Hot Take: Seeing It Isn’t Necessary But It’s Worth A Listen
I had no idea who David Foster Wallace was before seeing The End of the Tour. Maybe that’s what makes my take on the film different than any review I’ve read as it seems every film critic who reviewed the movie was intimately familiar with Wallace’s work.
Isn’t it odd when you read a movie review how hard the critic tries to keep it as impersonal as possible? It’s written from this inherently omniscient perspective as if the writer doesn’t dare personalize the review as to lose all credibility. It’s usually the last paragraph or two where the critic finally let’s down their guard and, after they’ve strategically established themselves as authoritative, let’s you in on their now qualified opinion.
And that’s not to say I’m a movie critic, either. I started a blog that’s about a week old about movies because, well, I love movies, enjoy writing and thought, “Hell, why not?” There was a time when I worried about credibility and perception. I might have gleaned some vague references about Wallace and pretended (like some of the current owners of the 1,079 page Wallace novel “Infinite Jest” surely do because that’s what happens when you write a 1,079 page book people “have to” read) to be very familiar with his work. But now, if that’s important, there’s plenty of critical reviews of whether or not The End of the Tour lived up to the legend of David Foster Wallace. (Plus, if I’m lucky, 2-3 people other than my girlfriend might ever read this.) If you prefer something different, here’s my take:
There’s a huge difference between loneliness and being alone. The one thing refreshing about the adventure of avoiding loneliness is the distraction from being alone. That’s magnified if you suffer from depression. The End of the Tour captures this with perfection. Intentional or not.
What I learned about Wallace from the film is he’s more brilliant than he gives himself credit for. He’s self conscious thanks to his self awareness (because when you know yourself too well, you know how flawed you are and even though you give very few people any sort of credit for being smart, you’re damn sure they’re tuned in to every one of them). He’s gone from vice to vice to vice in an endless search for distraction from unhappiness. From all accounts, “Infinite Jest” is a masterpiece. Having read none of it, my gut tells me it’s more a product of this search for a distraction than his brilliance and he’s painfully aware which is why he dismisses the notion he must be the smartest guy in the room. Just spitballing.
While the movie doesn’t dwell on his suicide, it’s present in the narrative. Depression is crippling and suffocating. You’ll do anything to avoid it once you recognize it. However, once you recognize it, it’s more powerful. Maybe it’s drugs or watching television with reckless abandon or chewing tobacco or smoking or pounding diet soda or entertaining the ironic notion of spending five days with a jealous, severely unaware journalist hungry for the fame and attention you’ve found no joy and actually more discomfort in. At least that’s how Wallace fought the fight. I think. Again, just spitballing.
What’s unsurprising here is the end. Not that suicide is the expectation but it’s a viable outcome. While there’s a morbid and grim prospect in self-immolation (sorry, the allure of being a pompous critic using words half the audience will have to look up while the other half pretends to know exactly what the critic is saying is sometimes too much to dismiss), eventually maybe you exhaust the vices. Then what?
As someone who recently has come to grips with depression and it’s profound effect on your life, this film acts as a cautionary tale. After the first act, I was ready to run out and buy a copy of “Infinite Jest.” By the finale, I was more interested in Wallace, the man, instead of Wallace, the writer. For others, it seemed to be a fact checking exercise in their perception of Wallace. And that’s okay, too. Not sure how good such a movie can be in that approach but, fortunately, that wasn’t my cross to bear.
At the very least, I know now writing the Great American Novel won’t cure depression. Then again, all I can think about is how much better the review I wrote in my head following the movie is so much better than the 700 or so preceding words. Even the better review I wrote in my head struggled with an ending provocative enough to provide you, the reader, with some sort of satisfaction and enticement befitting the review of a movie I feel well worth the overpriced admission (and popcorn) to see The End of the Tour. But then again, some things just… end.