Brett Easton Ellis kind of likes the movie about David Foster Wallace, he just doesn’t recognize the character in the movie:
For many of us who couldn’t get through the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest
(and tried a few times), and found the journalism bloated and minor-key
condescending and thought the puling Kenyon commencement speech was
pure BS, and resisted the coronation of Wallace since his suicide in
2008 as St. David, based on a particular and very American brand of
sentimental narrative, the new film about Wallace, The End of the Tour, is surprisingly easy to take even though it’s reverential to a fault….
Wallace is presented as a guy who was just too sensitive for this world —
and that strikes a certain emotional chord, especially with younger
viewers and actors. The movie portrays Wallace as an angelic Pop
Tart-sharing schlub, a lovable populist, a tortured everyman and
ex-addict who loves dogs, loves kids, loves McDonalds, exudes “realness”
and “humanity,” and the movie completely ignores referencing the other
Wallace: the contemptuous man, the sometime-contrarian, the asshole with
an abusive side, the cruel critic — all the things some of us find
interesting about him. This is the movie that prefers the Wallace who
was knighted into sainthood with his Kenyon commencement speech called —
deep breath — “This Is Water: Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant
Occasion About Living a Compassionate Life,” which even his staunchest
defenders and former editors have a hard time stomaching, arguing it’s
the worst thing he ever wrote, but which became a viral sensation as
well as a soggy self-help guide for lost souls.
And the David in this movie is the voice of reason, a sage, and the movie succumbs to the cult of stressing likability. But the real David scolded people and probably craved fame — what writer isn’t both suspicious of literary fame and yet curious in seeing how that game is played out? It’s not that rare and — hey — it sells books. He was cranky and could be very mean and caustic and opportunistic, but this David Foster Wallace is completely erased.
I never bought into the cult of DFW. Unlike Ellis, I actually read Infinite Jest, and it struck me as one part genuine literary talent, one part imitation Irving, two parts literary posturing, and three parts unrealized ambition. He was hailed as great when he did nothing more than show potential, and I suspect that had more than a little to do with his self-inflicted demise.