My Dinner with Andre was a film that was interesting in conception and not quite as engaging in practice — at least for me. The End of the Tour is another such conversation-driven story with a similar promise, but by some miracle, it really seems to pay off.
The narrative actually felt rather like a stripped down Lawrence of Arabia, because we first are introduced to our main person of interest, writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal), following news of his death. Then, with the aid of his numerous taped dialogues, Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) takes us back to the 1990s where he had a few days to interview the accomplished author. David and Dave spend a great deal of time together, and the author willingly and openly allows the other man into his life. It’s not some monumental epic, and in that way, it parts company with Lawrence of Arabia, but it is an intimate heart-to-heart.
Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the man or not, because I, in all honesty, did not know him. Under Pondsoldt’s direction, however, the film is so universal — it does feel so personal — like you’re slowly getting to know Foster Wallace bit by bit as the layers come off. He speaks into so many issues of what it means to be human, though this is only a one time interaction between two men. The conversations at times become contentious and bitter as Lipsky tries to dig in more. And that’s perfectly alright.
Foster Wallace describes himself interestingly enough as a “combination of being incredibly shy and an egomaniac.” But in this paradox lies a lot of his personal insecurities as a successful writer. Truthfully, they also put the mirror up to all those listening in, because he’s not the only with anxiety, it’s just that he’s the one voicing it.
Jason Segal does a superb job of portraying someone with obviously unfathomable talent, while also being candidly vulnerable as time progresses. There’s an understated humor to this man that is somehow warm and disarming. Underneath there obviously dwells a woundedness that gives way to a plethora of issues which also consequently becomes topics of discussion. For instance, pornography, entertainment, television, depression, loneliness, fears, doubts, and a great deal more.
We return to the present as David listens to his final audio cassettes from so many years ago now. How do you try and paint a canvas of a person’s life with all the minutiae that are involved? The soda and foods they like. How they dress. The name of their pets. Where they live and so on. David delivers a beautifully evocative memo that he speaks into his recorder in order to try and capture that moment just as it is. That time and place, in some respect, feels like hallowed ground amidst a far off realm. Now, with Wallace gone it’s only a distant wisp of a memory. Therein lies the beauty of that conversation for not only Lipsky but the entire audience. That dialogue — that human interaction just as it happened — can never happen in the same way, but you can still take solace in the memories and the words that were said. David Lipsky looks back at that one time conversation with only fond thoughts.
The End of the Tour reminds us what real life can be like, and it reminds us that we are not alone — but surrounded by a wide expanse of humanity just waiting for someone to reach out and talk with them. It’s not a radical idea, but then again if David Foster Wallace, the preeminent author that he was, had such an impact with it, then maybe we can too.
“It may be what in the old days was called a spiritual crisis or whatever. It’s just the feeling as though the entire, every axiom of your life turned out to be false, and there was actually nothing, and you were nothing, and it was all a delusion. And that you were better than everyone else because you saw that it was a delusion, and yet you were worse because you couldn’t function.”~ Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace