Barton Fink (1991)


Written & Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen

Will Most Likely Contain Spoilers!!!

There hasn’t been a Coen Brothers film I haven’t liked. There have been ones that I haven’t loved, though many I have, but I don’t think I loved this one either. Certainly the story is curious and other technical aspects are outstanding, but it just didn’t stand out otherwise to me. The production design, if that’s what they’re calling it these days, was wonderful. Period films like this, especially set in Los Angeles and the like are wonderful when done correctly and much like L.A. Confidential, the production design was done well. The whole look of the film, as always, is really great. Leave it to Roger Deakins and the Coen’s to always manage to make a great looking film. The script is, I don’t want to say simple or conventional, but it certainly doesn’t play on fantasy and dreamworlds as much as the previous two in the marathon and in that regard it was a bit of a break for me, although I still managed to over analyze every scene in my notebook.

Barton Fink is a playwright on the rise in New York City. He has high standards of himself that do not equate with those of the critics or his fans. He is a moral man who is seeking to relay such themes and stories that portray the common man, his struggles, and his passions. I like Barton Fink. He an I think alike in this way. He even, initially, turns down an offer to go to Hollywood and write for the pictures, where he would make a fine buck because he wants to stay true to his ideals. Eventually he does succumb to the temptation and heads west. He meets with the eccentric movie exec, Lipnick, and has hopes of being able to exercise his own creativity, but when given a wrestling picture to write, he struggles. He meets his strange, insurance selling, neighbor Charlie, who is his only friend in this new town. Then crazy things happen and the film ends.

Some things that I noticed was the relation of the theme of his screenplay: wrestling. How fitting as he too is struggling with writing it amongst other things. His world is seemingly falling apart around him. There is a mosquito in his room that keeps biting him, sucking the life away from him like Hollywood is. His wallpaper is falling down from the heat of the summer, just like the walls of his conscious are being melted by the pressure he finds himself under as he struggles to find his story. His favorite writer, Mayhew, is now an alcoholic because of the pressure of writing, and Barton soon finds out that his wife/assistant Audrey has written most of his work. His hero is a fraud. And then he sleeps with her. But when he wakes up, she is covered in blood and dead. Charlie comes over to help deal with the situation, but we soon find out that it was he who killed her, and eventually beheads her and her husband Mayhew. Barton went away from his morals and Audrey got killed. As for the burning hotel room scene, here is my interpretation: the hotel was obviously not actually burning. Everybody that was there did nothing to indicate that it was. The burning hotel was just an effect to portray the heat and pressure that Barton was facing between Capitol Pictures and the mysterious death of Audrey right next to her. The presence of the cops and the realization that Charlie was a murderer also add to the climax.

There is one point during the film when Barton says to Charlie, as they are talking about family, that we are “all alone in the world” really. I was taken back with this line, in a good way though. It is such a profound statement, especially from someone in the state that Barton is in. We can surround ourselves with family and friends and others that may or may not be good to us, but in the end all we have is ourselves and our own ideals. What we do with them is what defines us as people. In the end of the film, Barton presents his screenplay to Lipnick, who has supported him all the way through and mentions that it is his “best work”. Lipnick dismisses it, saying there isn’t enough action in it. (Well at least it’s nice to know that after all these years Aronofsky made his screenplay into a film when he made The Wrestler). But what does Barton Fink do in reaction to this? He leaves, just as he should and goes to the beach; the beach where he saw the girl in the photo in his hotel room sitting so peacefully. When he gets there, he sees a beautiful girl and asks if she is in the pictures. “Don’t be silly,” she answers him and that’s the end. Perfect ending I must say. It’s silly to think that something as pure and beautiful as her would be in the pictures, just like something as pure and beautiful as Barton’s screenplay wouldn’t be made into a picture. It is reaffirming to Barton in the end, as it should be; stick to your guns.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the first film that came to mind in relation to this one was Adaptation. Both involve a struggling screenwriter and the search for a passion in the writing. Both are dramedies so to speak. The Coen Brothers have a certain way with comedy that is very subtle and, to this point, has never failed to amuse me. The Coen’s films, however, are most often dramas. Fargo, No Country, A Serious Man and Miller’s Crossing all have comedic aspects in them though as well. Pretty good overall film. For some reason I associate it with something like Miller’s Crossing and when I do I think that film was better than this one, but still an enjoyable film experience.

*** – Very Good

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