You are standing in the middle of a Michigan winter staring into the inescapable beauty of sunlight illuminating a snow-covered earth. The whiteness is endless. You are slowly hypnotized by the perceived infinity of a blank, white world. You are lost in an ocean of nothingness. Staring into this unique abyss, you feel a deep awareness of the collective unconscious, a dense connection to all human experience, an acute sense of being alive, awake. As you notice your tracks are the only thing breaking apart the world, that blissfully calm feeling gives way to a heavy loneliness. You are now immersed in an amaranthine sadness, drowning in a universal heartache, suffocating under the knowledge that you are alone. You are left with no other options, instincts or ideas. You must reach out.
The End of the Tour is a careful exploration of one of the most intelligent, observant and complicated minds of the twentieth century. David Foster Wallace had an unmatched appreciation for the minute details of our ever-expanding modern world. And he was able to articulate those details into an intellectual treatise that both informed and predicted an entire generation. Impossibly honest, subtly affecting and gradually enlightening, this movie reveals the heart of a writer through the conversations he started with his writing. Jesse Eisenberg turns in an impeccable performance as journalist, fan and friend, David Lipsky. This perspective is crucial in giving the film a focal point of consuming David Foster Wallace and his seminal work, Infinite Jest. Jason Segel plays the aforementioned author with a nuanced authenticity, cementing his place as a national treasure with this mesmerizing portrayal.
As a writer himsef, Segel has given us Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets, which may seem a distant place apart from this dialogue-driven slice of life. However, those films are overflowing with emotional parallels. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the broken-hearted Peter tries to navigate his way through the world while fighting an ever-present loneliness. It is the story of a heavy-drinking, depressed man living below his potential and learning to see the world outside of his own head. The Muppets are an overwhelming voice saying it's okay to be strange. There is a singularity to each Muppet, a solitary sadness, yet a strong sense of community surrounding them. The End of the Tour examines this paradigm of feeling utterly alone and unbelievably connected simultaneously. David Foster Wallace was somebody who believed stories help people feel less alone. Both Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets were efforts in the same vein of comforting the disenfranchised masses.
This is a small movie with big ideas. It is basically one compiled conversation between a man trying to understand what is like to be truly conscious in America and a man trying to understand that man. Director James Ponsoldt takes a naturalistic approach to capture the slight shifts in shade of a conversation rich in color. Donald Margulies is an adroit architect of the English language. His screenplay spins a web of thoughts that you end up getting entangled in. It's the kind of art that sneaks up on you and leaves a lasting impression. It touches on some concealed ugliness that is inside all of us and exposes some difficult truths that we carry around in our day-to-day lives. At the end of the day, we're all struggling for success without really taking the time to realize what that means because ultimately we're struggling to survive. David Lipsky was trying to understand what Wallace's success felt like while Wallace himself was struggling to maintain some sense of normal. We see Lipsky sleep among high piles of unsold books. We see the myth of fame fade against the reality of insecurity.
David Foster Wallace was part of a generation that screamed, "Here we are now, entertain us." There is urgency in the immeasurable want for distraction. His was a generation that felt helpless and was in desperate need of anesthesia. Perhaps even several generations in succession that would rather not know what was going on than suffer the bad news because, "With the lights out it's less dangerous." Wallace was somebody who fought the temptation of being numb. He suffered to gain an acute awareness of the people struggling beyond himself. He made an effort to reach out. He peered into humanity and saw the emptiness inherent in all life. He saw that it was silly and infinite. He dove head first into commercial entertainment and felt the icy sting of discontent. He confronted all indifference in the human condition. He sifted through the mindless minutia and soul-crushing routine to find what was important, to find brutal honesty, to find what was at the heart of apathy. He made himself vulnerable so that others could see the unsettling truth. In the end, it doesn't take drugs or guns to kill a man. Death can be found in loud action movies, isolating technology, liquor store candy and endless sadness.