Much of your work was about finding a pathway through pop culture’s bracken of ironic remove. You seemed to have been searching for an authenticity, in both high and low art, which somehow wasn’t poisoned by sentiment or nostalgia—and subsequently free of the kind of base commercial motivations that render so much of today’s cultural output as purely transactional.
This balance point also seems to be something that is both as desirable and fictional as a Unicorn.
The search for that mythic sensibility—neither a myopic and whiny longing for a non-existent canon, nor a surrender to the seeming inevitability of the flat-lined ironic gaze, where everything is equally banal and therefore without any real value—is perhaps as close to a Grail quest as is culturally possible these days. And it is just as existentially fraught.
The End of The Tour –a film that chronicles Rolling Stone reporter’s David Lipsky’s four days with you during the end of the Infinite Jest book tour—also seems to be reaching towards that goal as well. And for the most part the film is executed with a surefooted, deliberate tone that feels authentic, without falling into a bro-ish deification of you and your works.
In this cultural moment—where diversity and questions about the status quo are pre-eminent, and rarified conversations about ‘what it all means’ seem tone deaf—that we are given a film that features two of the palest, malest, most privileged of the pasty, white, East coast intelligentsia (you grew up in the Midwest but are the epitome of an East coast, Ivy league intellectual in so many ways) is not lost on anyone paying attention. But that it works at all (and it does—far more often than not) on any level other than self-parody, is a testament to the universality The End of The Tour touches upon—and the utterly compulsive power of your prose.
Much of this film, and especially Jason Segel’s uneven but admirable run at your persona, is verbatim from Lipsky’s book (Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself) about those four days in 1996. It is a charming and irritating and sad and sometimes profound conversation between two men, and the occasional other, that takes place in the arid sterility of a Midwestern winter. Your house, anonymous coffee shops, a book store, a lecture hall, a rental car; all of these ordinary and otherwise nondescript settings juxtapose in remarkable ways with what is some of the most fascinating two-dudes-talking dialogue since My Dinner With Andre.
Jesse Eisenberg inhabits the role of Lipsky. Tonally he is a perfect balance between supplicant and reptilian careerist. Late in the film, you and he having seemingly reached some sort of détente, Lipsky is left alone in your house while you attend to carving the car out of a late winter snowfall. Lipsky then proceeds to rifle through your personal possessions in a way that is both reverential and completely crass. It is as if he has found the bones of a saint and can’t decide whether to sell them to the highest bidder or just keep them to himself and build a shrine in his basement.
The End of the Tour is inevitably tinted by melancholy. It only very briefly alludes to your suicide in 2008 but that tragedy stills informs each frame of this film. To catch even a reflection of the kind of mind you possessed is a privilege. But to know that what you will share with the rest of us will have to be mediated through your existing works, and the imperfect memories of others, means that no matter how good a film The End of The Tour is, it probably leaves the most important parts out.
I, for one, would give a lot to read your review of this film.
Sincerely (and un-ironically),