Barton Fink

November 12, 2009
By TheGothicGunslinger ELITE, Lakeland, Florida
TheGothicGunslinger ELITE, Lakeland, Florida
177 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
"To be great is to be misunderstood" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"What a ride" is what all viewers of this film, critics or otherwise, will be thinking once they finish it. It's so jammed pack with symbolism and a genre-spanning plot, that it'll leave your head spinning. No worries though, faithful readers, as it's a very enjoyable film through and through.

Directed by the Coen brothers - who also directed the recent No Country For Old Men, which swept 2007 in awards and is also one of this reviewer's favorite films - Barton Fink revolves around the life and unfortunate events of a playwright in 1941 by the name of Barton Fink. After finishing a highly-acclaimed play, Barton is offered the "chance of a lifetime", which is to write the script for a Hollywood wrestling picture. Barton's hesitant about the deal, though, as he believes that Hollywood doesn't understand the 'common man', the people he claims to write for. He eventually succumbs and the film takes place from there, showing Barton's descent into dangerous grounds.

The film is very symbolic, with the film going through a variety of themes such as slavery, the hypocrisy of Hollywood AND regular writers, the life of the common man, slavery, and even the Faustian selling of one's soul. The most important, or rather most spotlighted, of the themes is the Faustian one, with even the first scene of the film showing a cable being lowered, as if descending into Hell, as Barton is by "descending" into the depths of Hollywood. The devils of Hollywood are depicted as being just as deceitful and ugly as the ones from Hell, only these devils wear suits. While Barton fights to stick up for the common man, whom he sees as being oppressed by the likes of Hollywood, we are shown slowly throughout the film that Barton may not know the common man as well as he thinks.

While many of the film's themes are quite fascinating, especially the film's forefront Heaven/Hell theme, there are some themes that just don't seem to click quite well. For instance, the historical aspects of the film felt flat and really forced, barely being touched upon except for certain instances that just didn't make too much sense. Why exactly did one of the big hot-shot Hollywood producers decide to join the Navy? No reason seems to be given other than that "he's racist", despite no evidence suggesting this is given throughout the entire movie.

While the secondary aspects of the film are hit-and-miss, all of the characters are interesting and well-developed, and it's always fascinating to see them interact with one another. Whether it be between Barton and Charlie, Barton's hotel room neighbor, or between Barton and the Hollywood executives, the dialogue and the character's relationships are top-notch.

Of all of the characters in the film, I found Charlie to be just as interesting, if not more so, than the titular Barton Fink. John Goodman plays the lively and friendly neighbor, and he does an amazing job in his role. He plays the character flawlessly, down to when we find out Charlie is more than meets the eye. We care for him, we laugh with him, and we feel for him throughout the film, making him the most likable character of the film.

The film is also shot beautifully, with the set designs complimenting the times and the characters very well. The best scenes, I believe, have to be those that take place in the long hallway of Barton's hotel. There are also some really nice shots that take place in the hotel's lobby, as well as the scenes with the Hollywood executives.

The sounds in Barton Fink are also pretty cool. While the score is pretty average, the echoes and sound effects in the movie push the film's Heaven/Hell theme. For example, practically every time we hear a character off-screen yelling or moaning off-screen, it sounds as if they're in terrible pain - as if they're crying from the regions of Hell Barton has found himself in recently.

In the end, Barton Fink is a well-developed picture. Great characters, snappy dialogue, and the theme of what it means to sell your soul to the devil are really what makes this movie shine. Granted, some of the secondary themes are disjointed or spelled out for you. However, this doesn't stop the Coen brothers' film from being a genre-spanning (part horror, part noir, part surreal), surrealistic, and claustrophobic, and exciting mystery film. A film that shows that between Heaven and Hell, there's always Hollywood.

8/10 - Great

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