Barton Fink

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Joel and Ethan Coen, 1991

FADE IN on a bedroom in an Oxfordshire suburb. Mr. Craig sits at a laptop computer. The rain can be heard outside, as can the cry of the fishmongers.

John Goodman enters.

GOODMAN

What are you up to there Al?

CRAIG

(Closing the lid of the computer)
Oh, hi there John. I’m trying to write a review of Barton Fink, but I just can’t get started. I can’t decide if I have too much to say about it, or not enough.

GOODMAN

Hell, I know how you feel. Reviewing films is damned difficult. Especially that one, even I don’t really know what it’s about and I was in it!

CRAIG

On the surface, I guess it’s about writer’s block. About that fear that all writers have, that they only have one good idea, and that maybe they don’t really understand what they’re doing.

GOODMAN

I’ve been there. Brother I could tell you some stories…

CRAIG

I bet you could. I mean, you were in the film. I bet the things you could tell me about making it, working with the Coen Brothers and such.

GOODMAN

Hell yes I could!

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John Turturro as Barton Fink

CRAIG

Well I’d better get on with writing this thing. I think I’ve kind of lost my mind, actually. I’m imagining a conversation with you, John Goodman, and writing it up as a script! This barely counts as a review.

GOODMAN

Just keep chippin’ away at it, Al. I’m sure you’ll get it. Hell, what’ve you got so far?

CRAIG

“Fade in on a bedroom in an Oxfordshire suburb…” Well, I won’t bore you with the tedious details. Basically, I have a conversation with you and it gets me nowhere because I don’t listen to you.

GOODMAN

Sounds familiar. Damned interesting work, though.

CRAIG

It’s an interesting film, I’d say. Quite enigmatic. I mean, what exactly are they saying? It starts off clear enough — Barton is passionate about writing theatre for “The Common Man”, but he is completely unable to relate to the affable everyman character you play.

GOODMAN

I played that damned well, even if I say so m’self!

CRAIG

That you did, John, that you did.

GOODMAN

Much obliged.

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John Goodman as Charlie Meadows

CRAIG

Where was I? Right, so Barton is unable to relate to the Common Man. He ends up using fishmongers as shorthand for the lower classes. He has a great opportunity to write a Hollywood wrestling movie that really would reach the masses he preaches about, but all he can actually do is rehash his last play. The studio sees it for the “fruity” philosophical claptrap it is.

GOODMAN

It’s like he lacks empathy completely, ain’t it?

CRAIG

Exactly. While in Hollywood, Barton meets one of his literary heroes, W. P. “Bill” Mayhew, but the guy turns out to be an abusive drunkard. Bill’s “secretary” has real empathy for his situation, but Barton can only see him as a son of a bitch. And the irony is that the Coens kind of made the same mistakes as Barton.

GOODMAN

So you mean… The film kind of defeats its own purpose?

CRAIG

Maybe. Its main appeal is to writers and artists, and in the end it descends into Lynch-esque surrealism and symbolism. Are we to assume that the Hotel represents Hell? Is it the Hell of writing? Of writer’s block? Of war? Anti-semitism? Is Charlie the Devil? What’s in the box he gives to Barton? Is it a human head — literally an imagination that allows him to complete his script? A soul perhaps, but whose? Or is it merely the mystery that finally inspires Barton?

GOODMAN

Good points, brother. But films don’t all have to appeal to the masses. I mean hell, it’s given you something to think about, hasn’t it?

CRAIG

You’ve got a point there. I’ve watched it twice already trying to figure it out, and I can see myself watching it many more times. I get the general message, if not all the fruity symbolism.

Steve Buscemi enters with a dessert cart from a restaurant. On the cart is a swan sculpted from ice.

BUSCEMI

I brung you your ice swan, Mr. Goodman.

The ice swan melts as the walls burst into flames. Goodman sweats profusely. Buscemi falls through the floorboards. A loud crash can be heard below.

GOODMAN

Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about, Al?

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"Will you take the speedboat or what's in the box?"

CRAIG

Yeah, I guess. But Barton Fink is a good film, I’m just making this bullshit up as I go along. I mean, how am I going to get out of this now?

GOODMAN

I got one idea…

CRAIG

Go for it John!

Goodman pulls a shotgun out from behind his back. He points it to Craig’s head.

GOODMAN

(shouting)
I GOT YOUR GODDAMN REVIEW ENDING RIGHT HERE! AAARGH!

Both men scream loudly. Goodman blows Craig’s brains out.

FADE OUT

One Response to “Barton Fink”

  1. I love this review. I must see this now. Not (necessarily) literally now. But let’s not rule that out, eh.

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