Many writers, more often than not, hate being told how and what to write. Oftentimes, it is because we as writers can become quite sure that we alone know what is best to be written. Barton Fink is a perfect example of a supposedly fine writer who is asked to write, what he believes, is below his level. His assignment is to script a B picture about wrestling. However, Barton has no real interest in a physical struggle between two big, nasty, sweaty men. Barton wants to write about an inner struggle, wrestling with inner demons. It would seem that such a story about an inner struggle is the “Barton Fink feeling” that Mr. Lipnick of Capitol Pictures refers to in his first interview with Barton. Apparently, however, the “Barton Fink” feeling is lost on him.
When Barton hands Mr. Lipnick the final script for the wrestling picture, Lipnick hates it. He obviously has no clue what the “Barton Fink feeling” is, nor does he care. It would seem that he’s too stupid to understand the concept of the inner struggle that Barton is writing about. Lipnick is only interested in giving people what they expect from motion pictures - dumb, senseless formulaic entertainment. Barton Fink wants to create something “big” and “important” as he says so often. I would have to think that the Barton Fink feeling is reflected through this movie, which is about a writer’s inner struggle with writer’s block.
The Hotel Earle is a representation of Barton’s mind or more appropriately his mental processes. If I’m interpreting the film correctly, Los Angeles, in Barton’s mind, is Hell. He doesn’t want to be there. He is very uncomfortable. Charlie Meadows makes him comfortable. What Barton seems to so blatantly miss, is that Charlie, one of the main characters of the film, is actually “the Devil” in disguise. It is all possible that everything that occurs in the Hotel Earle is not real at all. It seems to simply represent the inner consciousness of Barton Fink. It is a possibility that all that happens within the Earle could very possibly be an example of a story in the “Barton Fink” genre.
The Coen brothers use a strange corollary between creator and demon. Some people liken it to the point of comparing God and Satan, the Creator and the Devil. I think that the comparison is to a lesser degree, because this is only a man we’re talking about, indeed a man who creates for a living, but he is still nothing more than a man. He is a man who is struggling to write a very big and important story for and about the common man. However, he doesn’t listen to the common man, who is apparently Charlie - but that we learn is actually not. The point that the film is making is that Barton doesn’t listen to anyone. He is too busy looking for pain and suffering to incorporate into his story, living the “life of the mind” that has no road map. Charlie, who is not a common man at all, gives him the pain and suffering he’s looking for, giving him that road map by killing all those people: the girl, Mayhew, and his family. From clues sprinkled throughout the film, it would seem that what happens to Barton in the film is in fact what is happening in the movie that he is writing. This aspect of the plot was probably the most interesting part of the movie.
Whether or not I fully appreciated the aesthetics of this particular film at the time, I must admit that “Barton Fink” had a very solid and original plot, and the Coen brothers delivered a very unique, memorable interpretation of writer’s block. It was in itself a pseudo-B movie about writer writing a B movie. While it isn’t one of my favorite films, it gave me interest in checking out more of the Coen Brothers’ films. It is certainly a film with excellent acting and vivid imagery that will certainly remain in my memory forever.
Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barton_Fink