David Foster Wallace was an award-winning author of metafiction and personal essays. His novel Infinite Jest was named Time magazine’s “Best Book of the Year (Fiction)” while his work The Pale King, published posthumously, was nominated for a Pulitzer. Many of his works also received film, television, and stage adaptation treatments, including a film version of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men directed by John Kasinski and Infinite Jest performed as a German stage play.
Tragically David Foster Wallace committed suicide in September 2008, but his mark on the literary world has continued to live on in his absence. The End of the Tour – recently released in theaters and widely available for viewing through the collaborative efforts of A24 and DirecTV – is based on writer David Lipsky’s experience interviewing David Foster Wallace at the end of his Infinite Jest book tour.
Starring Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky, The End of the Tour centers mainly around a couple of days in 1996 when Infinite Jest was released. Lipsky gets an assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to interview Wallace and heads to his home where the two men discuss a multitude of topics, argue about their outlooks on life, have an adventure with some girls from Wallace’s past, and eventually end the experience as some kind of friends.
It is not an action packed or loud film, but instead gives a quiet, deep, penetrative look at both men, what kind of artists they are, and how they fit into the greater world of art and literature around them. The screenplay by Donald Margulies is introspective, the soundtrack by Danny Elfman is somber, and the direction from James Ponsoldt gives the film an understated but powerful feel. The End of the Tour does not paint David Foster Wallace or David Lipsky as great men per se, but it does make them seem very real and very aware of exactly what they are bringing to the table during their five days together.
While critics and audiences have almost universally praised the film and called it one of the best movies of the year, not everyone has voiced positive reviews about the way it portrays David Foster Wallace. Though his family was acknowledged and thanked in the book by David Lipsky that which the film is based upon, they have made statements since the first announcement of the film that they did not want any connection to it. They don’t believe Wallace would have wanted the transcripts from the original interviews in 1996 turned into a film and shared in such a way with the world. It doesn’t matter to them how positively the film is received or what kind of attention it might garner for Wallace’s literary works – they still view it as disrespectful that the film was made without their approval.
But whether or not The End of the Tour was made with the blessing of David Foster Wallace’s family and friends, it was still made and has since been reviewed by audiences and film critics alike as a great look into the life and mind of one of the best authors of the last few decades. Jason Segel portrays Wallace as real and as human as possible while also presenting him as someone a bit more advanced and unparallelled by the rest of the people in the room. He paints a picture of an amazing but mortal figure that gave the world some of its best stories, even if his own story ended much too soon.