It’s easy for a movie to fall through the cracks in terms of ratings when it sits next to A24’s catalog of productions, and one of the best examples of that is James Ponsoldtthe 2015 movie, The end of the tour. Although it was critically acclaimed, with the two main performances of Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel receiving significant attention, the film remains less mentioned among followers and bigoted cinephiles of A24, a phenomenon that can perhaps, unfairly, be attributed to its subject.
Based on David Lipskythe book Of course you end up becoming yourselfthe film chronicles what is essentially a five-day maintenance session that took place when Lipsky (then a rolling stone journalist) attempted to write a profile on David Foster Wallace shortly after the release of her massively acclaimed novel infinity joke. Although this encounter actually resulted in something organically akin to a version of before sunrise without the romance – with its long philosophical discussions and musings on life – the film may seem off-putting to those unfamiliar with Wallace’s writing. However, while this may sound like a film aimed at a particular group of those “in the know”, it is more of a life-long affair that appeals to a wide audience, once again proving more than the best marker of a good non-fiction is whether it can appeal to both those with prior knowledge of its subject and those without.
With infinity joke and its fans having become something of a parody of “hip” literary culture, the film makes sure to refrain from any sense of cliquism, eschewing literary and other names for discussions of the more universal themes such as the success, ambition, depression and loneliness. Evidenced by the way in which, upon entering, the film seems to assume a complete ignorance of its main subjects. The opening scene immediately sets the context for Lipsky’s book, as we see Lipsky (Eisenberg) react to the news of David Foster Wallace’s death, after which the film almost surreptitiously goes into flashback. Again, however, the viewer is guided along the way, being placed in the same world as young Lipsky when he first discovers infinity joke after hearing about the hype from literary critics and peers. It’s, immediately, a perfect example of how the film subtly provides the backdrop for what ensues without ever leaving viewers behind or feeling like it’s grudgingly feeding them the backstory. .
What follows as Lipsky convinces his editor to let him interview Wallace on the final stages of his book tour is not only one of the best examples of the film’s interview process, but a very thought-provoking discussion of the nature of life. Far from drawing unexplained connections to his work, the film rather often acts as a sort of primer for Wallace’s writing, cleverly interweaving and relaying issues from his essays, fiction writing, and personal life. – television addiction, alcohol abuse and rural isolation – in his dialogue. In one scene, for example, after struggling to explain his inner struggles with alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts, Wallace even briefly recaps a section of infinite joke, making these connections transparent. He asks Lipsky if he remembers the moment in the book where a character describes depression and suicide in relation to jumping from a burning building, repeating his notion that it’s not that jumping doesn’t suddenly not seem scary, but rather that the alternative of staying in the building seems impossible. While very poignant, this example may not be the film’s discussion in its most universal form, or at least one would hope not. However, he is the best example of why the film shouldn’t appear fan-specific, in that it uses material from the novel in a way that doesn’t exclude those who haven’t read it.
Broader though is the clever way the film uses the duality of its two characters. As another of the common ways the film captures the variety of audience it deserves, Lipsky and Wallace’s characters seem to speak to those on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of ambition, aspirations and careers. One of Wallace’s earlier concerns in the film is his newfound fame and success, his fear of potentially profiting from it, and his mistrust of how it might affect him negatively. Lipsky, on the other hand, is constantly envious of the praise he’s not getting for his own debut novel, which nobody seems to care about. This duality of characters despising both the unfulfilled status of their goals and the lack of realization of their success ensures that the film remains endlessly relatable, not only pretentiously praising its hero, but instead appealing to pride and disappointment in constant evolution that everyone has, at some point, felt in their own lives.
This duality of characters capturing the film’s broad appeal is perhaps best seen in one of the film’s final scenes. As Lipsky leaves, he decides he’s worked up the courage to give Wallace a copy of his book to read. Wallace’s tender gratitude—brilliantly interpreted by Segel—quickly turns to mild frustration when Lipsky mentions how he chose his own cover art, a privilege Wallace fails to mention he didn’t have during infinity joke. Even unknowingly, right now is a perfect encapsulation of the fun dynamic the movie has built, in which the two are paradoxically jealous of each other, while also being a nice goodbye joke for those who are aware of the continuing hatred of Wallace. of the cover his publishers chose for his book.
The moment is a perfect endpoint and an enduring example of the fun and dramatic structure present in a film that so easily could have been (and may seem to be to those who haven’t seen it) an indulgent play about two men talking. pretentiously against each other. Instead, more than anything, this film is a prime example of the most enjoyable road movie, ultimately producing a dialogue-heavy but fast-paced story about a blossoming friendship and the heartbreaking way it ended. If, too, the topics still seem somewhat intellectual, it’s worth noting that there are also countless easy discussions about how Wallace loves his dogs too much, or how he shamelessly loves fast food, trashy TV and action movies. Whether it’s those everyday appreciations of such small topics that Wallace articulates so effectively, or rather the deeper, heartbreaking discussions of self-awareness and loneliness that you choose to engage with most, The end of the tour remains a deeply relatable character study that can be enjoyed by anyone, fan of its fairly niche literary subject matter or not.
A neat summary can be made through how, in large part, the film’s universality can be said to speak to Wallace’s own desire to remain an ordinary man in the face of his talent, which Lipsky refutes in the film by stating that people open a 1000-page book because the author is awesome, not relatable. So it seems fitting that this film succeeds in proving that the two seemingly contradictory traits can coincide so well by presenting such a universally appealing, yet thoughtful road movie.
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