Help me understand Barton Fink (SPOILERS)

I saw this movie twice in the last three days. I’m on a bit of a Coen kick at the moment and decided to review some of their movies that I haven’t seen. Blood Simple was beautiful, brilliant, and fairly easy to understand. Now Barton Fink well, I have to say, I loved the movie; I loved the imagery, the cinematography and the acting (Goodman especially. Heck, Buscemi was brilliant, too, in the three or four minutes of screen time he had.)

But what the heck is going on with the symbolism? Arggh! OK, so I get this is a metaphor for the act of creating and all that jazz, but once the chick ends up dead, I’m lost.

What’s the photo about? Is that some symbol for escape or something? Why the final scene with the woman? Are we supposed to think a head’s in the box or is it something else? What about Mundt’s “Heil Hitler” after he blows the second guy away? Why does Mundt always avoid letting Barton into his room? How does Mundt hear the couple having sex next doors? Is it really the pipes? I notice that when Barton and the girl hook up, the camera pans away, the sexual noises get louder and the camera shot goes into and down the drain.

What’s with the peeling walls? Or the surreal hell scene? Are we supposed to take any of the events literally, or is it all a visual metaphor for the creative process?

I’ve obviously missed something important somewhere. Maybe some of your Coenphiles can help me out, because I really felt I liked the film, but I’m not sure what to make of it…

I’d love to help you, but I have to say this is the one Coen brothers movie I didn’t like. I kept waiting for something to happen.

It’s been a while since I saw the film, but I remember thinking that the picture represented a carefree, idyllic existence, to be contrasted with the hot, oppressive hotel room in which Fink is confined. My guess is that the woman at the end is more the Coen brothers being too clever (the way she adopts the pose of the woman in the picture) than any overt symbolism (unless you want to interpret it as a sign that either Fink has gained the freedom he wanted, or that he never will).

I also think we’re supposed to assume that there’s a head in the box, but Bros. Coen were again being overly clever by not letting the audience know one way or the other.

Dunno. Maybe it’s a response to the perceived oppression by The Man.

Because he’s Up To Something. It increases the viewer’s sense of paranoia.

It’s Fink losing control of his environment.

With the Coen brothers, I always just assume it’s weird shit that looks cool on film.

Re: the “Heil Hitler!” remark, Roger Ebert has a good paragraph on this in his review of the film:

For all his posturing as the champion of the common man, Fink, the leftist-populist (read: Communist) writer, doesn’t really want to listen to the common man (Goodman) much, or hear about his problems or his life. In fact, he kind of blows him off. Hence, the throwaway reference to Fascism stepping in to fill the void.

Good point, but what is it with the Coen’s casting big John as this type of character? (See O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

I’m not sure abot comparing Ulysses’s Cyclops with the rise of fascism, but maybe Goodman is just one of the Coen’s poker buddies.

Whoa, you went way too deep on that analysis. I just meant playing a character who seems to be on the good side, but has an evil secret.

But what about the recurrent theme of hair pomade in Coen movies?

I sort of felt this in the movie too, but I wasn’t sure whether it was me trying to apply irrelevent symbology on the film or whether it was intended. Throughout the entire film, you certainly do get the sense that although Fink is interested about writing about the life of the common man, he really can give two damns about it. I mean the whole “I can tell you stories” bit and the whole Goodman teachknig Fink how to wrestle scenes seem to be indicative of this.

I don’t know whether this is meant to reflect effete left-wing intellectualism during WWII or whether its simply a jab at writers who take themselves way too seriously. I would almost discount any WWII analysis, save for the “Heil Hitler” reference and the clearl Jewish themes running through the movie.

I almost wonder if it’s supposed to be interpreted as, say, Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” an allegory on fascism, or whether it simply is a metaphor for the creative process…

Or is it the Coens being deliberately vague, allowing us to inject any sort of nonsensical meaning we want into this film? I hope not, else I’d be very disappointed…

There’s a pretty good analysis of the film at this web site.

Good cite, Why A Duck. Seems I’m not so thick after all; many of my questions and observations are discussed there. Cool.