On the David Foster Wallace Biopic, The End of the Tour

Emma Bailey asks whether the new film helps or hinders Wallace's legacy
Jesse Eisenberg (left) and Jason Segel (right) in The End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt, 2015)
While many fans of author David Foster Wallace agree that his works are worthy of further attention from both media and mainstream audiences, the merits of gaining this publicity through film have been much debated among literary circles, casual fans, and members of his family and estate. The specific film in question, The End of the Tour, is a recently released movie that depicts a few days in the life of Wallace, as perceived by David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone reporter who spent five days with the author during the final stage of his book tour to promote his then new novel Infinite Jest in 1996.

The film is billed as a true story, based on Lipsky's book, Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, which was originally composed from transcripts of the interviews and conversations that took place during the five days that Lipsky and Wallace spent together. The interview material was not ultimately filed nor published in Rolling Stone, who deemed it too depressing, and Lipsky did not compile it into book material until after Wallace's death in 2008. The delayed publishing led many to speculate whether Wallace himself would have approved of the book, and now, the subsequent film that A24 and DirecTV are hoping to cash in on.

Lipsky’s memoir may actually hold some clues as to how Wallace would have reacted to the film project ‒ no matter what Wallace’s opinion may have been, the book has been touted as one of the most insightful pieces ever written about the author. Lipsky describes Wallace as an intensely private individual who values his solitude as well as his art. And with an irony worthy of Wallace's notice, the film faithfully portrays the author as someone who would likely be appalled to learn that his life was being offered up as the sum of a handful of mundane and offhand comments made to a reporter nearly two decades prior.

The film itself has been well-received by casual audiences who are not overly familiar with Wallace's body of work and, even among those in the know about Wallace, there is reserved interest. An early area of concern was the casting of Jason Segel as the author, though in the end, Segel showed a dedication to the role that would likely have impressed Wallace, even if the creation of the film itself would not. Many also agree that the role of Lipsky seemed ready-made for Jesse Eisenberg, whose performance is one of the major strengths of the film.

The Wallace family, his estate, and his long-time publishing company of Little, Brown, and Company have all made public statements against the making and release of the film, stating that they were not involved with the decision-making process, nor do they feel that the original transcripts which eventually became Lipsky's novel and source material for the film were intended to be used in this way. As far as they are concerned, David Foster Wallace would never have agreed to the repurposing of the transcripts, especially since they were never published by Rolling Stone, as was the original intention.

All in all, most fans of David Foster Wallace, however casual or dedicated, can agree that the man was a cultural icon and deserved recognition for his substantive literary contributions. However, perhaps a better tribute would focus on spreading word of his works rather than focusing on his personal life. While Infinite Jest has thus far eluded the process of movie adaptation, perhaps the time has come to reexamine the possibility and challenge of allowing the author to be viewed through the lens of his greatest work rather than through a handful of old transcripts.

About the Contributor: Emma Bailey is a writer in the greater Chicago area who covers technology, entertainment, and business. She enjoys reading novels by humorists, cooking at home during the week and eating out on the weekend, and watching indie movies (especially anything mumble-core). You can find her on Twitter at @emma_bailey90.