The End of the Tour23 Aug 2015
I saw THE END OF THE TOUR a few weeks ago, but I’ve been struggling to write about it since. This is in part because I loved the movie a lot and felt I couldn’t do it justice without some time to process it. It also affected me, on an emotional level, in a way that required some time to gain emotional distance from it. Then I started procrastinating because of the Wallace-bros backlash. I didn’t want to get painted into the same light as some Franzen, Wallace loving anti-feminist, cutesy pomo, uncritical consumer. But the truth is, I feel a strong connection to Wallace. And if that is how a lot of other middle class [people who imagine themselves to be] white dudes my age feel, so be it, it doesn’t diminish what is true for me.
I have a lot of in common with DFW. He was born in Champaign IL, where I went to college. In the late 90s he lived in Bloomington IL, where I grew up at the same time. I didn’t know of him then and his memory is still only minimally important to most people in my hometown but I’d like to think something of both our sensibilities was shaped by Central IL. Wallace was a moderately successful high school athlete as a tennis player, and I had a little of the same as a swimmer. In the Midwest, where there is little to get excited about, getting even a little taste of notoriety can shape a teenager’s world view. More than any of these biographic particulars, Wallace and I share a propensity toward depression and anxiety that endears him to me.
THE END OF THE TOUR is entirely written and made through David Lipsky’s eyes. In fact, I don’t think you could make a movie about Wallace through Wallace’s own perspective. It would be too exhausting to watch. It would be too self-critical and unenjoyable. This film captured, really well, what winter in the midwest in the late 90s was like. I first moved to Bloomington in 1999, a couple of years after the setting of this movie. The drab, flat colors, dark moonless nights, huge distance between destinations, lack of civil society outside of church and restaurants all came together to capture what it was like to live in Central IL in the late 90s.
One thing, in particular, I’ve been thinking about a lot is what possible connection there may be between Wallace’s depression/anxiety and the Midwest. It’s hard to argue this point beyond just conjecture, but there’s something about the Midwest that exacerbates depression and anxiety. Especially for the type of guy that Wallace was. He was supremely concerned about what other people thought of him. This is not entirely unconnected to the influence of Lutheranism and Protestantism in the Midwest. Lutheranism and Protestantism, unlike other major religions is very concerned with community. Almost like the Protestant Ethic thesis applied not to the spread of capitalism but to communalism. This influence looms large in the character that social interactions take in the Midwest.
Another feature of the Midwest contributed to the odds stacked against Wallace’s sadness - the distance between people. Wallace spent a lot of time worrying about what someone may be thinking of him. In an urban environment, you interact with so many people so many times in a day, you come to realize quickly that most people, most of the time, are not thinking about you. They have on their minds only their lives. When you put so much distance between people, like the Midwest does, you can go on creating realities in your head that do not match reality outside. I wonder if urban living could’ve been a saving grace for Wallace, as it has for me.
I’m glad this movie was made, despite hesitations from Wallace’s estate. I get their argument that to get know Wallace, one must simply read his writing. But, simply, it’s not very simple to read his writing. I think this film will be a good introduction to Wallace for a whole new audience. It also helps that the dialog between Wallace and Lipsky, the main focus of the film, stayed true to Wallace’s writing style.