Barton Fink (1991), or Creativity Meandering Into The Meat Grinder

10 05 2009

It’s not easy being creative. I should know; I write movie reviews all day (critiquing other people’s creativity is creative, right?). Often, we don’t always appreciate the ideas that float through our social and personal consciousness and the people they come from, nor do we often ponder the work it took to take those ideas from someone’s head onto a palatable medium. In our enlightened age, where ideas and creativity are so abundant, it doesn’t occur to us that perhaps the artist is sometimes a victim of exploitation, a worker like you and I whose pressures and deadlines are just as real as ours, and not a Hollywood elite or a high society snob who would not be caught dead with a proletariat philistine. After watching today’s film, the eerie Barton Fink, I have a whole new appreciation for the artist that I cannot say I had before, although the plight of the artist is only the most obvious connotation to take out of this dense and claustrophobic work.

Barton Fink is a writer in 1941 celebrating the success of his first Broadway play. Word of the play’s success reaches a bigwig from Capitol Pictures, and he offers Fink a job writing screenplays for his studio. He agrees to the offer, and begins writing a script for a wrestling movie after checking himself into the nearly-deserted Earle Hotel. There, while struggling to come up with good ideas for what is obviously a B-movie, he falls into the complicated lives of the wounded denizens of Hollywood, including a drunken chauvinist novelist, his beautiful and deceptively intelligent secretary/lover, and a charming man named Charlie who might be more than he seems. From there, the road only grows darker, and by the end all that may be ascertained is that the audience has witnessed something very special.

The Coens, yet again, prove that they have something that other directors don’t have. This film about the life and the craft of writers is an intensely obfuscated piece that has no easy answers, but plenty of stirring conjecture as to what those answers might be. It’s an intelligent genre-defying movie that begs intelligence of us. After only seeing it once, I am already hoping to see it again sometime soon, to better acquaint myself with what I just saw, and whether or not I can even fully grasp it.

John Turturro gives the performance of his career as Barton Fink, a man who puts himself at hazard by agreeing to work for Capitol. Barton is a very human character, a writer who bemoans the life of the common man, but deigns to truly understand what a common man’s life really means. He grows and evolves throughout the movie into a man who can scarcely be called the same man he was at the beginning, and in that journey Turturro delivers a virtuoso piece of work. His neighbor Charlie, played by John Goodman, is another milestone character in the career of an actor, as I have never and probably will never again see such a multi-faceted performance from a man who has been unfortunately type-cast in comedic, second-banana roles. Goodman’s Charlie is the unofficial heart of the film, and one would do well to listen to every line he has to say very carefully. There’s something very special about him, and I wager that he is the key to the mysterious events surrounding the final third of the film.

The Coens decided to fill the atmosphere with ominous, powerful music surrounded by dreary tunes from the 1940s. It really highlights the distinction between the outside world Barton visits during his off time and the Hotel Earle, the place he holes himself up in to create. The hotel itself is a character in a way, as if it holds Barton under a spell and keeps him there to write but prevents him from writing. There are a lot of mysteries I’ve yet to unravel here, such as the picture in Barton’s room, Charlie’s past, and the infamous box. There are so many touches here that I can’t even begin to take them on after only one viewing. I would definitely popping this one in again right after you watch it. There is so much subtext, it feels like there’s another movie underneath.

I feel totally emasculated by Barton Fink. It hit me in a very vulnerable spot. Perhaps I’m the confused writer, or the man trapping himself in a place he shouldn’t be at. Whatever I am, I know that I am completely outclassed by the Coens’ symbolism at the moment. If I can carve out some time in my busy movie schedule, I’ll view this again, but at the moment I’ll just have to let this enigma lie. Don’t let me stop you, though. This is a movie unlike any other you’re bound to see in your lifetime. It’s an unlit road into the cramped and dank mind of a writer, and it’s more disturbing than perhaps even I had previously calculated. I am totally impressed, regardless, and I give Barton Fink 10 self-imposed prisons out of 10. My highest recommendation!

And if you thought that was it, I have even one more review today! That’s right! Another reader request, I just finished watching Christiane F and am writing a review on it parallel to this review! I’m a workaholic!

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