Barton Fink - description
Barton Fink is a 1991 American film, written, directed, and produced by the Coen brothers. Set in 1941, it stars John Turturro in the title role as a young New York City playwright who is hired to write scripts for a movie studio in Hollywood, and John Goodman as Charlie, the insurance salesman who lives next door at the run-down Hotel Earle. The Coens wrote the screenplay in three weeks while experiencing difficulty during the writing of another movie, Miller's Crossing. Soon after Miller's Crossing was finished, the Coens began filming Barton Fink, and it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1991. In a rare sweep, it won the Palme d'Or prize, as well as awards for Best Director and Best Actor (Turturro). Although it was celebrated almost universally by critics and nominated for three Academy Awards, the movie grossed only $6,000,000 at the box office – two-thirds of its estimated budget.
The process of writing and the culture of entertainment production are two prominent themes of Barton Fink. The world of Hollywood is contrasted with that of Broadway, and the film analyzes superficial distinctions between high culture and low culture. Other themes in the film include fascism and World War II; slavery and conditions of labor in creative industries; and how intellectuals relate to "the common man".
Because of its diverse elements, Barton Fink has defied efforts at genre classification. It has been variously referred to as a film noir, a horror film, a Künstlerroman, and a buddy film. The surreal abandoned mood of the Hotel Earle was central to the development of the story, and careful deliberation went into its design. Barton's living quarters contrast the polished and pristine environs of Hollywood, especially the home of his boss Jack Lipnick. A single picture on the wall of a woman at the beach captures Barton's attention, and the image reappears in the final scene of the movie. Although the picture and other elements of the film (including a mysterious box given to Barton by Charlie) appear laden with symbolism, critics disagree over their possible meanings. The Coens have acknowledged some intentional symbolic elements while denying an attempt to communicate some holistic message.
The movie contains allusions to many real-life people and events, most notably the writers Clifford Odets and William Faulkner. The characters of Barton Fink and W.P. Mayhew are widely seen as fictional representations of these men, but the Coens stress important differences. They have also admitted to parodying film magnates like Louis B. Mayer, but also note that Barton's agonizing tribulations in Hollywood are not meant to reflect their own experiences. Barton Fink was influenced by several earlier works, including the films of Roman Polanski, particularly Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976). Other movies that influenced Barton Fink are Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining and Sullivan's Travels (1941) by filmmaker Preston Sturges. The Coens' movie also contains a number of literary allusions, to works by William Shakespeare, John Keats and Flannery O'Connor. Several religious overtones also appear, including references to the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, King Nebuchadnezzar and Bathsheba.
John Turturro learned to touch type for his role as Barton Fink, but because the character suffers from writer's block, the skill was not used much.
At the start of the movie, Barton Fink is enjoying the success of his first Broadway play, Bare Ruined Choirs. His agent informs him that Capitol Pictures in Hollywood has offered a thousand dollars per week to write movie scripts. Barton hesitates, worried that moving to California would separate him from "the common man", his focus as a writer. He accepts the offer, however, and checks into the Hotel Earle, a large and unusually deserted building. His room is sparse and draped in subdued colors; its only decoration is a small painting of a woman on the beach, arm raised to block the sun.
In his first meeting with Capitol Pictures boss Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner), Barton explains that he chose the Earle because he wants lodging that is (as Lipnick says) "less Hollywood". Lipnick promises that his only concern is Barton's writing ability, and assigns his new employee to a wrestling movie. Back in his room, however, Barton is unable to write. He is distracted by sounds coming from the room next door, and he phones the front desk to complain. His neighbor, Charlie Meadows (the source of the noise) visits Barton to apologize, and insists on sharing some alcohol from a hip flask to make amends. As they talk, Barton proclaims his affection for "the common man", and Charlie describes his life as an insurance salesman.
Still unable to proceed beyond the first lines of his script, Barton consults producer Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub) for advice. Irritated, the frenetic Geisler takes him to lunch and orders him to speak with another writer for assistance. While in the bathroom, Barton meets the novelist William Preston (W.P.) "Bill" Mayhew (John Mahoney), who is vomiting in the next stall. They briefly discuss movie writing, and arrange a second meeting later in the day. When Barton arrives, Mayhew is drunk and yelling wildly. His secretary, Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis), reschedules the meeting and confesses to Barton that she and Mayhew are in love. When they finally meet for lunch, Mayhew, Audrey, and Barton discuss writing and drinking. Before long Mayhew argues with Audrey, slaps her, and wanders off, drunk. Rejecting Barton's offer of consolation, she explains that she feels sorry for Mayhew, since he is married to another woman who is "disturbed". The Coen brothers wrote the role of Charlie Meadows for actor John Goodman, in part because of the "warm and friendly image that he projects for the viewer".
With one day left before his meeting with Lipnick to discuss the movie, Barton phones Audrey and begs her for assistance. She visits him at the Earle, and after she admits that she wrote most of Mayhew's scripts, they are assumed to have sex; Barton later confesses to Charlie they did so. When he wakes up the next morning, he finds Audrey's mutilated corpse beside him but has no memory of the night's events. Horrified, he summons Charlie and asks for help. Charlie is repulsed, but disposes of the body and orders Barton to avoid contacting the police. After a surreal meeting with an unusually supportive Lipnick, Barton tries writing again and is interrupted by Charlie, who announces he is going to New York for several days. Charlie leaves a package with Barton and asks him to watch it.
Soon afterwards, Barton is visited by two police detectives, who inform him that Charlie's real name is in fact Karl Mundt – "Madman Mundt". He is a serial killer wanted for several murders; after shooting his victims, they explain, he decapitates them and keeps the heads. Stunned, Barton returns to his room and examines the box. Placing it on his desk without opening it, he begins writing and produces the entire script in one sitting. After a night of celebratory dancing, Barton returns to find the detectives in his room, who then reveal Mayhew's murder. Charlie appears, and the hotel is engulfed in flames. Running through the hallway, screaming, Charlie shoots the policemen with a shotgun. As the hallway burns, Charlie speaks with Barton about their lives and the hotel, then retires to his own room. Barton leaves the hotel, carrying the box and his script.
In a final meeting, a disappointed and betrayed Lipnick, who has been drafted into the Pacific Theatre of World War II with the rank of Colonel, angrily chastises Barton for writing "a fruity movie about suffering", then informs him that he is to remain in Los Angeles, and that – although he will remain under contract – Capitol Pictures will not produce anything he writes so he can be ridiculed as a loser around the studio while Lipnick is in the war. Dazed, Barton wanders onto a beach, still carrying the package. He meets a woman who looks just like the one in the picture on his wall at the Earle, and she asks about the box. He tells her that he knows neither what it contains nor to whom it belongs. She assumes the pose from the picture, and the film ends.