Nearly two years ago, I wrote elsewhere about my ambivalence toward a movie — The End of the Tour — about David Foster Wallace on a book tour for Infinite Jest. I haven’t been sure whether I’d wind up watching the movie or not, for a variety of reasons including a fear that it’d be sort of a hatchet job or lionization and that it’d feel a little ghoulish to watch it, especially given the estate’s decision not to support it.
It came out on demand recently, and last night I decided to watch it. I’m glad I did.
The movie didn’t transport me or anything. It didn’t really make me emote a whole lot, and it also didn’t feel like an outright hack job or lionization to me. Mostly it felt sort of comfortable to watch.
I didn’t love Eisenberg in it because he brought his particular personal flavor to the character of Lipsky, so that he seemed sort of more like Eisenberg playing Zuckerberg playing David Lipsky, which I found distracting. I thought Segel did a remarkable job playing a Wallace who evoked the public Wallace I know from interviews and other recordings, which doesn’t mean he captured Wallace as his intimates would have known him, but which made me feel like I was watching the public person whose work I so admire. So for me it was a nice way to revisit some of the exchanges from Lipsky’s book from which the movie drew its material.
My wife recognized Anna Chlumsky (Lipsky’s girlfriend in the movie) as the actor who played the girl whose best friend dies in the 1991 movie My Girl. I remember reading a book adaptation of the movie when I was at more or less the ages of its characters and really keenly feeling the loss that Chlumsky’s character felt when her best friend (played by Macaulay Culkin in the movie) died. For the most part I was shielded from death when I was a kid, and I don’t know whether it was strange or normal for me to react at the time with real emotion to the death of a character in that book.
There’ve been a few times as an adult that I’ve felt curiously bereft by the loss of a public person, and Chlumsky’s appearance connected that childhood sense of loss to the sickening loss I felt when Wallace killed himself in 2008, which I wrote about at the time here.
I don’t really know whether The End of the Tour was good or not, in sort of the way that when you see ugly babies out there in the world, it makes you wonder whether parents ever know that their own baby is ugly or whether they’re so blinded by their attachment to their child that they can see it as nothing but beautiful. That is, I don’t feel like I have enough distance from the material to make a good aesthetic judgment. I think the movie was probably reasonably good, and it gave me a nice sense of familiarity, as if I was watching old home video of an admired acquaintance, so for me it was a couple of hours well spent.