallace was a novelist who published Infinite Jest in 1996 and was a book that hit with tremendous impact on the literary world. Lipsky worked at Rolling Stone in the 90s and proposed going out to Central Illinois where he would follow the author on the last stop of his book tour. Lipsky arrives and finds Wallace to be a man not exactly comfortable with the fame his book has brought him. He seems very agreeable though considerably quiet and not having too many close friends, but lots of acquaintances. Over the course of a couple of days, Lipsky gets to know Wallace and probe into places the writer might not want to go.
The End of the Tour is a strange animal if you aren’t familiar with David Foster Wallace. It still works as a character piece, but I suspect there is a lot of context here for fans of his writing. This is also a seemingly unexciting story to tell: two guys in cars and hanging out, not doing much other than talking. This doesn’t seem like a compelling film, but the writing is so precise and exact that you can’t help but get swept up in this dialogue.
There is an annoying trend in biographical films to ominously foreshadow the fate of its characters in a metafictional manner that nods to a knowing audience. Instead, the movie chooses to focus on ideas of fame, particularly in a field where fame has not always been the best thing for the people working in it and how posed and false the presentation of this figures can be. Wallace clarifies to Lipsky at one point that he wants to be in Rolling Stone but doesn’t want to be the guy who everyone can tell wants to be in Rolling Stone.
The insecurities of these two men take the main stage as we explore their misanthropy and constant need to appear in a certain way to others. The only people they are ever honest with along their journey is each other, and near the end, they get pretty blunt. At one point, Lipsky is charming two women who are old friends of Wallace, and we can see the writer is getting annoyed with this journalist. He calls him out, still trying to act cool and that it’s no big deal. However, later when Wallace learns that Lipsky’s girlfriend has a small crush on him, Wallace insists on calling her in the middle of the night so he can flirt and softly humiliate Lipsky.
As cynical as their brief encounter is, Wallace and Lipsky walk away on good terms, having moved into friend territory but downshifting back into interviewer and subject. They have an understanding of each other and Lipsky does break the formal barrier once more before he leaves, he gives Wallace a copy of his book, a failed attempt to become an author in his younger years. The End of the Tour is a movie that doesn’t want to hero-worship; it understands the axiom “Never meet your heroes.” Wallace attempts to underplay what he does, telling Lipsky that writers know how to make their stupidity more interesting.