Writers block is a terrible thing. I can understand Barton Fink’s plight as I’m currently going through a similar thing. Getting some writing down is like squeezing toothpaste out of a near empty packet. And then you end up ripping it apart. I need something radical to happen like it does here. It really gets you going.
Barton Fink (John Turturro) is stuck in a rut as he moves to Hollywood to write a B movie wrestling picture. His previous work was plays for the common people in New York, but now he has to deal with a topic he isn’t familiar with, nor wants to be familiar with, so he doesn’t know what to do. Being condemned to staying at an art deco styled hotel which has wallpaper peeling from the walls, an intense heat and an ominous atmosphere isn’t helping, nor is his friendly neighbour Charlie Meadows (Fred Flinstone, I mean John Goodman) who often pops round for a chat. Charlie has a lot of stories to tell, but Fink is having none of it, instead trying to seek help from a famous writer in Hollywood as he believes Charlie is beneath him, the common guy he wants to write for. Fink’s journeys in the day give a great insight into how Hollywood may work and the evenings provide some nice buddy moments as the two start to get a little close. Even if Fink still comes across as a snob. Then the radical part happens and everything is thrown on its head.
When this mid-point comes in, a sudden sense of urgency and dread is thrown on Fink who already has enough to deal with. The steady pace is given a shot in the arm and there is a sense of genre shift as it moves into thriller territory. The off feeling throughout was building up to this inevitable horror and seeing perceptions change and real danger outside of the mind approaching Fink brings to light how trivial Fink’s original problems were. Sometimes not a lot may seem to be going on, but the excellent and sometimes unsettling performances make even the most mundane engaging. It’s a film about heads and how they work; common folk, Hollywood, pretentious writers and detached ones.
Barton Fink is a film with hidden depths and sudden twists and one which gives a good idea on what writers block can feel like and how a film which strays away from action and goes for the heart can be received by those lovely folk at Hollywood. It got my brain whirring again, now I just need my muse.