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Infinite Wallace 

The End of the Tour quietly explodes

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I picked up David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest because I was supposed to. Seventeen years old, a senior in high school and desperate to not look as uncool as I felt, I knew that this was the book I was supposed to carry around in order to look hip (or at least intelligent). I carried it around for a few weeks (everyone saw right through me) until I put it on a shelf to gather dust until my sophomore year of college. Now, I actually thought I was cool and smart enough to handle reading the 1,000-page opus that had tested the literary patience of some of the greatest minds I knew.

I wasn't smarter (dumber, actually) or cooler (much, much lamer), but I read every page of that damned book, including footnotes, and it spoke right to me. The novel combines so many things: A dystopia where every year was subsidized by a different corporation that got to name it (Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland); a film so addictive that its viewers give up on life and die watching it; a Québécois separatist group of wheelchair-bound assassins...and tennis. Lots of tennis. These things blended together in a madcap adventure, reminiscent of Pynchon, while being so quintessentially Wallace that this reader felt like he wasn't alone in his isolated confusion.

During Wallace's press tour for Infinite Jest, he agreed to do an interview for Rolling Stone. Journalist David Lipsky joined Wallace for the final few days of his book tour, meeting him at his home in Illinois and traveling with him to Minneapolis-Saint Paul. The End of the Tour dramatizes their five-day discussion without softening either participant.

David Lipsky is played by Jesse Eisenberg who, while nestling comfortably in his usual performance wheelhouse, still carves new colors into his similar notes. Lipsky, while making a good living as a journo, considers himself a novelist. His first book has just been published, but Infinite Jest has just hit the bookstands, making all other current novels basically obsolete. Lipsky would give anything to have Wallace's talent and success.

When he finally meets Dave Wallace, he isn't prepared for what he finds. Wallace, played note perfect by Jason Segal, is basically a simple man. Living in the frozen wastes of Illinois and avoiding the Manhattan literati only adds to the mystique of Wallace, who Lipsky sees as either a wolf in sheep's clothing or a sheep lost in a wolf's brain. Watching these men get to know one another, while sizing each other up, coming to terms with their disappointments and having a genuine discussion about LIFE in big, bold capitols is almost the entire running time of the film.

The film is quietly and simply directed by James Ponsoldt (behind 2013's deceptively powerful The Spectacular Now) and based on Lipsky's 2010 book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which detailed David's five days with Wallace. While I haven't read it, I intend to because the conversation these two men have is large in scope, yet microscopic in examining what makes us human. If a movie about two white men (one of them a genius) discussing life, philosophy and morals sounds like a slog, see it anyway. This film is good for you and will give you strong bones.

David Foster Wallace killed himself on September 12, 2008, while partway through writing The Pale King. While the novel was published unfinished, it still comes very close to achieving the brilliance of Infinite Jest.

It is easy to look for meaning in The End of the Tour, to see if there is some sign of why he left so quickly other than the catch-all of the word "depression." While there are pieces of his best and worst moments to sift through, suicide is ultimately too personal to leave obvious signposts. We do get to see a bit of who he was throughout the film, and that in and of itself, is good enough.

The End of the Tour

Directed by James Ponsoldt

Grade: A

Now playing at Tin Pan Theater

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