Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel in The End of the Tour

Watching The End of the Tour requires first confronting the fact that David Foster Wallace, here portrayed by Jason Segel during a three-day interview with Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), would not have wanted the film to exist. Wallace’s widow has been vocal in her objections — although director James Ponsoldt says he didn’t learn of them until production was underway — and the very idea of being immortalized on screen is antithetical to the Infinite Jest author’s ethos. Even Lipsky’s book-length account, published after Wallace’s 2008 suicide, emits a whiff of the vulturous.

Fortunately, at least as these things go, artistic betrayal is not just an enabler of The End of the Tour‘s existence but its central theme. Although he’s introduced eulogizing Wallace as one of his friends, Lipsky is more clearly positioned as his rival or an envious vampire trying to siphon off some of his fame and insight. Wallace welcomes Lipsky into his home with an apparently open heart, and Lipsky repays him by using a spare moment to dictate the contents of Wallace’s living room into his tape recorder. (You can pick out the reporters in the audience at that moment by watching for the involuntary shudder of guilt.)

The movie takes care to remind us that Wallace has been on the other end of this exchange, as a magazine profile’s author rather than its subject. He’s feeding Lipsky material even as he rebels against the process, preaching a (now-quaint) anti-TV gospel while still succumbing to the idiot box’s allure. There’s a kind of flat, blank quality to Segel’s performance, as if he’s still a character in an unfinished manuscript, but Eisenberg’s latest in a long, snakelike line of passive-aggressive wheedler portrayals is his sharpest. There’s something monstrous at the movie’s core, and that’s as it should be. (Ritz East)

City Paper grade: A-