James Ponsoldt’s film “The End of the Tour” belongs to a particular genre, that of the bio-pic that doesn’t span heroic arcs of a luminary’s career but focusses on a seemingly insignificant sliver of it, within which the hero may seem like someone doing only fairly ordinary things. One notable film in the genre is Christopher Münch’s “The Hours and Times,” in which a weekend jaunt taken by John Lennon and Brian Epstein in 1963 successfully evokes Lennon’s creative genius without a note of his music. One of the greatest of this genre, not yet released here, is the French director Philippe Collin’s “.” (There’s a literary history of table talk, too, as in Eckermann’s “Conversations with Goethe,” which “the best German book there is.”)
The genre has both irony and sincere heroism built into it. On the one hand, it celebrates a creator for everything except what the creator has created and, in the process, risks minimizing the artist precisely by depicting him or her as being “” (It might even exist for the purpose of revealing personal failings of artists who are celebrated for their work.) On the other hand, the artist’s ingenuity and originality may well emerge in the simplest details of daily life, in the surprising responses to banal circumstances—responses that are inseparable from those that are part of the art. The hero’s actions and talk in the course of ordinary events may—and, I think, do—reveal his or her extraordinary character. That’s all the truer of writers, because their offhand conversation is continuous with their work (even if writing begins where talk ends—in silence).
“The End of the Tour” goes the genre one better: it’s filled with the words of David Foster Wallace, because it’s the adaptation of David Lipsky’s book “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” which mainly features transcripts of discussions between Wallace and Lipsky over the course of five days, in 1996. Lipsky, also a novelist, was assigned to write a profile of Wallace for Rolling Stone; Wallace agreed to let Lipsky join him at his home in Bloomington, Illinois, and then join him for the last reading, in Minneapolis, on the book tour to promote “Infinite Jest.” The profile was not published at the time. After Wallace’s suicide, in 2008, Lipsky revisited the tapes and wrote an article and then a book based on the transcripts, interspersing his commentary with the conversations. Prompted by Lipsky’s presence and questions, respectful of the agreement to provide personal information for the purpose of the profile, and spurred by a rapidly developing feeling of friendship toward Lipsky, Wallace speaks of himself with a profuse, almost therapeutic candor, delivering a spoken autobiography in intermittent fragments, even while warily noting that his thoughts will therefore be, in effect, in Lipsky’s hands, for the journalist to shape and interpret freely.
In Lipsky’s book, Wallace’s voice is startingly present—but so are his ideas, his immediate emotional responses to circumstances, and his own complex range of perspectives on the circumstances at hand. The first of those circumstances is that of publicity, arising from the book tour and, now, especially, Lipsky’s visit. The awareness of the inevitability and the burden of fame, the creation of a public version of himself that he now suddenly needs to manage, and the fearful desire to think about it as little as possible even as it seems to be an inescapable aspect of literary success are among the prime topics of discussion. The book folds back upon itself with a pop-cultural reflexivity that’s among Wallace’s own subjects of literary obsession.
Noting that Jason Segel had been cast as Wallace in Ponsoldt’s film, I wondered how he would handle the high-flown philosophical and literary aphorisms that Wallace dispenses to Lipsky in the course of the visit. Segel is among the most inventive comic actors around, and he brings a distinctive tone of self-punishing self-revelation to his performances. His comic improvisations are slyly insinuating, but comedy isn’t the same thing as literary invention, and I tried to imagine, instead, a thirtysomething actor whose overtly bookish bent would make Wallace-isms roll goldenly off his tongue.
Wallace was a philosopher with a specialty in mathematical logic, and there’s something of the cool and detached logician, seeing patterns at a bright and pristine remove, in his way of speaking. As it turns out, Segel, displaying no overt theatrical technique or literary inclinations, conjures an idea of Wallace which, if necessarily incomplete, is noble and brilliant. Segel makes Wallace funny—which makes perfect sense in the context of the book, in which his remarks to Lipsky are as quietly hilarious as they are ingenious. In his parenthetical commentary, Lipsky emphasizes Wallace’s mercurial sense of humor, and one particular joke that strikes him as ingenious is turned by Segel into a laugh-out-loud spit-take. Humor is a crucial mark of intelligence—a kind of verbal alertness that coalesces with literature. In “The End of the Tour,” the dryly but freely comic side of Segel’s performance suggests the synapse-leaping essence of Wallace’s humor, the wonder of inspired perception and its crystallization in words.
Segel turns his voice papery and haunted, infuses it with an overflow of life experience, of nuanced perception, far-ranging insight, and pain—in particular, a certain fear of his own memories, a fear of himself, as if he himself were the wounded beast whose own attack most endangered his life. Segel doesn’t quite reach the rarefied realms of the mathematical aspect of Wallace’s temperament. He doesn’t quite have the airiness and cloudless brightness that suggest a removed genius, which makes for an all-the-more-bitter contrast with the punishing contact with the rough stuff of life. Nonetheless, Segel captures the burden of the sensitive and self-aware thinker; Lipsky refers to Wallace’s “big build,” and, along with its physical aspect, Segel suggests something of the difficulty that Wallace describes in presenting his own person to the public as a personality—a moral unease that coalesces with a physical one.
Eisenberg, by contrast, is one of the most conspicuously intellectual young American actors. He’s also a writer (including for The New Yorker体育投注平台), and his performance as Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network” conveys an extraordinary rapidity of abstract thought. The problem with Eisenberg in “The End of the Tour” isn’t Eisenberg’s but Ponsoldt’s. Lipsky, as presented in his own book, is more of a dude than he is in the film—someone whose screen persona would be closer to Giovanni Ribisi’s than to Eisenberg’s. I have no doubt that, under more perceptive direction, Eisenberg could deliver such a performance persuasively. Instead, Ponsoldt—who successfully got Segel to reveal an aspect of his acting that hadn’t hitherto been tapped—kept Eisenberg within familiar territory, typecast him, and didn’t push him onto unfamiliar ground.
As a result, the character of Lipsky lacks the athleticism, physical vigor, pugnacity, even ribaldry that would complicate his relationship with Wallace. The drama of the book—which is emphasized and even overemphasized by Donald Margulies’s screenplay—is the push-and-pull between the journalist and his subject, which is also the relationship between two young novelists.
体育投注平台Lipsky both admires and envies Wallace, and he wants to be liked by Wallace even as he knows that what he discovers and reveals about Wallace may be to Wallace’s detriment. Wallace knows this, too; he’s worried about the use that Lipsky may make of Wallace’s intimate disclosures, but has a sense that, as a fellow novelist, Lipsky is also likelier to make sense of Wallace’s literary achievement and to have more sympathy for the kinds of personal choices and problems that go along with it. Their discussions often take a literary turn, and Wallace includes him fraternally as a fellow novelist, speaking to him as to a professional equal, which Lipsky often deflects with a self-deprecating sincerity.