There’s an irony to the very existence of The End of the Tour itself. The End of the Tour is based off David Lipsky’s own book, “Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself,” which follows Lipsky travelling with, and interviewing David Foster Wallace for Rolling Stone, on the last leg of Wallace’s book tour, arguably at the height of Wallace’s fame, when Wallace’s novel, “Infinite Jest” was published.
The interview and ensuing dialogue between the two are rather informal and so the topics range from Wallace’s attempt to get laid on his tour, to their thoughts on several films, ranging from Blade Runner to Schindler’s List, and finally, what gives The End of the Tour its atmosphere of irony, the obsession with fame culture amongst the authors of the at-the-time literary scene and the distortion of public image which follows alongside that fame.
In a rather very meta-scene, Wallace (Jason Segel) comments on Lipsky’s (Jesse Eisenberg) ability as the reporter on hand to manipulate Wallace’s public image: “Listen, before we start putting stuff on tape, I need to ask you something. I need to know that anything that I say five minutes later not to put in, that you’re not going to put in.” Lipsky agrees and from there, the interview begins with the tape-recorder, for the most part, constantly on. The End of the Tour, then, can be seen as an extension of Wallace’s fear concerning public image, as the film can both literally and metaphorically shape the audience’s view of Wallace.
While the book and film are biographical, the film has the ability and does employ it, to create a certain narrative by shifting the interview questions around. More so, because film is a visual medium, the use of certain camera angles or shots create a subjective view on Wallace when he’s in the frame. Supplemented by Segel’s acting which is his own interpretation of Wallace, The End of the Tour at times attempts to give the audience a view on what was going through Wallace’s head at the time or the way Wallace was feeling. In a strange way, the manner in which Wallace is portrayed here recalls Laura Mulvey’s theory on the “male-gaze,” except here, the woman in question is Wallace as the celebrity whom the audience gazes at without complicit. The End of the Tour ultimately errs by giving any sort of outside subjective view on Wallace by recreating Wallace himself.
In criticizing and interpreting The End of the Tour, it would be initially difficult to argue for David Foster Wallace as the ideologies Wallace presented in his novels go against the creation of The End of the Tour itself. This would be because no one is David Foster Wallace except David Foster Wallace and so at the conclusion of the argument, only Wallace would properly know how he himself would feel about The End of the Tour, except Wallace’s death begins to complicate the argument. With Wallace no longer being alive, the only people left to defend Wallace are his own legal estate and his literary fan base but there also lies a danger in defending Wallace.
In the same manner that a criticism can be directed towards The End of the Tour for manipulating Wallace’s image, a criticism can also be directed towards Wallace’s fans for upholding a certain romanticized image of Wallace himself. The key difference between both camps, however, is that Wallace himself has commented on how he feels about his own rise to fame and the ways in which he deals with it. Taken from Lipsky’s book at a moment where Wallace and Lipsky are once again discussing fame, Wallace says: “Except let’s realize that, OK, right; I think I wrote a good book. And I think for some reason—like the timing was right or whatever. But one reason Rolling Stone is interested has very little to do with me or the book, it’s this kind of miasma of hype around the book that feeds on itself (184).” On the same page Wallace continues, “Because, because, you know, I’m thirty-four. And I’ve finally discovered I really love to write this stuff. I really love to work hard. And I’m so terrified that this—that this is going to somehow twist me.”
Like the “miasma of hype” Wallace expresses about his own book, the anxiety and worries over The End of the Tour seem not to revolve around a miasma of hype around “Infinite Jest,” but rather Wallace himself. The argument comes down to whether or not The End of the Tour is genuinely showcasing Wallace or is more interested in showing an ideology of Wallace but because of the conventional narrative here, it seems that The End of the Tour is more interested in the idea of Wallace as a literary giant. If the film was truly interested in an objective view of Wallace, then the best course of action wouldn’t have been to adapt and shift the recorded dialogue between Wallace and Lipsky but to rather, instead, release the un-edited tapes as they are. Film is a visual medium, however (unless, perhaps you’re Guy Debord), and so in order to make it a “proper” movie, a visual aspect must be introduced and it is the introduction of images which begin to problematize the view on Wallace. Claude Lanzmann found a proper alternative to the interpretation of images with his landmark documentary, Shoah.
At nine and a half hours long, Shoah is a quiet unrelenting foray into the Holocaust, by the way of Lanzmann interviewing survivors who were there or citizens who witnessed the horrors first-hand. When those being interviewed are recalling the stories of their harsh survival or of the changing times due to Nazi occupation, Lanzmann supplements their dialogue with contemporary footage of those areas. There’s no studio here and no History Channel-like voice-over. Lanzmann’s refusal of standard documentary techniques can be read as his desire for receiving something real rather than wanting to publish a story based on the ideas of the horror of the holocaust. In wanting to properly preserve Wallace, the same techniques found in Shoah could have been used in The End of the Tour, allowing for the retention of the snappy dialogue between Wallace and Lipsky while also presenting something truly objective.
The End of the Tour isn’t without its merits however. With an understanding of how The End of the Tour can be dangerous for its construction of Wallace, the film’s dialogue is still real and the chemistry between Segel’s portrayal of a laid-back Wallace, versus Eisenberg’s nervous and twitch-like, but common, portrayal of Lipsky, make the conversations enjoyable. The End of the Tour also recalls Andre Bazin’s argument for what he calls “Mixed Cinema,” that is, cinema originating from the novel and one of the positives for mixed cinema is that the adaptation of the novel to film, will open a wider audience for the subject at hand and Lipsky has acknowledged this himself. In an interview with NPR, Lipsky says, “And if more people decide to pick up Infinite Jest and Wallace’s other books because of this film, Lipsky says, that would be the best homage.”