By Jack Ryan, Senior Staff Writer
While speaking in support of omission in writing, Ernest Hemingway once remarked that, “The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one eighth of it being above water.” “The End of the Tour” is a testament to the success of this “iceberg theory,” exploring the late, acclaimed writer David Foster Wallace by forcing the viewer to truly discover him in themselves.
Despite its biopic status, “The End of the Tour” is not a sweeping, grand biography à la “Goodfellas” or “The Aviator.” In fact, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) is not even the main character. Instead, “The End of the Tour” is the story of David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), a young writer sent out to interview Wallace for a Rolling Stone profile, during the final days of Wallace’s book tour for his magnum opus, “Infinite Jest.”
All we know of Wallace at the beginning of the film is of his notoriously dense “Infinite Jest” — over a thousand pages, filled with endnotes and footnotes — and of its universal acclaim, forcing us to see him as a reflection of his work and fame, as an outspoken narcissist. Within seconds of meeting him outside his snowy Illinois home, our preconceived notions of arrogance are voided.
Some parallels aside (first name, profession, age), screenwriter Donald Marguiles poses Wallace and Lipsky as foils. The reporter wants nothing but the success and fame that Wallace has achieved, Wallace is vehemently grasping at the mundane bliss of the average man, to the extent that he lives buried in a television-less, book-infested cave of a home with only two dogs as housemates. In short, Wallace is — or wants to be — the epitome of the everyman.
In terms of plot, nothing really happens in “The End of the Tour.” The pair go on a trip to the Twin Cities for a few days and then they come home, essentially having one long extended conversation the entire way. This may sound a bit dry, and, at points, it is, but the film’s seemingly casual premise is in itself a reflection of its major theme: the magnificent existence of beauty within the unremarkable.
One of the greatest achievements in “The End of the Tour” exists in the screenwriting of Margulies, who adapts two interesting characters to the screen and provides us with an abundance of memorable dialogue and unique moments (existential discussions over McDonalds being a personal favorite).
Eisenberg is strong and convincing in his performance as David Lipsky, managing to show admiration, spite and hubris all at once. His openness and displays of emotion perfectly complement Segel’s reserved nature. However, the true highlight of “The End of the Tour” is Jason Segel, using a wonderfully controlled performance to bring a literary icon to life. Small mannerisms and ticks turn a bookworm recluse into a tortured genius, who wants nothing more than to be normal.
However, “The End of the Tour” would crumble without the stable direction of James Ponsoldt, who uses a variety of techniques to provide the dialogue-heavy film with a backbone. Ponsoldt makes Lipsky the clear audience surrogate, forcing us to slowly learn and unravel aspects of Wallace’s personality and life, not unlike being in the detective’s point of view in a crime film. He also utilizes the traditional shaky-cam to give the entire film a documentary-like feel, adding to the realism and, thus, our perception of the characters as genuine people.
Most biopics and character study movies make you feel one of two ways about their subject. Either you walk out of the theater inspired, wishing and hoping that you will one day achieve the protagonist’s level of grandeur, or you leave feeling equal parts empathetic and grateful, thanking some higher power that your life isn’t that god-awful. The curious, and ultimately, great thing about “The End of the Tour” is that it leaves you feeling like you already, impossibly, exist on the same plane as its genius subject, forcing you to look inwards and discover the rich wisdom and sadness of such a fascinating man is an extension of yourself.