Barton Fink

Every week I tell myself to watch an easier review movie that is easier to talk about, but I can not seem to help it. This week I watched Barton Fink, which was written and directed by the Cohen Brothers. This is a very cerebral film that plays with the viewer’s conception of reality.

The movie is about Barton Fink, played by John Turturro, who is an up-and-coming New York playwright contracted to write a screenplay for a Hollywood studio. The film that Fink is tasked to write is a low-brow “wrestling picture.” Fink has trouble adjusting to this new medium, and low standard of writing, which causes a severe case of writer’s block. Much of the movie is devoted to him attempting to get out of his rut. Many of the people he comes across are very unhelpful in this regard.

Is this guy supposed to be Faulkner?
Is this guy supposed to be Faulkner?

The other key element to the story is Fink’s neighbor Charlie Meadows, played by John Goodman. Goodman is one of the most charismatic actors in all of Hollywood, a pedigree he continues in this role as he plays a likable insurance salesman. Meadows is Fink’s only true friend in the city. Meadows tries to give Fink advice on his screenplay, but Fink is too busy waxing poetic about the common man to listen to his advice.

What is this relationship?
What is this relationship?

Though a bizarre series of misadventures, Fink writes the script, which he feels that is the most important thing he has ever produced. However, the studio rejects the script, and as punishment he is forced to live in L.A. under terms of his contract. The studio head also tells Fink that he will not be given any more scripts within the duration of said contract.

That sums up the plot of the movie, but in the in-between there is a lot of symbolism that makes it hard to truly interpret. It is ambiguous if Goodman’s character is even real or just in Fink’s head. No other characters interact with Meadows until the end, when detectives claim Meadows is actually a serial murder. We see one screen murder when a woman is murdered in Fink’s bed over night while he is “asleep.”

At the end of the movie the detectives show up in Fink’s hotel room looking for Meadows. This is when reality seems to break, as everyone gets noticeably hotter and Meadows arrives via elevator. The detectives stand off against Meadows who then produces a shotgun and runs down the hallway as it erupts in flames. After the police are dispatched, Fink and Meadows have a casual conversation about various things. They both leave the hotel room non-nonchalantly as the hotel burns.

The question I am left with is: is this a Fight Club situation, or is Fink trapped in his personal hell? There is evidence that it could be both, so I am torn on how to define it. I lean towards that Fink has snapped and invented the character of Meadows to cope with the stress of L.A. However, the fact the studio traps him in the city with nothing to do does lead credence to the hell theory so I leave it up to you dear reader.

Trapped in L.A.
Trapped in L.A.

I have trouble recommending this film to an average viewer as it is so dense with symbolism. However, if you are Cohen fan like myself you should definitely give it a watch. So I leave it up to the audience to determine what this movie is about as for me it remains unclear.

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