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Barton Fink

September 1, 2010

To say that I enjoyed “Barton Fink” is an understatement; it is one the greatest films I’ve ever seen, though this affirmation is somewhat tinged with my own subjective bias. It is, after all, a film about the craft of writing and the psychological neurosis therein; and such philosophies presented in such a pure state of madness could not have been offered to me at a better time in my life. However, I’ll try to set my own experiences aside and try to be a little more objective first.

Barton Fink tells the somewhat surreal tale of the titular character, played by the fantastic John Turturro. A writer who wants to cut away at the plastic sheen of Hollywood archetypes, Fink gets more than what he bargained for when his first success on Broadway leads to a damning contract with delusional high-office movie producers begging for a script about a B-grade wrestler. Now, faced with complete isolation, a chronic writer’s block, and dispassion for his current situation, Barton Fink experiences a series of odd and even horrific events in the strange Hotel Earle: a dimension that houses not only Fink’s frustration, but also his erratic neighbor Charlie Meadows (one of John Goodman’s finest character roles.) To say more would spoil the film entirely, though I can say that the ensuing events that follow Barton in his quest to transcribe the plight of the “common man” from his creative genius is equally fascinating as it is pitiful and perhaps obviously doomed.

The film’s a combonation of slick noir, itchy mystery, uneasy drama, and surrealism which bleeds out faster than the wallpaper in Barton Fink’s hotel room. Where things could easily take a boring turn, they never do; the movie keeps you on a tight rope that could either be the way out of the wishing well or the noose to hang yourself and abandon all hope. Though the phrase “Kafkaesque” is overplayed these days, I can’t help but compare the lead character to Franz Kafka in some instances throughout his struggles. Both are Jewish, brilliant writers, and are long-suffering in their line of works. And both are haunted by an existentialist nightmare to somehow simultaneously rise above it all yet remain a man among “the people.” The sheer duality of this wish and how Fink wrestles with the truths of his existence is a ride enhanced even moreso by the excellent portrayals of human beings who inhabit this ghost world with him. I wish I knew of better ways to further describe this film, but I guess in this instance comparisons might help. It reminds me of stories akin to Eraserhead, The Shining, and maybe even shades of Bartleby. The unsettling nature of plasticity of the mind and the subsequent imprisonment of it unfolds like one of Barton’s plays that he so idolizes. And yet, in the midst of all these psychological indemnities, the movie remains surprisingly accessible to viewers of almost any background. That, I suppose, is one of the strongest points of the Barton Fink.

It’s no surprise that given the nature of the film’s plot and message, the viewing of this would have a supremely profound effect on me. Though I do not believe in fate or predestined things, I do believe that I made the right decision by choosing this movie to finally see. A small portion of my inspiration to keep writing was rekindled by this film and I suspect its influence on me will be very apparent for quite some time in the future.

Though it seems I have little to say about this movie as opposed to the previous films I reviewed, it is only due to the nature of which this film is presented. It is something that can’t be analyzed very simply, and must be seen to truly believe in the brilliance of its movement. Balancing thunderous aesthetics with a kind of minimalist approach of energy, Barton Fink may very well be one of my most treasured viewings of all time.

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