What’s the deal with Barton Fink?

Well I’ll admit, I’m thoroughly confused.  I don’t know what to think about this film.  I’ve enjoyed enough Coen brothers films that I went into this screening optimistically, prepared to enjoy the film.  I’ve given it a good amount of time to sink in, but after our discussion in class yesterday I figured I needed to write about it.  I realized some of my unhappiness from the film came from the pre-textual knowledge of what a ‘Coen Brothers Film’ is.  When I hear that phrase, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and O Brother Where Art Thou are the three works that come to mind (my first three Coen Brothers films).  I realized this puts me at a disadvantage going into a screening of Barton Fink because my perception of this type of film is so obviously skewed in the darkly comedic and bizarre which those three films exemplify.  Having not seen Blood Simple or No Country for Old Men, I had no other basis for comparison.  So in my mind, despite having swept the major awards at Cannes, this film failed as a Coen Brothers film for me because it didn’t live up to my expectations of the genre.  

Having assessed that aspect of my experience, I must also say that I don’t think this film is a very entertaining film.  This isn’t to say that I wanted blockbuster-esque explosions and the like, but while I was watching the film I can distinctly remember splitting my attention between following the narrative and trying to figure out when something big would happen to take the film in some kind of finite direction.  Someone mentioned in class how after the twist of Audrey’s death occurs that there was an anticipation of a second twist, like the waking from a dream; I felt the same way.  Audrey’s death was so absurd and apparently so unexpected that I didn’t sense it as a logical piece of the narrative.  When the narrative did not revert back and continued on the path of the murder and its investigation, I was really disappointed.  I realized that the film was not going to become a comedy, like I had been waiting for and I had to accept that.  I think my second viewing of Barton Fink would be considerably different than my first because I would be able to dismiss my comedic expectations and begin to analyze the film on a more scholarly and appreciative level. 

However, although I understand that a second viewing would be a whole other experience, I’m still not convinced that I would like the film.  It’s really difficult for me to expel the pre-texts entirely.  Having seen how successful the Coen Brothers are in the more comedic genre, is it impossible to enjoy a film in a different genre equally?  Can you ever truly erase pre-conscious ideas?  Would Barton Fink have been so renowned if it had come after Fargo?  This is what my problem with the film is, or rather my problem with myself; No Country for Old Men (from what I’ve heard and read) is not in the same category of film as Fargo and the other comedies, and yet it is the Coen Brothers most successful film (as far as Academy Awards at least) to date.  I either need to do more reading on how a pre-textual or pre-conscious idea can effect the viewing experience or I need to simply see more of the Coen Brothers films in order to compare across their different styles/genres.  

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