“The End of the Tour:” Honoring David Foster Wallace at Ebertfest

By Steffie Drucker

There’s something kind of “meta” about writing an article about a movie about someone writing an article. But it’s particularly fitting for a review of “The End of the Tour,” which was screened at the 17th annual Ebertfest on Thursday night.

The movie, directed by James Ponsoldt and starring Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, is “meta” in itself. Based off journalist David Lipsky’s 2010 book “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” the film depicts Lipsky’s travels with acclaimed author and Champaign-Urbana native, David Foster Wallace.

Perhaps the best way to describe this film is by what it is not.

It is not a biopic — a point underscored by Ponsoldt during the question and answer session following the screening.

“I don’t think of it as a biopic,” he said. “To try to reduce a life to 105 minutes feels so reductive and flat and just insulting to the complexity of human life.”

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Though the movie has many laughable moments — with extra, knowing chuckles among this particular crowd at the mention or depiction of life in Bloomington-Normal — and shows the development of a relationship between the two Davids, it’s not what you would call a comedy, either. Tension grows between the pair, and the men discuss some difficult topics like addiction, depression and what it means to be fulfilled.

Eisenberg’s Lipsky is similar to most of his characters: Neurotic, a bit pompous, and, “obsessed with being the smartest guy in the room,” Ponsoldt said. Segel plays Wallace, an intricate, somewhat prophetic author that “treasured his regular guy-ness.”

The role is a departure of sorts for Segel, who usually plays simpler, fictional characters. In order to bring Wallace to life, the actor rented a remote house outside of Los Angeles, joined a book club to read Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” and listened to Lipsky’s actual recorded conversations with Wallace in order to pick up on the tone of their relationship.

“That’s the real heartbreak that’s captured in the movie,” Segel said. “For a minute, I think David Foster Wallace felt like this might be a friend. … And then all of a sudden there’s this sort of sucker punch that happens, and I think it felt like a real betrayal.”

Ponsoldt chose the relationship that develops between the two main characters as the main connecting point for audiences.

“I think it’s hard to relate to or ask an audience to relate to the experience of what it is to be a genius,” he said. “But coming in contact with someone who brings out the best — and maybe the worst — in you, I think we’ve all had that experience.”

While the story has many universal themes and characters that feel easy to relate to, Segel said the film works well specifically because of David Foster Wallace and his extraordinary gift to sense and articulate the common human psyche.

“That’s the difference and that’s what made David Foster Wallace so special,” Segel said. “I think that there are these feelings that are swirling around in all of us and he put them perfectly into words. It honors what I think is a really, really unique and very special ability to act as a surrogate for all of us in a very poignant way.”

Steffie is a sophomore in Media.

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