The End of the Tour

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The End of the Tour

Rated: R / Runtime: 1h 46m

A frank and fragile fluctuation between warmth and brittleness, The End of the Tour illustrates writer David Foster Wallace with an understated duel between self-conscious egos.

Jason Segel is a revelation as David Foster Wallace. Embodying mannerisms is one thing (there’s a hard cap to the amount of excitement an impression can generate), but becoming someone so completely, blending the familiarity generated over a successful career into the nuanced neuroses dripping from Wallace? Segel is impeccable. You genuinely believe the juxtaposition between his warmth and his capacity for earnest friendship with a harsh distrust of media and prickliness about personal details. It’s because Segel has always – even when playing the slovenly Apatowian man-child – possessed a calm, Zen wisdom underlying his human foibles. Thank God he found a role that let him stretch those skills.

Jesse Eisenberg is good at what he does, and he does what he’s known for. Self-absorption with a dash of cruelty, marinating in audience empathy for an hour and a half. His take on the Rolling Stone journalist (David Lipsky) interviewing Wallace is inadequate, insecure, nervous, and yet never truly unlikable.

The screenplay (by Donald Margulies) is wonderful, and, along with the direction (by Margulies’s former student James Ponsoldt), flows from the familiar getting-to-know-you stages of friendship (the awkward discomfort of spending the night at a new friend’s house) to much more complicated waters without jarring drama or explosive change. Little missed social cues or unchecked acts of selfishness of which we’ve all been both perpetrator and victim inch the film forward. These subtleties drive a relationship between protagonists that can at any moment seem friendly, warm, antagonistic, rivalrous, or rife with petty jealousies. The brilliant thing is that the mood shifts are almost never addressed. They soak into our being like flooding memories undammed from our blockaded shame, feeling at once familiar and riveting.

Gorgeously shot by Swedish cinematographer Jakob Ihre. An austere treatment of the unfamiliar with cold harsh light clashes with the warm enclosure of a cozy home. The delicate tonal shifts owe a lot to Ihre’s framing of the physically imposing Segel and the closeness between the two protagonists.

Further, on a more thematic level, the film manages to capture much of its subject’s beliefs in a natural, off-the-cuff manner – which, considering it’s not only a completely planned and scripted movie, but one about an interview, is staggering. Introducing and maintaining heady philosophy in a film designed around the superficial, commercial process of a press interview works far too well.

The deification of Wallace near the end of the film, damning him with the incongruous light of creative sainthood, feels completely counter to the views expressed by his character during the film. When you treat your main character as too perfect, you lose the connection developed by letting us see ourselves in the flaws. We don’t relate to God. That’s why he’s God and we scoot around in the dirt down here. We don’t need the purely good guy and the purely bad guy in every story. Two people – mostly composed of confusion, junk food, self-loathing, and nicotine – and their conversation are the perfect prescription for a lonely life.

David Foster Wallace prided himself on being “a regular guy”. The conversational tone of his writing – his sidenotes, derailments, and ramblings – prevents you from putting down his words like you couldn’t hang up on your intellectual soulmate or walk away from a TED Talk. It’d be like slapping a friend in the face.

A blend of the specific and the universal is the foundation of connection. I try to hit that perfect balance when I write these reviews. Because I want to talk to YOU, not shout meaninglessly into the cyber-void. Because, in the way most writers do, I need to reach you.

The End of the Tour, a story about the last stop on Infinite Jest’s book tour, is about loneliness. A dense, three-pound manifesto on human disappointment would only become a bestseller in a nation plagued with personal isolation. But maybe we can reach each out and grab each other. That’s the optimistic stance. Those are the good times in the film.

But The End of the Tour is also about the flipside. The side that says, even if we reach out and grab our neighbor, what if they’re well-adjusted and healthy and happy? What if we want what they have, but can’t? It’s about the resentment and pettiness and fear that we will die without attaining the promises of our youth. That’s the pessimistic stance. The suicidal depressive parts.

The delicate balance between the film’s two writers, interviewer and interviewee, hinges on their need for attention. They are lonely, thus they crave affection, adoration, and affirmation. Discounting God and only taking us dirt-scooters here on Earth into account, they’re just like everyone else.

This dual relationship with other people – the need and the anxiety – gets thrown into high contrast by a series of car rides and hotel room conversations. Simple things like gas station candy or old ex-lovers can be binding life forces or dividing ammunition. Both sides are vital, inescapable parts of our lives and all we can do is embrace them.

Jacob Oller is an Oklahoma City film critic and writer. Find more of his work at or

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