Movies about writers – Barton Fink

“A writer writes from the gut. Our gut tells us what’s good and what’s merely adequate.” ~ Barton Fink

Barton Fink is a weird movie. It’s starts out pretty straight forward and then everything goes batshit. Barton is a celebrated playwright (notable for making blue collar workers the heroes of his dramas) who is invited to Hollywood to write a movie about wrestling, which he knows nothing about.

There is a certain amount of typewriter worship but since it’s set in 1941 I guess it can be overlooked. It’s not like he can just switch over to his netbook or anything.

There was a lot of good stuff about the way random things around the writer can inspire thoughts and inspiration for writing. They can take you down a path to a new place you might have thought about otherwise.

Braton says that writing comes from great inner pain, and that without it he can’t create anything good. The pain is part of what drives him to share something with the rest of humanity. The other writer, Mayhew, by contrast says he just likes making things up. He doesn’t feel the need for pain to inspire him. He is also portrayed as a lecherous, drunken fool who is inferior to Barton. The lesson here is that you need pain to create good stuff.

I didn’t like the sequence where Barton goes to celebrate finishing the script and goes a bit crazy, demanding that the others respect him. “I am a creator!” Fink screams to uniformed servicemen. He argues that his head (brain), and his glasses are his uniform. That his writing is the way he is serving the common people. They beat him up. I was on their side, to be honest.

Then John Goodman goes crazy, burns the hotel and chases a cop with a shot gun repeating “I’ll show you the life of the mind” referring back to what Fink had said to him earlier.

Overall, this isn’t exactly the kind of inspiring look at the creative process that I was hoping for. I’m not sure if I enjoyed it, but it was certainly an experience.


2 thoughts on “Movies about writers – Barton Fink

  1. I thought that Barton Fink was supposed to be a figure of ridicule – I took the movie as being a black comedy about a self-important ass who gets his comeuppance. (He’s even named Fink!)

    After all, Fink writes what he thinks is a great script that’s all about inner suffering when he’s supposed to be writing a b-movie about wrestling (and has been specifically told to NOT write anything “fruity”), and is surprised that the producer is unhappy with this.

    Mayhew is inspired by William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, two “great” American writers who had terrible times as screenwriters in Hollywood, so I’m not sure that he’s meant to be inferior to Fink. I thought that the idea was that he had descended into drunken self-loathing.

    Mayhew is like a warning that Fink fails to heed – in his supreme egotism it never occurs to Fink that he could fail as completely as Mayhew, and yet at the end of the movie he’s basically been condemned to Writer’s Hell.

  2. That is quite possibly the way you are supposed to watch the film…I guess I’m just too used to empathising with the main character.

    I still don’t think I want to watch it again though.

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