Barton Fink (1991) – 4/5

Weird, brilliantly made and acted film that is about as confusing and unconventional and downright “Coen-esque” as a mainstream, moderately budgeted film can get. And I thought A Serious Man was a bizarre attempt at screwy storytelling. This is even wackier! Total narrative madness from start to finish.

The story is crazy, and not always in a good way. I’m all for unconventional narratives, but this film goes a bit too far at times, mostly due to its reluctance to connect its beginning scenes to its ending scenes in any coherent manner. I understand that there’s all sorts of symbolism and metaphor going on here, and again, I’m all for that, but talk about obscure, god. Give us a few hints as to what’s going on, or at least something to help us make the connection between what we see on-screen and what message the filmmakers are trying to get across. But nope. No hints. Screw you, audience. Okay.

Everything else is pretty great, though. Weird, but great. The dialogue is a bit theatrical and melodramatic, but this is probably intentional given our main character’s struggles throughout the film. And the acting, god. Fantastic, from just about everyone, especially Tony Shalhoub who has a tiny but brilliantly hilarious role here. And John Goodman too. Wow. And such beautiful cinematography. Very, very well made.

Overall, the film is very odd, and definitely not for everyone. Though I admire it for what it is, a deep, well crafted psychological study of the creative process, I didn’t love the thing, and it isn’t exactly something I’d recommend to everyone. The film feels too smart for its own good at times; there’s just too much symbolism, too much left unexplained, too much left up to the viewer once all is said and done.

I’m all for complex films that require thinking and all that good stuff, but if you go overboard with it you’re just going to risk alienating your audience, which this definitely does. Who was Goodman’s character supposed to be, exactly, or, rather, what was he supposed to be? **SPOILERS** The film implies that he’s some kind of devil, but what purpose does he serve in the film exactly? **END SPOILERS** I’m sure he had one, I just couldn’t figure it out.  And what was with that ending? Something about freedom and peace maybe? I don’t know.

Just a brilliantly made, but ultimately very bizarre film that exists in a world full of very specific rules it never bothers to fill you in on. Watch if you’re a fan of weird, well crafted stuff that makes no sense.

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