Film Review: The End of the Tour

Words By Josh Rakic

We gotta warn ya – it’s heavy, but it’s well worth the watch.

Like ethically-sourced soap or organic water, independant films often fall into the category of bragging rights. Good or bad, it’s often the most annoying person at the party who is laying claim to seeing “this little gem that Sundance just loved”. But for every long-winded, plot-less, self-promoting, droll and dreary piece of shit—and I say that lovingly—that someone has convinced 100 strangers to crowdfund, independent cinema has brought us some of cinema’s all-time classics. Thinks Swingers, Clerks, Juno, Reservoir Dogs and Memento, to name but a few.

And End of the Tour, a biopic of sorts documenting three days in the life of late author David Foster Wallace, falls into the latter category while also addressing the opening paragraph.Wallace somewhat reluctantly found fame in 1994 with his 1079-page opus Infinite Jest, a book that delves into personal and national identity, family, advertising, media, addiction, suicide and more, all the while centred at a tennis academy by an addiction centre. Time named it one of the best 100 books of the century. The film, starring an exceptionally endearing depressive performance from Jason Segal as Foster Wallace and the always satisfyingly irritating Jesse Eisenberg as Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, follows Lipsky as he joins Wallace on the final days of his book tour. A national tour where the hyper intelligent, uber emotional Wallace was a reluctant hero.

The film is based on the actual tapes that Lipsky recorded during his time with Wallace, though the article was never printed, making this insight all the more intriguing. Whether or not you’ve read the book or even heard of Wallace, this more than anything is a film about struggling with the contradictions of modern life. The existential concerns and ethical crisis of conscience that we all face—though few admit to—while trying to navigate this fame-crazed culture we’ve created for ourselves. No scene made it clearer in the film than when the two Daves were in a car and Lipsky informed Wallace that the bandana he wore religiously had been dissected by media as his attempt to ‘relate to’ and ‘be considered cool’ by younger readers. Wallace says he wears it because of his profuse sweating and it makes him feel comfortable, but he’s presented with that crisis of conscience – stop wearing it and give in to the peer pressure, or continue wearing it and be viewed as a try-hard. Either way, he can’t win. Because try as he might, he cares too much what people think. We all do. The more intelligent he becomes, the more unanswered questions he has, which knots him up inside.

The movie is set in 1994 before smart phones had even been conceived, but Wallace predicts that some time in the future, society will be consumed by screens and technology so personal and accessible that it will make it easier than ever to be alone in a crowd of people. Spot on, big dog. It’s those very considerations that make him and this film so real, yet they fed his depression at the same time, eventually leading to his suicide in 2008, which is evidently where the non-linear film begins.

The film is rife with hard-hitting existential theme, beautiful cinematography (courtesy of director James Ponsoldt), and a compelling story courtesy of a screenplay adaptation of Lipsky’s tapes by playwrite Donald Marguilies. It’s depressing as fuck, but also enlightening in the sense that as a viewer you’re faced with the realization that even the most intelligent, successful people are faced with the very same existential crisis we all endure.

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