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The End of the Tour

What is the best conversation you’ve ever had?  I don’t think I could answer that question.  It’s an odd one to even ask – do we really even pursue good conversations with other people?  It’s a lot easier to talk about your favorite TV show or movie or novel or restaurant than your favorite conversation. It would be even more interesting to set out with that goal in mind: this week I am going to try and have the best conversation I’ve ever had.  How would that change the way I act, and would it ultimately be counterproductive?  Can great conversations be pursued, or are they the kind of thing that must happen organically?

David Lipsky spent 3 days interviewing author David Foster Wallace for Rolling Stone, and, years later, turned that extended conversation into a book called “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.” The book, in turn, has been made into a movie called “The End of the Tour,” which is basically a two-hour conversation, with occasional changes of scenery and musical interludes.  At the end of the movie, Lipsky calls this the best conversation of his life, and yep, it’s a pretty great one.  It had better be, to justify this kind of attention.

Lipsky and Wallace (or David and David) talk about a variety of things, from Alanis Morissette to “Die Hard,” but the meat of it revolves around issues of personality and persona, of success and satisfaction. Lipsky envies Wallace’s success as an author, and Wallace is wary of Lipsky, and anyone who would want to be like him.  The current running under almost everything is questions about authenticity and what is worth doing.  Very Gen X concerns, and this is a very Gen X movie.  Maybe that’s why I liked it so much. I wanted to be part of this conversation.  They were talking about things I care about, and spend a fair amount of time worrying over.

This kind of film isn’t very cinematic.  Not much happens to the characters (though some interesting things happen in and between the characters.)  The cinematography is pretty pedestrian, and there’s no reason you can’t watch this on a screen the size of an iPhone.  Probably the most challenging task facing director James Ponsoldt is in the pacing, and he handles it well.  I was kind of surprised how tense and absorbing it was at times, but then, that’s the way the best conversations are.

A lot of people who were close to David Foster Wallace have complained about this movie, claiming that it gets everything wrong, that Wallace himself would have hated it, etc.  If you take a step back from these numerous self-important think-piece reflections, you hear the distinct sound of cultists complaining because the artists only they really knew or understood has suddenly become, or threatens to become, famous and beloved by a lot of people who aren’t capable of understanding him like they do. This was a big deal in the ‘90s; an artist could only really be good if most people either hated or had never heard of them. Success was a kind of failure. (Wallace actually addresses this paradox in the movie.)

But I didn’t come away from “The End of the Tour” feeling like I had seen a biopic of David Foster Wallace, or that it had beatified him in any way.  I really don’t feel like I know much about Wallace at all, and if director James Ponsoldt had decided to change the names, the movie would be just as good. I enjoyed the conversation, the questions, the reflections.  They may or may not be Wallace’s own thoughts; the simple fact is that the raw material has been shaped (by Lipsky) and shaped again (by Don Margulies) and then shaped again (by Ponsoldt and the actors. Right now, I’ feel far more interested in reading Lipsky’s book than Wallace’s. I don’t know exactly what that means.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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