by Brek the David
Barton Fink (1991) – Directors and original screenplay: The Coen Brothers Starring: John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, Steve Buscemi, Michael Lerner, John Mahoney, Jon Polito OSCAR COUNT (0)
Barton Fink: LOOK UPON ME! I’LL SHOW YOU THE LIFE OF THE MIND!
I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in that crazy scene where Charlie (John Goodman) guns down those detectives in the hotel. It seems that there’s no way the hotel can actually be bursting into flames. One explanation could be that the hotel is Hell. That seems a bit out there to me, but then Barton Fink is a pretty “out there” film. It seems much more plausible, though still bizarre, that everything in the hotel is taking place in Barton Fink’s mind.
Charlie is just a part of Barton’s psyche playing out his “revenge” on authority and those in power as he kills these overbearing cops. It’s probably not a coincidence that the detectives are of German and Italian descent as those were the two nations that made up the European Axis Powers and Barton Fink is set in the WWII era. Charlie is also that part of Barton that holds all the keys to him being a successful and prolific writer. Since Barton wants to tell the story of the common man, he need to look no further than Charlie to unlock this. Yet Barton never actually listens to Charlie.
Instead, he loses his inspiration due to his self-obsession. Many times Charlie tells Barton that he could tell him stories about his travels and his life, yet Barton always gets caught up in himself at these moments. This seems to be metaphorical of the writing process itself, or writer’s block more specifically. After Charlie kills the cops, he berates Barton for not listening and tells Barton is just a tourist while Charlie has to live here. Charlie is stuck as the unseen and unrealized inspiration Barton needs so badly.
The rest of film takes place mostly at meetings with the film executive that has hired Barton to write films for Capitol Pictures. Like the Axis Powers detectives, he is intimidating, patronizing, and overbearing. Played brilliantly by Michael Lerner, Jack Lipnick is a nightmare boss. He uses passive aggressive techniques to bully Barton into doing his bidding. His bidding is to have Barton write a series of wrestling pictures, the Lipnick way. Unfortunately, Barton gets writer’s block as he obsesses about how he can make great art, instead of just making it. In the end, Barton ends up writing the exact same story that won him acclaim as a playwright. Barton is a pretentious, self-absorbed man that can’t get out of his own way.
At the end of the film, after Lipnick is disgusted with his work, Barton still has no clue what to do. Lipnick forces him into basically being a slave to Capitol Pictures, perhaps a commentary on how the industry can stifle and box up creativity. In the closing scene, Barton is on the beach and he notices a woman, a woman that was in a peculiar picture in his hotel room. She asks him what’s in the box and Barton replies he doesn’t know. The box was “given” to him by Charlie, yet Charlie said it didn’t belong to him (Charlie). So what’s in the box? Everything Barton needs.
Other important stuff goes on, but that’s the crux of Barton Fink as I see it.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT THIS FILM: The Coen brothers wrote Barton Fink while they were having trouble with another script, a film called Miller’s Crossing. Barton Fink “wrote itself” and helped exorcise some problems they were having with Miller’s Crossing. After they finished Barton Fink, they went back and completed Miller’s Crossing. In this process, we got two of the greatest films of all time.