Barton Fink (1991)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Barton Fink</strong> (1991)

(On TV, June 2013) Barton Fink’s reputation as a mystifying piece of cinema precedes it by years, and after watching the film I’m no wiser than anyone else in trying to explain what I’ve just seen.  It starts simply enough, as a New York playwright moves to Los Angeles to write scripts for Hollywood.  The initial satire of the industry can be amusing at times.  But then the film moves in another direction entirely with a run-down hotel, a threatening next-door neighbor, a brutal murder, more symbolism than anyone can use, and enough references to other things that one can profitably mine the film for endless analysis.  John Turturro is compelling as the title character, while John Goodman is surprisingly menacing as his neighbor/id.  What Barton Fink does not contain, however, is a simply digestible experience: It’s a hermetic film that seemingly delights in throwing off its audience and multiplying contradictory interpretations.  As such, it’s kind of fun: The Coen Brothers’ skill in putting together the film mean that individual scenes are compelling to watch, even as it’s maddening to piece them together in a coherent whole. 

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