No, I haven’t seen The End of the Tour, and I don’t know if I will. One reason is because I don’t generally care for actors Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg (especially the latter, whose career path seems destined for him to play increasingly grating versions of himself). Another is because I have the dreadful feeling that this is yet another attempt to deify Wallace as the patron saint of literature, the forever boy genius and verbal wunderkind taken from us too soon. The outpouring of Wallace worship was probably predictable when he killed himself in 2008, but it’s gotten to a point where even Wallace himself would be disturbed by the amount of praise—warranted or unwarranted—he and his work have received these past seven years. There’s been the release of two posthumous books, numerous critical essay collections, unearthed interviews, countless symposiums, innumerable decontextualized sound bites. And now there’s a movie. A movie celebrating a man who never would have celebrated himself so much.
I’ve no idea what Wallace would say if he knew such a project existed, but I guess he’d be horrified. Then he’d make some sort of bloviated yet hyperarticulate remark about how the movie, which will reach a decently-sized audience—perhaps larger than the current fanbase of DFW—and most likely inspire them to pick up one of his books—features as its protagonist a real-life person who wishes to shun his newfound celebrity, and by doing so the film further perpetuates and disseminates that celebrity, the exact opposite desire the subject of the film has. So the paradox here is that, assuming the makers of the film aren’t horribly cynical businessmen banking on an emotional cash-grab, the film attempts to honor its subject matter by subjecting him to the kind of idolization he in all likeliness would have abhorred, thereby rendering that adulation moot.
Even if the film does a good job of portraying Wallace accurately, and I doubt it does, the added spectacle of cinema will inevitably romanticize and venerate Wallace the man. His supposed everyman-ness portrayed as humbleness personified, his downhomey demeanor integrated as part of his modest brilliance. It will not resist the urge to elevate Wallace to something none of us could ever be.
If we had to have a movie about Wallace, I’d prefer one that included his darker sides, the ones Jonathan Franzen has discussed briefly and the ones Bret Easton Ellis probably pretends to know about. I’m sure as pure cinema the film is emotionally engaging, well-directed and written and acted, but I doubt, however unfairly, that it does DFW the justice the film thinks he deserves. More than that, I already know it’s not a real DFW film. A real DFW film would come with twelve pages of footnotes.