David Foster Wallace is the much-celebrated author of the one thousand-page plus novel “Infinite Jest.” Not an easy read. But then, neither is “Ulysses,” or “Gravity’s Rainbow,” George Perec’s “Life: a User’s Manual” nor any number of boundary-blowing, epoch-making masterpieces that we crack open from time to time and know we will read some day. “Infinite Jest” I’d already given up on and picked up again several times. Thanks to the excellent script by Donald Margulies (based on David Lipsky’s “Although of course you end up becoming yourself”) and the great performance by Jason Segel, I am raring to plunge back in.
Not since MY DINNER WITH ANDRE have I been this mesmerized by a film almost entirely about a conversation between two guys. But where Louis Malle’s intelligent characters were relaxed and good-humored, there are other forces at play in the James Ponsoldt film. David Foster Wallace, is, was, a complicated genius thinking a million thoughts a minute and shaping them into writing, whether talking about mundane topics—slurpees, his dogs’ pooping on the floor, why does he live in Illinois instead of New York to which he responds that he wants to stay away from the “hiss of egos”—and more momentous topics, like what does it mean to write, what does it mean to be famous, how famous does one have to be, what is depression, what is addiction, how much do we disguise to ourselves the layers of mental anguish and discovery that we go through, what do we do about what we are, where do we hide, how do we explain, must we explain, must we understand ?
Suffice it to say that DFW says that he keeps his bandana wrapped tightly around his head so it won’t explode—or words to that effect. One can see how a brain like his would never stop its infernal gyration. He thinks and overthinks, he expresses himself with stream of consciousness sentences that he tosses out for consideration from both himself and his interviewer, Rolling Stone’s David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). It must be exhausting and to a certain extent explains the cloud of suicidal depression rolling in and finally swallowing him in 2008. The miracle is that there’s not a single cliché or the slightest hint of self-awareness or attempts at being clever.
Lipsky is awed, nonplussed, enraged and enthralled in turn throughout the five days he spends interviewing DFW toward the end of the book tour for “Infinite Jest,” the zany political satire that has made him overnight the most talked-about writer in the country. He becomes so engrossed in his unique subject that he loses all sense of time. The interplay is fascinating between the celebrated, cerebral and doomed DFW and the interviewer, himself a gifted writer but inescapably aware that his subject is destined for literary history whereas he himself is one in a sea of interchangeable talents. And the public, unfortunately sparse when I saw the film, remains engaged and enthralled throughout. That we should always be fed such brilliant fare instead of the banal humdrum fodder that stuffs our days…