Social Anxiety in Movies: The End of the Tour

Social Anxietyin Movies

The End of the Tour follows Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky as he travelled with writer David Foster Wallace during the tour for his highly acclaimed novel, Infinite Jest. Like much of Wallace’s work, the film touches on the writer’s self-consciousness, existentialism, addiction, anxiety, and depression, which ultimately led to his suicide in 2008 at age 46.

The End of the Tour [2015]

  • Directed by: James Ponsoldt
  • Written by: Donald Margulies
  • Based on the book by: David Lipsky
  • Starring: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg
  • Genre: Drama
  • Watch: OnlineDVD
  • Read: Screenplay

Trailer:

About:

I’ve frequently heard about how great a book Infinite Jest is, and I’ve been meaning to read it, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. After seeing The End of the Tour, David Foster Wallace’s novel has moved to the top of my queue. The film captures both the brilliance of Wallace and his internal struggles. One such struggle mentioned is his shyness and social anxiety.

Psychoanalysis:

Wallace unlisted his phone number to avoid calls from fans.

DAVID

I have this terrible problem, I just really hate to hurt people’s feelings. So I did something kinda cowardly.

With social anxiety, we are so overly sensitive that we’re afraid to offend others or hurt their feelings in any way, so it’s easier to avoid talking to them at all.

DAVID

I can’t even tell if I like you yet ‘cause I’m too worried whether you like me.

A main cause of social anxiety is constant worrying about whether others like us or not.

At a diner, their first night together for the interview:

DAVID

You’re a nervous guy, aren’t you?

LIPSKY

No no I’m okay. How are you?

DAVID

‘Cause I’m terrified.

Albeit, many people would be terrified if they knew whatever they said could be printed in Rolling Stone magazine, but with social anxiety, we feel terrified about talking to a stranger at a diner, even if the conversation isn’t being recorded.

DAVID

The thing about this tour is… I would like to get laid out of it a couple of times, but… Like, people come up, they kinda slither up during readings or whatever. But it seems like, what I want is not to have to take any action.

LIPSKY

Like…?

DAVID

Like, I don’t want to have to say, “Would you like to come back to my hotel?” I want them to say, “I am coming back to the hotel. Where is your hotel?”

I’d like to have a girlfriend and eventually fall in love, but because of social anxiety, I am too afraid to approach women and talk to them. Like David, I hope for women to take action and do all the work to start a relationship for me. But that isn’t exactly fair.

Lipsky speaks more eloquently off the cuff than David.

DAVID

This piece’ll really be good if it’s mostly you. Talk all you want, man, save me a whole lotta trouble.

With social anxiety, we often let others speak for us—even if we disagree. It’s easier to just let them do the talking.

Wallace talks about the problem with TV:

DAVID

Because the technology is just gonna get better and better. And it’s gonna get easier and easier, and more and more convenient, and more and more pleasurable, to be alone with images on a screen, given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. Which is fine. In low doses. But if that’s the basic main staple of your diet? You’re gonna die. In a meaningful way, you’re going to die.

The advent of technology has exacerbated social anxiety because it is so easy to be alone. With the internet, we can do just about anything from the private comfort of our homes and avoid all social interaction with others. But the only way to get over social anxiety is to go out and face the discomfort.

DAVID

It’s so much easier having dogs. You don’t get laid; but you also don’t get the feeling you’re hurting their feelings all the time. I emphasize: strictly platonic relationship with the dogs.

LIPSKY

You’re not dating anyone?

DAVID

Seriously dating? No. I’m out of practice; I wouldn’t know what to say.

The only way to be completely assured that we won’t hurt others feelings is to not say or do anything to them at all—hence, social anxiety.

DAVID

Well, I can’t put it as well as you did about the “mental landscapes,” I just know I’m hard to be around.

LIPSKY

Why?

DAVID

Because when I want to be by myself, like to work, I really want to be by myself. I think if you dedicate yourself to anything, one facet of that is that it makes you very very self-conscious. You end up using people. Wanting them around when you want them around, but then sending them away.

LIPSKY

Comes with the territory, though, doesn’t it? Self-consciousness?

DAVID

There’s good self-consciousness. And then there’s this toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.

The toxic, paralyzing self-consciousness Wallace describes is essentially social anxiety. I feel the same way about wanting my friends and family to go away when I’m writing, but to be there when I need them.

David has a celebrity crush on Alanis Morissette:

LIPSKY

Why don’t you put out feelers, see if she’d be willing to meet you?

DAVID

You serious? I would never do that.

LIPSKY

Why not?

DAVID

I’d be too terrified. Why, you would do that?

LIPSKY

If I were you? Why not?

DAVID

A date with Alanis Morissette? What would I say to her? “Hello, Miss Morissette. What is it like to be you?” (gruff voice) “I don’t know – shut up. And get the fuck away from me.”

LIPSKY

But you’d go if she called? “Hey, Dave. I’m at the Drake in Chicago. Let’s have that tea.”

DAVID

Yes, I would do it. I’d go in a Heartbeat… Perspiring heavily, all the way up there, shoving Certs into my mouth. Goin’ nuts. It would cost me like a week of absolute trauma. But yeah, I would do it in a heartbeat.

A lot of people are nervous around celebrities, but we with social anxiety feel like that around normal “unfamous” people. Being terrified, sweating heavily, not knowing what to say, thinking that they’d want us to “get the fuck away from them.” They’re all symptoms of social anxiety.

Lipsky asks about the signature bandana he always wears.

DAVID

I don’t know what to say. I guess I wish you hadn’t brought this up.

LIPSKY

Why?

DAVID

Because now I’m worrying that it’s going to seem intentional. Like if I don’t wear it, am I not wearing it because I’m bowing to other people’s perception that it’s a commercial choice? Or do I do what I want, even though it’s perceived as commercial – and it’s just like one more crazy circle to go around.

I know it’s a security blanket for me – whenever I’m nervous. Or feel like I have to keep myself together. It makes me feel kinda creepy that people view it as an affectation or a trademark or something. It’s more of a foible, the recognition of a weakness, that I’m kinda afraid my head’s gonna explode.

Social anxiety goes beyond just talk. We’re self-conscious about our clothes and our looks and what others may think about them.

LIPSKY

Odds are I’m gonna want to talk to your parents.

DAVID

What for?

LIPSKY

Biographical stuff.

DAVID

I hereby request that you don’t.

LIPSKY

Oh. Okay.

DAVID

They’re real private people, and I would have a hard time with it. So, no you may not.

LIPSKY

Okay. I may not.

His parents may or may not be private, but David may just be afraid of what they would say about him, which is another symptom of social anxiety.

Lipsky asks about his time at a rehab center under suicide watch.

DAVID

I think probably the not very sophisticated diagnosis is that I was depressed. ‘Cause by this time, my ego’s all invested in the writing. It’s the only thing that I’ve gotten, you know, food pellets from the universe for. So I felt really trapped: Like, “Uh-oh, my five years is up. I’ve gotta move on, but I don’t want to move on.” I was really stuck. And drinking was part of that. But it wasn’t that I was stuck because I drank. It was like, I really sort of felt like my life was over at twenty-eight. And that felt really bad, and I didn’t wanna feel it. So I would do all kinds of things: I mean, I would drink real heavy, I would like fuck strangers. Oh, God — Or, then, for two weeks I wouldn’t drink, and I’d run ten miles every morning, in a desperate, like very American, “I will fix this somehow, by taking radical action” sort of thing.

Wallace clearly suffered from depression, which is completely different from social anxiety, although sometimes the two symptoms coincide. For me, writing has given me a purpose to life and reason for living, no matter how much financial and critical success I do or don’t receive.

At the book store signing:

DAVID

I don’t mean to be a prima donna, but I’d really prefer it if we didn’t have a Q & A.

MARTHA

Of course. Whatever you feel most comfortable with.

DAVID

It’s always stuff like “Where do you get your ideas?”

David claims to avoid the fan Q & A because they ask stupid questions, but the real reason could have been his social anxiety.

At NPR radio interview:

NPR GUY

You have said that you saw yourself as – quote – “a combination of being incredibly shy, and being an egomaniac, too.”

DAVID

I think I said “exhibitionist, also.”

NPR GUY

Meaning?

DAVID

Well, I think being shy basically means being self-absorbed to the extent that it makes it difficult to be around other people.

NPR GUY

Difficult for you, or difficult for the other people?

DAVID

I suppose a little bit of both.

This is the one scene where Wallace directly talks about his shyness. Social anxiety comes from worrying so much about ourselves—how we appear to others and what others think about us—and that worry is so overwhelming that, to avoid it, we avoid other people. It can also be difficult for others to deal with shy people because they either don’t know how to or don’t want to put in the extra effort to try to help us feel comfortable and open up.

DAVID

You can expect that somebody who’s willing to read and read hard a thousand-page book is gonna be somebody with some loneliness issues.

LIPSKY

You think it’s about loneliness?

DAVID

I think if there is sort of a sadness for people under forty-five or something, it has to do with pleasure and achievement and entertainment. And a kind of emptiness at heart of what they thought was going on, that maybe I can hope that parts of the book will speak to their nerve endings a little bit.

Loneliness is a natural side-effect of social anxiety. In the past, it got me down sometimes, but now, I cherish solitude because it allows me to read and write.

On the critical praise for Infinite Jest:

DAVID

…if everybody hated it, I wouldn’t be thrilled, but I don’t think I’d be devastated, either. It’s like, if you’re used to doing heavy-duty literary stuff that doesn’t sell well, being human animals with egos, we find a way to accommodate that fact by the following equation: If it sells really well and gets a lot of attention, it must be shit. Then, of course, the ultimate irony is: if your thing gets a lot of attention and sells really well, then the very mechanism you’ve used to shore yourself up when your stuff didn’t sell well is now part of the Darkness Nexus when it does, so you’re screwed. You can’t win.

I’m not sure this quote pertains to social anxiety, but I thought it was brilliant, so I’m including it anyway.

On a famous actor he went to college with:

JULIE

Why did you hate him?

DAVID

He was just very cool and popular and I was not, that was the basic offense.

After Lipsky flirts with David’s female friends:

DAVID

Well, I don’t want her talking to you.

LIPSKY

Fine! I won’t contact her.

DAVID

I told you she and I dated when we were in grad school… The least you can do is show me the respect of not coming on to her right in front of me.

David got jealous of the attention Lipsky was getting from the women. We sometimes envy those who, unlike us, are confident, charismatic, and personable. They make us look even worse by comparison.

LIPSKY

I gotta say… There’s something basically false about your approach here.

DAVID

What do you mean “false?”

LIPSKY

I think it’s part of your whole social strategy.

DAVID

In what way?

LIPSKY

You still feel you’re smarter than other people.

DAVID

Oh, really?

LIPSKY

Yeah but you act like you’re in the kids’ softball game, but holding back your power-hitting, to try to make it more competitive for the little ones.

DAVID

When?

LIPSKY

Here, now, for the past three days, it’s part of your social strategy.

DAVID

You’re a tough room, you know that?

LIPSKY

You make a point of holding back – there’s something obvious about you holding back your intelligence, to be with people who are younger or maybe not as agile as you are…

DAVID

That would make me a real asshole, wouldn’t it? I don’t think writers are any smarter than other people. I think they may be more compelling in their stupidity, or in their confusion.

I think the issue here is that Lipsky mistook Wallace’s social anxiety for some kind of “social strategy.” In person, Wallace doesn’t speak like the eloquent genius he does in his writing, so Lipsky assumes that is on purpose. But it could just be Wallace’s social anxiety that prevents him from speaking as well as he writes. That’s what happens to me.

DAVID

When I’m in a room by myself, alone, and have enough time, I can be really really smart. Don’t get me wrong: I think I’m bright; I think I’m talented. I don’t mean to sound disingenuous.

LIPSKY

(amused) Oh, no?!

DAVID

I am not an idiot. I mean, you know, I can talk intelligently with you about stuff. But I can’t quite keep up with you.

LIPSKY

That is such bullshit.

Wallace is trying to explain that he can’t talk as quick off the cuff like Lipsky because of his social anxiety, but Lipsky doesn’t believe it. A fear of mine is that other people will mistake my social anxiety for being unintelligent or anti-social.

DAVID

Tour’s over.

LIPSKY

Just hit you?

DAVID

Yeah. I’m gonna have to feel all this now, instead of just sleepwalk through it.

LIPSKY

What do you mean by “sleepwalk?”

DAVID

I’ve kind of unplugged myself for the last three weeks. Meeting a whole lot of new people, having to do things, you’re in a constant low-level state of anxiety. And sort of deep, existential, you know: fear, that you feel kind of all the way down to your butthole.

Tomorrow, you drive away, get on a plane, this is over. And I’m back to knowing like twenty people. Then I’m going to have to like decompress from getting all this attention. Because it’s like getting heroin injected into your cortex. And where I’m going to need real balls is to be able to sit and go through that. And try to remind myself that what the reality is: that I’m thirty-four years old, and I’m alone in a room with a piece of paper.

David describes the feelings of being an introvert, or someone who is drained by being around people and recharges by being alone. Not all introverts have social anxiety, and not all people with social anxiety are introverts, but the two often coincide—as they do for me.

Lipsky pries for answers about the rumors that Wallace was a heroin addict, which he denies. Wallace explains it was simply depression that led to his stint in a rehab center under suicide watch.

DAVID

It wasn’t a chemical imbalance, and it wasn’t drugs and alcohol. It was much more that I had lived an incredibly American life. That, “If I could just achieve X and Y and Z, everything would be OK.” There’s a thing in the book: When people jump out of a burning skyscraper, it’s not that they’re not afraid of falling anymore, it’s that the alternative is so awful. And then you’re invited to consider what could be so awful, that leaping to your death seems like an escape from it. I don’t know if you’ve had any experience with this kind of thing. But it’s worse than any kind of physical injury. It may be what in the old days was known as a spiritual crisis. Feeling as though every axiom of your life turned out to be false, and there was actually nothing, and you were nothing, and it was all a delusion. And that you were better than everyone else because you saw that it was a delusion, and yet you were worse because you can’t fucking function. And it’s really horrible. I don’t think we ever change. I’m sure there are still those same parts of me. I’ve just got to find a way not to let them drive. Y’know?

Wallace keenly explains the feelings of depression that ultimately led to his suicide, years later. As I said, I’ve never suffered from depression myself, so I can’t really judge or compare.

DAVID

Oh, come on. Now the whole world will know what my mother’s known for years: I’m a picky eater?

I’ve written before about how picky eating and social anxiety are related, though it could just be a coincidence.

DAVID

The more people think that you’re really good, actually the bigger the fear of being a fraud is. The worst thing about having a lot of attention paid to you, is that you’re afraid of bad attention. If bad attention hurts you, then the calibre of the weapon that’s pointed at you has gone way up. Like from a .22 to a .45. But there’s a part of me that wants a lot of attention. And that thinks I’m really good, and wants other people to see it. It’s one of the ways I think we’re sort of alike, you know?

Wallace describes the paradox of social anxiety. We want to be liked by all, but judged by none.

DAVID

I’m not so sure you want to be me.

An undercurrent throughout the film was Lipsky’s jealousy of Wallace as a writer—his talent and critical acclaim. But Wallace’s work didn’t come without suffering through personal demons, such as his anxiety and depression—the latter a demon no one should wish to bear.

Finally, this last quote from Lipsky, made after Wallace’s suicide, sums everything up:

LIPSKY (V.O.)

David thought books existed to stop you from feeling lonely. If I could, I’d say to David that living those days with him reminded me of what life is like — instead of being a relief from it… and I’d tell him it made me feel much less alone.

Judgement:

Even though it was mostly just two people talking, The End of the Tour was one of my favorite films of the year. Then again, as a novelist with social anxiety, it’s kind of like preaching to the choir. I found David Foster Wallace to be a fascinating character and am really looking forward to finally reading Infinite Jest. It’s clear from the movie that Wallace suffered from social anxiety, though not to a crippling degree. His bigger issue was depression, which unfortunately led to his suicide. Social anxiety or not, if you are suffering from the kind of depression David Foster Wallace described, please seek help.

The End of the Tour as a film: 9/10

As a portrayal of social anxiety: 9/10

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One thought on “Social Anxiety in Movies: The End of the Tour

  1. Pingback: Social Anxiety in Movies | Tim Barry Jr.

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