David Foster Wallace was one of the most envied and admired writers of the XX century. The End of the Tour by director James Ponsoldt portrays Wallace at the age of 34, in the exact moment where celebrity started reaching him. It was 1996, the year when he appeared on Times magazine cover and suddenly every writer in America started wanting to be him. The “tour” is the one which followed the publishing of his most famous work: Infinite Jest, a more than one thousand-page novel. Wallace was depicted as a writer able to give back more than anyone else the sensation of what it feels to be alive in the modern, western world. He was able to write a novel before graduating, attended Harvard, became a brilliant academic and hanged himself in 2008, at the age of 46. It’s not easy to talk about David Foster Wallace. Surely it was not for James Ponsoldt, who didn’t receive any support from the novelist’s family. It requires a great courage to bring on screen a character so monumental, so complex. Anyway, The End of the Tour is not a bio-pic, whether a snapshot representing Wallace in 1996, during Infinite Jest promotional tour. Wallace (impersonated by an astonishing Jason Segel), was accompanied by David Lipsky (the equally great Jesse Eisenberg), a Rolling Stone journalist in charge of interviewing him. During the five days spent together, the two young men get to know each other, learn to distrust and then to trust each other, same as in a long chess match where everyone attempt to not give too much to the other person.
Wallace was obsessed by the idea of being portrayed like a literary star, cliché which he strongly hated. During their time together, the two David discussed about cinema, novels, television, sport, drugs and addictions. This last topic was a recurring one in Wallace work. He was haunted by addiction: he felt that there was something really “american” in the constant need of using media as an escaping tool to avoid boredom, pain, loneliness. From this point of view the very last words of David Lipsky book, which inspired The End of the Tour, are very meaningful: “The interview goes on for five days and ends up with the last word David has told me (“alone”). A word which had a big and complex value to him. After he died I read again everything we have talked about during these days together. And I though it was typical of him to have used that word in a dancing night context“. According to Wallace, literature was an antidote for loneliness. Ponsoldt movie reveals the man behind the myth of brilliant novelist, eluding the flattering attempt of trying to explain what was behind a talent so extraordinary. For this reason the movie is for a niche audience only, and doesn’t convey much information to those who don’t know its protagonist. Maybe that’s the only fair way to depict David Foster Wallace, especially if we accept the idea that human mind is somehow unaccountable. Despite Lipsky and Wallace thoughts are far more effective on paper than on screen, The End of the Tour is a very well directed movie, with amazing acting, great attention to details and an extremely faithful translation of Lipsky book. A truth and honest representation of Wallace, one which maybe he wouldn’t have hated.