Sunday, November 27, 2011

Barton Fink

Having just watched the Coen Brothers film, "Barton Fink", and then researching comments on the web regarding this production, I have a few comments to add about the film that others seem to have missed.

In the beginning of the film Barton is clearly overwhelmed by the reaction of the audience to his Broadway play, in fact he is confused by the praise for what he considers to be a rather mediocre attempt. He is persuaded to go to Hollywood with promises of more fame and fortune, but is unsure how to present himself and even if he can improve the callibre of his work.

He is afraid that he will have to compromise his work ethic and quickly learns that from here on he will be owned by the studio. It is clear from the moment he enters the hotel that he has entered an alternate reality. The place appears to be dead, quite and deserted - even the front desk is unattended, until the clerk emerges into the scene from below/underneath/underground. Chet is in fact the doorman for the gate to hell. Little does Barton realise that he has already sold his soul to the devil and that his neighbour is the demon who will guide him to destruction.

Notice, that many of the paintings and pictures in the background scenery depict the backs of people as though they are leaving the scene. Even the picture on the wall of his room shows the back of a woman looking some where else. It is as though everything is reversed, a mirror image of reality. This is the only view that he has in his room of the outside world, and it troubles him. It is as though nobody wants to be here, or are all on their way to another place. The only evidence of other occupants is their shoes in the hallway and the screams and moans of pain coming through his walls. In fact, the place is so hot that even the paper peels off the wall and mosquitoes (which are uncommon to the area) feed off his blood.

He is existing in an alternate reality. In the restaurant he enters, the large mural in the background shows a name/word clearly spelt backwards, but also reversed. He is suffering from writers block but his devilish but likeable neighbour becomes his muse. He is writing a screenplay for a wrestling movie, but in reality, he is wrestling with the devil for control of his soul.

It is only after he takes another writer's lover for his muse that his neighbour becomes jealous and conspires with him to dispose of the evidence of the murder he has apparently committed. The fight for his soul has reached a new level and the pain and anguish he feels is punched out on his typewriter into a new screenplay.

Meanwhile, he has been left with an object in a box by his neigbour that may or may not be a head. He is reluctant to open it because it does not belong with him, but he carries it for the rest of the movie - in fact, he will probably carry it with him for the rest of his life - it is his soul, and he cannot get it back, he has already crossed to the other side.

His neighbour repeatedly tells him that he does "not listen" and the studio boss tells him that he will now be owned by them until he learns his lesson.

In the final scenes he is walking along the beach and is confronted by a beautiful woman, but he cannot hear what she is saying to him. As she sits on the sand and looks out to sea, he realises that she is the same woman from the picture in his room and it is the same view. He is now looking at reality from the other side, again - as he was in his room. He tells her that he does not know what is in the box or even if it belongs to him, which seems ironic, considering that his murdering neighbour has admitted with a smile that it really does not belong to him either.

*At this moment I want to pause and reflect on two points often raised by critics of the film.
The first concerns the rolling bedknob when his neighbour frees him from being handcuffed to the bed. There appears to be a mistake in the editing - but, I believe it is done deliberately. The bedknob rolls across the floor without its stem attached, but, this is an allegory for the decapitation of a human head from its neck - notice that the rolling knob is stained heavily as though it had blood on it.
And, the second concerns the final scene of the film as the woman sits on the beach looking out to sea. The Coen Brothers claim that the bird diving into the water was accidental. I believe not - they are playing with the audience. If you watch carefully, that bird does not dive into the water, but falls into the water and lies there - just as a dead bird would. I think that this represents the fact that everything around him is illusory and dead.......Barton is already in Hell.