‘He wants more than he has – I want precisely what he already has’ mourns Jesse Eisenberg’s David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone reporter facing personal and professional existentialism with a dejected squalor.
In a scene that perfectly captures James Ponsoldt’s 2015 film in its entirety, The End of the Tour explores stardom and self-esteem with meditative subtlety, spearheaded by two wonderful performances from Eisenberg as the aforementioned Lipsky, and Jason Segel as the acclaimed American novelist, David Foster Wallace.
Eisenberg has always excelled at playing spiky, divisive characters. Take him as Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network, for example, where his moments of pioneering brilliance are equalled solely by his dire inability to grasp common social courtesies. In Holy Rollers, he plays a young Hasid with simultaneous bravado and naivety, whilst his dual outing in The Double was performed with the prickliness he has come to patent.
Thus, it’s no real surprise that his turn as Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky follows this trend; Lipsky is snappishly intrusive, vexatious and prone to frequent outbursts of defensive narcissism.
There’s nothing at all shocking about Jesse Eisenberg’s performance in The End of the Tour, excellent though it is – leaving Segel to monopolise the movie’s surprise factor with a stunningly quaint interpretation of the late David Foster Wallace.
Ponsoldt’s film, which documents the five-day interview between the two men during Wallace’s Infinite Jest tour, sees Segel portray the late novelist as a humble, reserved man, with far more ticks and complexities than his ‘tragic genius’ caricature would sometimes allow. In what is very much a two-man show, Lipsky and Wallace trade compliments, barbs and ideas in their philosophical take on contemporary American life.
‘Nice view’ shouts Lipsky, arriving at Wallace’s wintry Baltimore home during the film’s opening.
‘Thanks’ is the response he receives from the self-effacing writer: ‘I can’t take credit for it’.
The David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour, much like his home and lifestyle, and in incredibly stark contrast to his literary work, is incredibly modest. He drinks a lot of canned Pepsi, doesn’t own a television (‘because he would watch it all the time’) and loves his two dogs. He exists somewhat disconnectedly, whilst Lipsky provides an antithesis, hungry for the talent and success his interviewee is blessed with, and not at all covert in his longing to acquire it. Much of the film, which exists almost entirely as different conversations between the two men, plays with this notion – a ‘the grass is always greener’ complex, where one man yearns to be another man, whom doesn’t even want to be himself.
Whilst there’s a ubiquitous beauty to the film, much owing to the maundering dialogue and longitudinal views of middle-American landscape, the film is at its most striking when Lipsky manages to find vulnerability behind Wallace’s ambivalence – telling displays of mortality from the intellectual demi-god, if you will.
Here’s one of the greatest literary minds of the last century, and he’ll unreservedly sulk when Jesse Eisenberg chats up an old college flame of his. He dances, too, at a local Baptist church, because he’s found he likes dancing. What he really likes is the harmony of solitude and crowdedness that the dancing permits, but the seriousness with which Segel delivers this trivial revelation is crushing.
Loneliness is inescapable – but jiving will help.
The film, which tackles friendship, envy and the very idea of masculinity, begins with the revelation of Wallace’s suicide, and ends with its aftermath – for both Lipsky and the wider world. As Lipsky reminisces on his time with the author during the tour, we find ourselves doing the same on our time with Segel’s Wallace throughout the film’s duration.
‘David thought books existed to stop you from feeling lonely. If I could, I’d say to David that living those days with me reminded me of what life is like, instead of being a relief from it. I’d tell him it made me feel much less lonely’. Lipsky’s closing ode to Wallace is honest and bare, encompassing the spirit of the film with earnest defenceless.
The End of the Tour reminds you of what life is like, and I dare say it’ll make you feel much less lonely, too. It’s unyielding, pensive and sad, but knowing that these conversations took place seems to provide you with a warm hum of easiness.
Jason Segel is stupendous throughout, but Jesse Eisenberg’s closing monologue is the film’s most powerful moment. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet end to a gorgeous piece of cinema.
Words by Niall Flynn