Yesterday I went to the Zürich Film Festival to see The End of the Tour, a film about writers. How fitting I should go with my colleagues from The Woolf, both of whom are authors, journalists and interviewers.
In 1996, over five days, journalist David Lipsky did a road trip/interview with author David Foster Wallace. After Wallace’s suicide, Lipsky turned his notes into a book, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, upon which the film is based.
Two people: Rolling Stone journalist Lipsky, profiling the most talked-about author that year, DF Wallace, and accompanying him to the last stop on the book tour for Infinite Jest.
Two people, just talking.
I was enthralled. The performances were outstanding, the script (by Donald Margulies) is witty and well-paced with plenty of laughs at the beginning and philosophical insights towards the end. The direction (by James Ponsoldt) is so smart it’s almost invisible. Moments of awkwardness stretch until they began to affect the audience; motifs such as snow ploughs, seatbelts, Pop-Tarts and electronic key-fobs plumb deeper themes; and the delicate transactional dance between these two men: interviewer/interviewee, success/wannabe, older/younger writers is like watching a fencing match.
I’ve interviewed a few of my literary heroes and recall that suspicious stand-off while you try to use every minute to build a short-lived relationship and get the story, while dealing with a person who’d be much happier sitting alone with a piece of paper. For all the uncomfortable silences, the fidgety PR people, the interruptions and distractions, there have been some perfect moments of connection, when you see each other as people, not opponents.
It’s all there in this film.
Wallace, played by Jason Segel in a phenomenal performance, delivers his own shambling theories about writers, writing, intelligence and feeling a fake. His weaknesses and pleasures not to mention addictions are both endearing and puzzling.
The film places us in Lipsky’s shoes. He’s out of his depth, and we all know it. Jesse Eisenberg puts in another impressive turn as Lipsky, the insecure, resentful, not-as-successful-as-he’d-like author, with a giveaway giggle and a grubby urge to dig. His ego is his worst enemy, but unlike Wallace, he doesn’t yet know it.
106 minutes well spent, leaving me with thoughts about the nature of satisfaction, writing, success, journalism, ambition, and connecting with other minds. Despite the sad reality of Wallace’s suicide, the final scenes, including the one after the credits, ensured a smile remained on every single filmgoer’s face as they left the auditorium.
A film for writers of all kinds. And if nothing else, this will make you want to read Infinite Jest. I’m tempted to call that book the authors’ Everest, but the metaphor doesn’t work. For even if you conquer this incredible work by reading all 1000+ pages, it’s still there, towering above you, making you feel like an ant.
Watch the trailer here: