I've waited 7 months to see the movie "The End of the Tour." The movie came out on DVD two weeks ago and I immediately bought it, got it in the mail and watched it on November 12th. The trailer for the movie came out in May of 2015 then came out in "select" theatres on July 31st. When it came out in "select" theatres, I hoped that it would make it to a Greensboro theatres sometime in August. The movie never came out nationally, but only showed in some certain theatres, which I could not find online. Therefore I had to wait for the DVD to come out earlier this month.
Why this movie was shown only in select theatres is a complete puzzle to me. The movie is a short glimpse into writer David Foster Wallace's life. Wallace is one of the brightest writers of the last 30 years. But the movie is not one of Wallace's fictional stories, it is true story about the conversations between two writers on a road trip in 1996. Wallace's most famous novel "Infinite Jest" came out in 1996, and while Wallace was on a book tour across the nation, Rolling Stone Journalist David Lipsky tagged along and interviewed Wallace about his life while he is "on tour."
Personally I find Wallace as one of the most interesting people I've ever seen interviewed. Wallace himself is more interesting, to me, than his books. I've watched maybe 10 different 30-60 minute interviews with Wallace on Youtube. I have my English 102 classes analyze his "Life is Water" commencement speech. So when I saw that Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg were going to play Wallace and Lipsky, I thought this was an opportunity to propel Wallace's writing and personality into America's pop culture body of knowledge. Maybe "The End of the Tour" would do for Wallace what "Dead Poet Society" did for Henry David Thoreau.
From what I can tell------no grand national discussion about this writer ever happened in response to this movie. I have talked extensively about this with my English-major friends. But I believe more non-literature major Americans need to see this movie. Since Segal and Esenberg are two prominent Hollywood actors, at the height of their careers, it would seem more theaters would show this film. Of course, no national discussion can happen, if it only plays in select theatres. While I am thoroughly confused about all this, the movie me all of my great expectations.
This movie can be placed in the category of "movies that will help, teach and encourage you to have quality conversations with your friends or strangers." David Lipsky is a journalist for the Rolling Stones. He essentially persuades his boss to pay for a trip for Lipsky to go follow his idol (Wallace) around the country on his book tour (or road trip). This movie would also fit in the category of "films that capture the kind of stream of consciousness conversations that only happen on long car-rides." What is unique about this trip is that Lipsky records on a tape player (this took place in 1996) 5 days worth of conversations between himself and Wallace. Therefore much of the dialogue in this movie is verbatim, which creates an accurate portrayal of funny, existential road-trip conversation.
One of favorite scene of the movie is before the two guys leave for their trip. They are sitting around Wallace's house and Lipsky asks him about an Alanis Morrisette poster on the wall. Being set in 1996, right when Morisette's album debut album Jagged Little Pill came out, and when Wallace's book was published (by some considered to be the best work of fiction in over a decade). Lipsky asks Wallace if he would contact Morisette for coffee. Wallace says he would like to but admits that if he did meet her he'd be "perspiring" and afraid she'd reject him. He adamantly says he'd meet her if he had the chance, but he is very realistic about the possibility since his recent fame makes it an not completely impossible. I love the idea of the 90's queen of rock and the 90's king of fiction meeting.
One of Wallace's friends, Glenn Kenny, does not agree with me. He wrote an article in the Guardian that the scene about Alanis Morisette made Wallace too accessible, complaining that the movie portrayed him as happy when he was actually depressed during this time of his life. Glen Kenny basically complained about Jason Segal's way of speaking made Wallace sound like a "bro" instead of an literary genius.
I'd argue that Wallace's mixture of "bro" and literary genius is what makes him interesting. Wallace's "normal guy" vibe that he gives off in his radio interviews and writing makes me view reading "Infinite Jest" as a life goal. Wallace is accessible in the movie, as if he is a normal human being not an esoteric intellectual. Yes, Wallace is far more complicated as he was portrayed in the movie. But this doesn't take away from the fact that Wallace is normal guy and seemed like he wanted to connect with the normal American rather than impress literary critics. We are in need of intellectuals to speak like a normal American. His ability to act like a normal person AND be an intellectual is what makes Wallace who he is.
So many intellectuals today are attempting to follow this formula of what it looks like to be a literary person, a professor, a graduate student, journalist, a fiction writer, a poet or worst of all---a critic. This is the culture I experienced in graduate school in the English department at UNCG. This self-consciousness and obsession with sounding poetic, smart or deep can make intellectuals come off as detached from their pre-intellectual, non scholarly selves from undergrad. It seems that in the intellectual world today, we can divorce our real selves, perhaps our souls, from this heady world of knowledge and progressing professionally. Wallace doesn't divorce himself from his intellectual self, he seems to integrate the two. I went into graduate school wanting to become an intellectual, but graduated with a sense of paranoia that I would become a snarky know-it-all. If you aren't careful in English departments today, you could become a fragment of yourself and subscribe to a weird formula of gaining tenure or publication rather than sharing your knowledge and insight with the world.
When I watch this movie and when I hear Wallace interviewed, I can only think about how I wish Wallace was my big brother. He's there, sitting there diagnosing and summarizing so many serious American issues like loneliness, addiction and community in simple conversation. He's saying all these things in an intelligent way, but you can hear how serious he is about it. It's not a plug to sell his book. It's not a career track for him or something that helps inflate his ego-----he wants to solve the problem of American loneliness. Except he is able to talk about it in a very insightful way.
While it seems this movie will never be a "big movie" that starts a conversation with a national audience, at least this will make one of America's greatest contemporary writers to those who to come across this gem.