“Barton Fink” Review ✦✦✦✦✧

3 February, 2017

Year of Release: 1991
Joel Coen
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Director of Photography: 
Roger Deakins
John Turturro, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi

Synopsis: Set in the 1940s, Barton Fink presents the story of a troubled playwright tasked with writing a screenplay for a Hollywood B-movie. As the pressure mounts, Fink starts to lose his grip on reality while a severe case of writer’s block consumes his daily existence.

Barton Fink Review:

Designed to soothe the headache experienced by the Coen brothers while writing “Miller’s Crossing,” “Barton Fink” is a tale of writer’s block, anxiety, and failure whilst working under the conditions set by wartime moviemakers. Despite being assembled as kind of a procrastination piece for the brothers themselves, the film is a very traditional Coen feature with some of the most stimulating and significant themes in their entire filmography.

Featuring a cleverly composed hotel set, with instant nods made to the work of Kubrick and Polanski, the Coens ensure that every prop has significance as Fink’s room becomes a literal representation of his skewed headspace; dust surrounds an old notepad denoting his lack of inspiration, the bed creeks and holds clues to embarrassing secrets, cheap wallpaper peels and gloops as his mental state waxes and wanes. Even the man himself is an enigma waiting to be unravelled. He’s a loner, a thinker, and an artist slowly driving himself insane as the film neatly parallels the iconography and awkwardness of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead.”

As a writer it’s natural to develop a soft spot for a movie that takes the creative process and examines it from within the confines of the individual. Inside Fink’s mind merely existing is not enough but his desire to turn his experiences into a kind of profound socialist rhetoric is quashed by the flatness of the Hollywood system. “Barton Fink” shows that a genius can become nothing when assigned a menial task and his inability to articulate such a low-brow screenplay is made even worse by its apparent simplicity – “Can you tell a story, Bart? Can you make us laugh, can you make us cry?” – the more he thinks about it the harder it becomes.

Barton Fink is burdened not only by his responsibilities as an artist but also by the horrors of his environment. Fink is a Jewish socialist sitting in a hotel room at the start of WWII. He has an uncertain future ahead of him and, in many ways, the film’s farcical attitude is a generous interpretation of a very real nightmare. The man is surrounded by loud-mouthed producers, and he is friends with a raging alcoholic and mass murderer who may or may not also be his imaginary friend. This isn’t all fun and games. It’s complete hell and he knows it.


Review Date
Barton Fink