Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Barton Fink (1991)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Barton Fink (1991)

In this Coen Brothers classic about the struggles and efforts of a celebrated NY playwright to write a script in Hollywood, while suffering from 'writers block' and becoming engaged in a noirish murder mystery:

  • the title character: the wiry-haired, thick-framed black-eyeglass-wearing, celebrated New York playwright Barton Fink (John Turturro) - after the success of his play Bare Ruined Choirs, who had been tempted to sell out from his roots and move west to Hollywood (of 1941) for a big payout - a contract with Capitol Pictures; he resided temporarily in stark hotel room # 621 (on the 6th floor) with loudly peeling wallpaper in the surreal, rundown Hotel Earle; a clue to the film's meaning was found on the letterhead for the hotel: "A Day or a Lifetime" - the hotel was literally and figuratively HELL
  • the early scene of eccentric movie studio mogul Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) speaking to Fink: (Lipnick: "We're only interested in one thing. Can you tell a story? Can you make us laugh, make us cry, make us want to break out in song?"); the East Coast writer was asked to compromise his talent by writing a film script for a "wrestling picture with Wallace Beery" within a week: ("We do not make B-pictures here at Capitol. Put a stop to that rumor right now!...The important thing is we all want it to have that Barton Fink feeling. I guess we all have that Barton Fink feeling, but since you're Barton Fink, I'm assuming you have it in spades")
  • afterwards, Barton's condescending and lengthy rant about theater to his gregarious, traveling, door-to-door fire insurance salesman/psychotic homicidal next-door neighbor Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) in the hotel, whom he called a "real man" - he stressed his connection to the "common man": ("Strange as it may seem, Charlie, I guess I write about people like you - the average working stiff, the common man....There's a few people in New York, hopefully our numbers are growing, who feel we have an opportunity now to forge something real out of everyday experience, create a theater for the masses based on a few simple truths, not on some shopworn abstractions about drama that don't hold true today if they ever did...We all have stories! The hopes and dreams of the common man are as noble as those of any king. The stuff of life. Why shouldn't it be the stuff of theater? God dammit. Why should that be such a hard pill to swallow? Don't call it new theater, Charlie. Call it real theater. Call it our theater!... many writers do everything in their power to insulate themselves from the common man, from where they live, from where they trade, from where they fight and love and converse and, and, so, naturally, their work suffers and regresses into empty formalism and - well, I'm spouting off again, but to put it in your language, the theater becomes as phony as a $3 dollar bill")
  • the scene of Barton Fink (with mosquito bites all over his face and suffering from terminal writer's block) consulting with producer Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub) for advice about his script, and learning to his consternation that Lipnick had unfortunately taken an interest in the picture: ("I don't know what the hell you said to Lipnick, but the son of a bitch likes you. Do you understand that, Fink? He likes you! He's taken a interest. Never make Lipnick like you. Never!...Are you deaf? He likes you. He's taken a interest. What the hell did you say to him?...Well, he's taken a interest. That means he'll make your life hell, which I could care less about. Since I drew the short straw to supervise this turkey, he's gonna be all over me, too. Fat-ass son of a bitch called me yesterday to ask me how it's going. Don't worry, I covered for ya. I told him you were making progress. We were all very excited. I told him it was great. Understand that? So now my ass is on the line. He wants you to tell him all about it tomorrow!")
  • the sequences of Barton's quick love affair with new muse Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis), the 'ghost writer' and secretary for a well-known, alcoholic Faulknerian novelist - William Preston (W.P.) "Bill" Mayhew (John Mahoney), whose body was later found 'Headless in Chavez Ravine'; this grisly news headline was followed by the scene of Barton's discovery of the bloodied body of Audrey in his bedroom - presumably following a night of sex with her
Grisly Film Components
Bloodied Body of Audrey - Violently Murdered
Charlie's Mysterious Brown Paper-Wrapped Box
Decapitated Writer's Body
  • the fiery scene in which Fink's neighbor Charlie, now revealed to be serial killer Karl "Madman" Mundt ("He likes to ventilate people with a shotgun and cut their heads off") returned to the rundown hotel; the hot-tempered Charlie emerged from the hotel's flaming elevator, and abruptly shot one of two cops who were waiting for him there; he ran down the flaming corridor screaming out with his double-barreled shotgun at the second officer: ("Look upon me. I'll show you the life of the mind!") - he pulled the trigger with the gun pointed at the man's forehead, as he spoke: "Heil Hitler!"; then he returned to Barton's open door, whistled, and exclaimed: "Brother, is it hot!"
  • sitting on Barton's bed, Charlie confessionally admitted to Fink: "Most guys I just feel sorry for. It tears me up inside to think about what they're going through, how trapped they are. I understand it. I feel for them. So I try and help them out. Jesus...I know what it feels like when things get all balled up at the head office. They put you through hell, Barton. So I help people out. I just wish someone would do as much for me. Jesus, it's hot. Sometimes it gets so hot I want to crawl right out of my skin"; when Fink asked: "But Charlie, why me?" - Charlie yelled back: "Because you don't listen!"
  • the last scene in which the bewildered playwright suffered criticism, denigration, and ridicule from the studio and the chastising Lipnick, about his inadequate finished script - "We don't put Wally Beery in a fruity movie about suffering": ("You ain't no writer, Fink. You're a god-damn write-off!...You arrogant son of a bitch. You think you're the only writer that can give me that Barton Fink feeling? I got 20 writers under contract I can ask for a Fink-type thing from! You swell-headed hypocrite! You just don't get it, do ya? You think the whole world revolves around whatever rattles inside that little kike head of yours. Get him out of my sight, Lou! I want him in town, though. He's still under contract. I want you in town and outta my sight. Now, get lost. There's a war on")
  • the final sequence found Fink walking along a beach with Charlie's brown paper-wrapped parcel-box (with Audrey's body parts, or Mayhew's head, or the head of one of Charlie's murdered victims?); there, he met a bathing beauty (Isabelle Townsend) - his dream girl from a picture on the wall in his hotel room; after she greeted him with "It's a beautiful day," he responded: "Yes, it is"; then after telling her he didn't know the contents of the box, he complimented her: "You're very beautiful. Are you in pictures?" to which she responded: "Don't be silly"
Fink's Dream Girl Bathing Beauty - From Postcard

Hollywood's Hotel Earle Letter-head

Capitol Pictures' Movie Mogul Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner)

Screenwriter Barton Fink (John Turturro)

Fink's Rant To Charlie About His Connection to the "Common Man"

Fink's Consultation with Producer Ben Geisler: "He's (Lipnick) taken an interest!"

Audrey Taylor - "Ghostwriter" and Secretary for Novelist "Bill" Mayhew

Neighbor Charlie's Shotgun Rampage in Flaming Hotel Hallway

Fink's Final Chastisement by Lipnick About His Finished Script ("A fruity movie about suffering")


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