Barton Fink tells the story of a playwright who moves from New York to Los Angeles to write for the movie industry. His claim to fame is writing about everyday people and he takes the Hollywood job to fund his dream of opening a theater for everyone to enjoy his plays regardless of class.
As soon as this movie started I knew it was Coen brothers project. It shares the same kind of screwy, off-kilter performances that define a lot of their movies. The Big Lebowski is a prime example of their ability to make characters who are definitively off-beat but also likable and memorable. This movie shares the same kind of charm as their previous projects as we follow Barton Fink through his time in Los Angeles, staying at the distinguishably strange Earle Hotel. John Turturro plays Barton Fink, a likeable writer who has no idea how to write for movies (especially a “wrestling movie”) as he encounters the many types of people living in LA. As the film progresses it takes a darker turn, acknowledging the chaos and mental anguish of the writing process.
This film is insane in the best way. Turturro plays the character exceptionally equipped with all the mania that his character personifies, driven mad inside the walls of an incredibly creepy hotel. This has to be the creepiest hotel since The Shining, and the cinematography amplifies the creepiness factor through strange shots and symmetrical imagery. The ending really threw me off guard though. It gets pretty dark real fast. Still, my favorite part of Coen brothers’ movies has to be their ability to use dialogue to convey character so well. Everything a character says even how they speak conveys something important about their character. John Goodman is electric in his role as Fink’s neighbor, and it might be my favorite role he’s been in in a very long time. He commands every scene and his character development from the first half of the film to the second half is incredible, sudden but incredible.
I’m not going to lie, this movie is incredible as just a straight movie, but it has a lot of room for interpretation. It has many allusions to World War II and can represent the rising chaos of America following the inclusion into the war and Fink trying to cope with it. I personally interpreted it as the stress of writing the “next big thing” driving Fink to madness, eventually snapping his hold on reality. He loses his mind going stir crazy in the hotel after Charlie leaves. This film is one of those great films that leave the audience with more questions than answers, but not in a frustrating way. It is jam packed with fantastic performances, clever and character-driven dialogue, and a Coen feel that never disappoints. Quirky and original, this is a great film by a talented pair of writers/directors.
Amy’s Recommendation: 9/10