Monday, May 23, 2011

Barton Fink

By the time Barton Fink was released in 1991, the Coen brothers had begun to put their mark on 20th century cinema. In their fourth feature film, John Turturro plays Barton Fink, a playwright cast into the spotlight after receiving critical acclaim for a play. He is then hired to write scripts for a film company in Los Angeles. When he arrives, he comes to find that Hollywood isn't as glamorous as it appears. He meets Charlie Meadows, an insurance salesman played by John Goodman and the two form an odd sort of friendship. Barton develops many other relationships and soon his world begins to become fuzzy. As he struggles in writing a new script, he is put to the test mentally to withstand the trials of Hollywood and the isolation that comes with it.

Coen brother films are notorious for their depth and levels of metaphors. There are so many different layers to their films that to dissect all of them would take more space than I'm given for this article. These layers tend to been comparable to an onion in that the first layer is simple to see and the further you peel, the more you find. Barton Fink is no different. The levels of this film come from religion and ideologies and even the essence of Hollywood. The concept of the idyllic Hollywood is torn apart in this movie. The people are shown as fake and impossible to trust. Likewise, Barton's room is incredibly lacking in the glamour that is Hollywood; the bed squeaks, the wallpaper peels, even the tip of a pencil is snapped off. Further down is the religious aspect of the film. There is a scene in which Barton reads a segment from the Bible which correlates to his tribulations in Hollywood. Later, Barton asks the elevator operator whether or not he's read the Bible, to which, the operator responds, "the Holy Bible?" This implies that there is some other sort of Bible, possibly a Bible of Hollywood. Further down still are the ideological concepts of Fascism. As in many Coen brother films, there are several illusions to the Holocaust and WWII in this film. Along with the fact that it is set in 1941, this provides clear evidence to the presence of Fascism in the film. There are several references to Jews in a derogatory fashion. There are also a pair of characters, who shall remain nameless so as not to spoil the film, who come together and represent the Axis powers of WWII. One has an Italian last name and one has a German last name. The Coen brothers are experts in weaving such metaphors into their films. They seamlessly integrate the themes they wish to portray. The actors all perform brilliantly in the film. John Turturro probably should have received an Oscar nod, as well as John Goodman.

Grade: B+

Complex themes and concepts - Oscar
Flawed main characters - Oscar
Notorious director/writer - Oscar and Box Office
Unique storyline - Oscar

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