Barton Fink is steeped in homage, to everything from Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING to Roman Polanski’s THE TENANT, in which inanimate objects (hotels, apartments) represent the decaying mind of the protagonist. Like Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) at the haunted Overlook Hotel, Barton is at the Hotel Earle to write but is having problems. The wallpaper keeps falling down, oozing out a sticky substance (brain matter?) as weird noises and whispers appear to come from nowhere and everywhere. Director of photography Roger Deakins takes long shots of the narrow hallway, filled with shoes to be shined, that echo Kubrick’s long shots of the Overlook hallways. With the many references to the mind and the head, the screenplay imagines Barton’s hotel room as the inner workings of his decaying mind, as Roman Polanski did with the apartment in THE TENANT. And the hotel itself might just be hell; when Barton first enters the seemingly vacant, rotting hotel and rings the bell, Chet (Coen regular Steve Buscemi) comes up from a trap door in the floor as if he has emerged from the bowels of the underworld. The wrestling picture that is screened for Barton to give him ideas is called DEVIL ON THE CANVAS. Next-door neighbor Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) sweats more and more as the film continues, getting hotter and hotter, and is always throwing around the words ‘damn,’ ‘hell,’ and ‘Jesus.’ Finally, the painting on the wall over the typewriter that Barton stares into longingly shows a woman on a beautiful beach, where the soothing waves seem to be audible; it is as if that picture represents the heavenly world outside while Barton is trapped in the hell inside. The Coen brothers wrote BARTON FINK in about three weeks while unable to complete the screenplay for MILLER’S CROSSING; it seems that their severe case of writer’s block put them through their own personal hell, ending in a fiery finale of creativity run amok.



January 14, 1992


Joel Coen


Joel Coen, Ethan Coen


Rank Film Organization


Comedy, Drama




116 minutes