By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) –
Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a New York playwright whose latest show has opened to explosively positive reviews. Intending to start work on his next play, he is instead lured by his agent to Hollywood to be a screenwriter. Fink objects at first, feeling the move will hurt him creatively, but his agent assures him that the money he’d earn will allow him the financial security that he’ll need when he returns to Broadway. Barton settles down at a dingy hotel to write, but is tormented by small distractions, such as his next-door neighbor Charlie (John Goodman).
Pictured above: a slight distraction
Inspired by their own experiences writing their previous film Miller’s Crossing, the filmmaking team of Joel and Ethan Coen have crafted a comedy/drama which deals with writer’s block in a sort of sinister psychological fashion that could put Steven King to shame. Barton Fink is a masterful work that continues to baffle viewers to this day with its near-impenetrable symbolism and seemingly irrational plot twists. This is perhaps the Coen’s most challenging and inaccessible film, but one which rewards multiple viewings greatly. The best mindset to watch the film is that of a detective. One must look beyond the main story, looking for connections from every small detail. Even then, the numerous plot twists can often throw the viewer off.
“Elementary my dea…. WTF, why is everything on fire?”
The Coen brothers like to challenge their audience, asking them to think about their films long after the credits roll. And as a film watcher, I am always glad when a filmmaker treats me like I’m capable of figuring out more than explosions.
John Turturro gives an intense performance as the idealistic and often hilariously naïve Fink. Barton sees his writing as the beginning of a new era, knowing in his heart that he has something to say about the common man. This is a man who ultimately feels imprisoned by the Hollywood system simply because his handlers expect him to write a movie about wrestling. John Goodman’s “Charlie” is noteworthy as well. At first he seems set up to be Barton’s goofy (albeit slightly menacing) distraction, however, after awhile he begins spending more and more time with Charlie. Charlie seduces Barton into a friendship, but as time goes on, it becomes apparent that something sinister may be going on.
Instead of going into plot detail, I’ll provide a comparison. Say for example, you are in school and have an essay due on a specific date, but the closer you get to the date, you seem to procrastinate more and more. It could be video games, television, or anything really. But whatever it is, it becomes harder and harder to actually get any real work done. Moreover, the Coens insinuate that the hotel itself is a sort of private hell for Barton. Many religious sects argue that lazy behavior or apathy are pathways to the Devil after all…
I refer you again to this picture
Aside from the plot elements, Barton Fink was at the time also the Coen’s most unique-looking film. While their prior films can never be accused of being anything less than stunning visually, it was their first time working with cinematographer Roger Deakins. Deakins consolidated the Coen’s visual style into a cohesive whole which would carry over into each successive film of their career.
An infinitely rewarding film for those willing to take the challenge and actually think
Take a Drink: when the wallpaper peels
Take a Drink: for each shot of Barton typing
Do a Shot: when John Goodman yells