By Rohan Roberts, 1 Dec 2012
Director: The Coen Brothers
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Actors: John Turturro, John Goodman and Judy Davis
Awards: Palme d’Or
‘Barton Fink’ is a movie in the mould of ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Adaptation’. If you aren’t interested in symbols, metaphors, and allegorical explanations, then it might be best to give this movie a skip. But if you are intrigued by the writer’s craft and by the process through which the writer taps into the wellspring of inspiration to convert a plot that exist in the imagination into one that exists on paper and consequently on the silver screen, then ‘Barton Fink’ will not fail to impress.
The movie is in turns an intelligent commentary on the predicament of the scriptwriter, an insightful satire on the entertainment industry, a lampooning of upper class theatrical snobbery, and a playful parody of powerful Hollywood magnates.
Barton Fink is a playwright in New York who hits the big time and is contracted by Capital Pictures to write scripts for Hollywood movies. He travels to Los Angeles and checks into the Hotel Earle, a large, eerie, surreal and mostly deserted place—symbolic of the hellish, lonely space that a tortured writer struggling with writer’s block inhabits; but it’s also an external manifestation of Charlie, the only other resident in the hotel with whom Fink interacts.
What follows is an allegorical chronicle of Fink’s experience with the Hollywood industry and his attempt to overcome extreme writer’s block. Fink sees himself as an artist, a writer who wants to write intellectual material for and about the common man. Unfortunately for Fink, the common man is only interested in formulaic, predictable, and conventional flicks. The irony is that throughout the movie he is confronted with ‘the common man’ but is too self-indulgent to see anything interesting in him. He is consumed by a need to be intellectually and artistically high-brow but ends up stagnating as a writer. He is so taken by the notion that he is a writer that he fails to write.
All in all, this is a supremely thoughtful and hauntingly atmospheric film that enlists the participation of the viewer to connect all the dots. What makes the movie a work of art and the stuff of genius is how the plot loops back on itself and blurs the difference between reality and film. The discerning viewer is left wondering about the Platonic notion of mimesis, the absurdity of art, and the conflation of real and reel life.