Last Thursday night, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies hosted a screening of The End of the Tour, his most recent screenplay, in the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater. Margulies delivered a lecture on playwriting the day before.
Released in 2015, the film follows author David Foster Wallace, played by Jason Segel, and Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg, as they travel together to the last stop on Wallace’s book tour for his novel Infinite Jest. A movie about Wallace is especially appropriate to show at Kenyon, where he gave his famous 2005 commencement speech “This is Water.”
Although he originally conceived of it as a play, Margulies felt that, given Wallace’s literary focus on the theme of American lifestyle, he had to write the story as a road trip movie that takes place across America. “We need to see David Foster Wallace on the American landscape,” he said at the screening.
Margulies based the screenplay on real conversations between the two writers, which he found in Lipsky’s memoir, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Margulies felt he had to curate their conversations in a way that would not only be true to what the writers actually said, but would also be interesting to those unfamiliar with Wallace’s work.
“I dealt more with themes: celebrity, mortality, loneliness,” he said in the Q&A following the screening. “I decided to tell the universal aspects of this story.”
Most of the movie focuses on the dynamic between the two remarkably intellectual writers. “Really when you look at it it’s just these two smart guys showing off,” Margulies said.
Because Margulies interviewed Lipsky for the screenplay, this movie offers much to fans of Wallace as well. Its greatest strength is that it provides an accessible way to learn about some of Wallace’s most important themes. For example, watching the slow reveal of Wallace’s television addiction itself inspires viewers to both question the role of technology in their lives and seek out Wallace’s writing on the issue.
In the Q&A after the film showing, Margulies spoke about how his meetings with Lipsky affected how he wrote the two characters. For example, it led him to create the third act of the movie, in which Wallace jealously accuses Lipsky of flirting with his ex-girlfriend. The scene reveals a lot about Wallace as he interacts with other people. It is only in this movie that one can see this side of Wallace, who comes off as a private person in his writing and in interviews.
In Margulies’ words, the movie revealed much more about Wallace. “What moved me about Lipsky’s book was getting a glimpse into this man’s imagination and mind and soul, and realizing now, only after he’s gone, that he’s genius,” he said at the end of the Q&A.