Don’t Believe the Hype: David Foster Wallace and the End of the Tour


Christopher Schaberg in 3:AM Magazine:

1. There is a clever scene in the closing minutes of James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour, when David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) is out in his driveway scraping snow and ice off his Honda Civic, and David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) furtively takes last-minute notes as he makes his final observations around Wallace’s frumpy home. At one point Lipsky enters a nearly pitch black room, and we see a dim ray of light wash over Wallace’s writing desk: we get a glimpse of a well-used personal computer, a notepad and pen, bookshelves against the wall…. It is the wish image of a writer’s sacred den, a domestic shrine that emanates the residual aura of the Author at work. It strikes me that this is one of the things some viewers want from this movie, and maybe from David Foster Wallace in general: the architectural plans, the supply list and tools, for writing—for really being a certain kind of writer. Of course it’s just a fleeting glimpse, and we know the movie is wrapping up at this point, soon to fade out.

2. I saw the film on a Saturday morning in New York City the day after it opened. The theater wasn’t crowded at all; the vibe was mellow and subdued. I chuckled several times throughout the film, but I didn’t hear anyone else laughing. The experience was like sipping warm Earl Grey tea while someone tells you a long and sometimes unintentionally funny story in a comfortable if awkward living room. I watched the movie with a former student of mine who now lives in the city. This student is working hard to become a writer—I mean to really be a full-time writer, and I sincerely believe he has what it takes. Just two nights before, we had workshopped one of his new essays, apiece that overtly grapples with—and extends—David Foster Wallace’s classic essay “Consider the Lobster.” This student was in my David Foster Wallace seminar at Loyola University New Orleans the first time I taught that class, in 2011; Wallace is one of the writers who inspired my student to want to write, and to think critically about the world. So it made sense that we should go to The End of the Tour together. I had also considered seeing the film the night before, with a few friends, as Wallace kept coming up in conversation over dinner. (In the end, we were all too tired, and we dispersed to continue our individual, ordinary lives.) But so Wallace is in the air, and there are a lot of opinions, attitudes, and emotions swirling around The End of the Tour.

More here.