I'm not lying to you. I don't know how to start this review. I do know that I'm not going to write about fish markets. Here goes.
Barton Fink I saw many years ago when I first saw Fargo, my first and still favorite Coen Brothers movie. I was much younger and really didn't understand what this movie Barton Fink was about. This has to be one of those movies where the symbolism of the movie is what makes the movie. The more you follow the subtext, the better it is.
Barton Fink is a New York playright who understands the common man-so he says. His first play is a smash and offers from Hollywood are coming in. Barton would rather not but a friend pressures him into going. Checking in at the decrepit Hotel Earle, Barton is seemingly the only resident. Is he? Well with the complementery shoe shine that the Earle offers, we see there are other people's shoes but no other people. Barton's room has just what he needs, a bathroom, a kitchen and a bed and nothing more and his wallpaper peels away with thick goopy glue left behind. Why is it so hot? Barton doesn't sweat in his room but it is hot. Charlie Meadows is his one neighbor, a door to door insurance salesman who sells peace of mind, allegedly. Charlie comments on how if it isn't his personality it's his build that turns people away from him. Charlie is full of advice for Barton and if only Barton could get off his high horse for a second and stop thinking he knows everything, he might learn something.
Heading over to Capitol Pictures, Barton meets Jack Lipnick the studio head who has a former head as an assistant. Barton the playwright, who has written about the common man and his struggles...is asked to write a wrestling movie. Barton can surely do this cause he is talented to write an acclaimed work....but he has writers block. Barton is smart enough to realize early on he isn't just a one hit wonder but a good writer would be able to write this movie script. Did Barton believe the hype?
The movie's producer says it's a B Movie and it should be easy, but Jack Lipnick says Capitol pictures doesn't make low budget garbage....okay. It's how the system works seemingly. Who to listen to. Down the same lines, Barton meets his favorite author who turns out to be a steaming drunk who's sexy secretary has been doing the work lately since the author is so bombed all the time. Everyday has Barton returning to the Hotel to stare at his blank page. Barton's attempts at reaching out to people end up either confusing Barton either more about the subject he doesn't understand or end up having bad consequences.
Without giving too much away, here are some details on how the movie shapes up by the end. Barton has sold out to Hollywood but no one knows him, his connections back home are cut, he has no friends or lovers and his talent will go to waste. He cannot go home and the Earle is now his home. You really need to follow the symbolism and I tried alluding to some of it here but it must be a surprise for the full enjoyment while you watch. Putting things in places as to what things represent and Charlie is a big part of it. Just when I thought I had this movie all put together, I read more about it and other people and they're ideas of the movie's symbolism makes this movie more like a Steely Dan album. Wondering what the words mean, who a character represents, is the deeper meaning in the characters and who they're modeled after in real life.
This is a very good movie that needs a second watch to catch all of the symbolism of the movie, especially on the second watch now that you know how it all goes and you can focus on the subtle. Needing a second watch to enrich the movie more isn't all that bad, and I can see how everyone's opinions and views of the movie can differ. One thing is sure, the movie's symbolism is stronger then the actual movie it's framed around.
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