I’m Not There – FELIX, Victor

I usually take notes as I watch our films in class, but since the screening of I’m Not There was our last I thought it might be decent to try something new and to just sit and enjoy the film. It is all together different when you immerse yourself in the film as opposed to analyzing it. True enough, keeping my mind blank was a good way to approach the film.

If the opening credits didn’t mention that this was a film about Bob Dylan, I might have mistaken the film to be just about the era of the 50’s and the 60’s, specifically about the emergence of folk. I might have found a bit of connections between the six stories, but nothing completely tangible or significant. Since, however, it was mentioned, I had to do a bit of thinking. I know Bob Dylan from a few of his songs, like “The Times are a-Changing”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, and “Like a Rolling Stone” (my personal favorite), and that he had a radical stance when it came to politics of the 60’s, but that was about it.

Approaching the film as a biographical piece of work might be too ambitious, since I know nothing about the man. But if I see the six stories as a fictionalized portion of his life, then it meshes together quite nicely. My favorite of the six would have to be that of Jude Quinn and Billy the Kid. Much like Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, Cate Blanchett stole the show and made the movie for me. Her acting was spot on and extremely believable. If I didn’t know that she starred in the film I might have never recognized her. True enough, she received a cabinet-full of awards for her role as supporting actress. Billy’s story, on the other hand, afforded satisfaction because it excellently portrayed the beauty of America’s countryside, not to mention that his particular segment makes the story go full circle (I’ve always enjoyed books or films which do this). When Billy picks up the guitar of Woody Guthrie and dusts it off, and then his monologue about freedom starts, the ending just unfolds itself.

What I enjoyed most about the film was its soundtrack. I really find the sound of folk to be the most mellow, more so than lounge, ambient electronic, or even classical. For the most part of the film, the characters are seen to be in some form of hardship or infringement, but the presence of folk music in the background just diffuses warmth and optimism. It resonates well into the soul, much like how jazz would. The soundtrack also aided in the story of Jack Rollins, in that you could really sense the budding of folk while you hear and see it.

More than just folk music, the film talks about the pursuit of freedom. As mentioned, the characters act is if they are continuously avoiding something, or are dreading something. This is shown literally when we see that Woody and Billy are on the run from authorities. The fact that the characters implicitly depicting the life of Bob Dylan are continuously changing reflect the very process in which Bob Dylan tried to achieve his own freedom: continuously evolving and never stagnant. With no ties to a typical form of identity, one can attain a sense of weightlessness and space. Folk is directly related to this, since it is anti-establishment and more of a grassroots movement.

The film doesn’t get into the specifics of Bob Dylan’s life, but it does offer a relatively good idea of how his life was lived at the time of his efflorescence. The man was revolutionary and he sparked a generation of youngsters into realizing the evils of industrialism and consumerist culture. Ultimately, folk is an expression of the life of people living in a community. They simply coexist seamlessly, not a care in the world about profit, or commodity, or war efforts, or pop culture. Dylan believed that going back to one’s roots is the key to self-actualization, and by going full circle the film shows this perfectly. All in all, the film was a refreshing dose of conventional cinema after all of the avant-garde works we’ve been seeing. It referenced a lot of the earlier films we’ve seen and so I think it was a good way to tie up the whole class. The song played in the credits was just the cherry on top.

8 1/2 – FELIX, Victor

I can see why a lot directors, actors, cinephiles look to 8½ as one of the best pictures ever created. It is multilayered and visually stunning, full of aesthetic shots that are evocative of a past era. You can suspend the film at any point and the screenshot would make a great picture. It is littered with symbolism and allusion, and the audio is crisp and sharp. At the center of it all, however, is the character of Guido Anselmi. The whole film is hinged on him, and the audience is rewarded with great acting and an astonishing character-driven narrative. Italian cinema has always come across to me as inaccessible and potentially unfathomable, and so 8½ has goaded me into exploring more of Fellini’s films.

The character of Guido is very perplexing. He is a little bit like Barton Fink, since the movie revolves around his difficulty in completing his film and in the various things he does to arouse his creativity, which are really just forms of procrastination. I find out after reading a few reviews that 8½ is a film about making a film, and that film is 8½. It also has an autobiographical aspect to it, since it reflects Fellini’s own difficulty in creating the film itself. I see now that the film is Fellini’s own musings on the topic of creativity, and of the creative process. Anything that is created is said to be creative, the key is in making one’s own work originative, which is an entirely different thing all together.

This is addressed openly, wherein we see the character of Guido being continuously surrounded by his staff, bombarded by questions and criticisms about the film. This also includes the people from his personal life like his wife, his mistress, and in his dreams about his family. But it is also shown subtly on screen: I notice that Guido is always enclosed by things, whether it be in a room, or circumvented by people, or in the train station (the establishing shot shows him in a chair, but the angle of the camera makes it as if he is imprisoned, with the metal gate acting as a prison door). It is as if the character is in some sort of limbo: he can’t get any form of respite and he can’t seem to find that flash of inspiration to complete his film.

I actually found the film to be somewhat humorous, since Guido was just ineffably tactless throughout the story. Whenever a member of the staff or an actor would approach him with a problem, he never really solves them, he just moves on to address the next problem. The camera is, for most of the movie, fixated on Guido and so we don’t see the other characters when he moves on, but it is safe to assume that these people are insulted to some degree. Although his stoic and secretive personality helps him achieve success in making films, it is also the chief reason as to why people might despise him. He lies openly and fluidly, and he does this so that his daily life can become more seamless and less wearisome. It’s funny to watch a liar when you already know the truth.

I do not understand, but there are some scenes which I feel will remember for the rest of my life. It is as if they have imbedded themselves into my mind. The opening scenes with Guido stuck in the car was unexplainably memorable, as was the scene with La Saraghina dancing in front of the school boys (this one especially). I think it was the raw emotion in the faces of the characters or possibly the movement of the camera which made it so striking. The scene in the spa plaza, both during the day with the old ladies lining up for water and at night with the telepathic duo, is also very persistent in my mind’s eye. I hazard that is why Fellini is considered a genius: his films affect the viewer at a subconscious level.

The film, like much of the ones we have seen this semester, slips in and out of reality. It does this through the daily and nightly dreams that Guido have, as well as the flashbacks to his youth. Most of the time his dreams are a projection of his temperament (Carini getting hanged), or they express a desire (Luisa and Carla dancing). The dream sequence at the opening of the film, in my opinion, is the most important. It symbolizes his desire to be free, to be exempt from any discomfort or misery. Possibly, the difficulty in creating a film is like being stuck in a car for everyone outside to see. Or, it’s like being a kite that is forever tethered and toyed with.

The film has a ton of similarities with many of the films we have seen, but since it is first, it is considered the greatest. From the dream sequences in Brazil, to the themes in Barton Fink, to the level of ‘meta’ seen in Inland Empire, it would not at all be surprising to hear if 8½ has in some way inspired the other nine films screened. It is one of the best examples of film as a medium of art, as a creative expression, and not merely a source of entertainment. I am especially delighted that this was in our syllabus, since I can surely say I have seen a cinematic chef-d’oeuvre.

Inland Empire – FELIX, Victor

This would handily be the strangest film I have ever seen. The amount of scenes spliced together is innumerable and seemingly disjointed, as if they were illogically positioned (of course, this is not the case: I am sure David Lynch was deliberate in their arrangement). The dialogue did not help, either, in connecting the scenes. There is, however, still a sense of narrative progression all throughout the movie. It was also not too difficult to pinpoint the major themes the film tries to address. I noted that it dealt with marriage, infidelity, fantasy, prostitution, curses, revisiting the past, and suffering.
The scene at the start with the old Polish woman helped a little in watching the film. She recounted two parables: “A little boy went out to play. When he opened his door, he saw the world. As he passed through the doorway, he caused a reflection. Evil was born. Evil was born, and followed the boy.” and “A little girl went out to play. Lost in the marketplace, as if half-born. Then, not through the marketplace – you see that, don’t you? – but through the alley behind the marketplace. This is the way to the palace.” I understood the first one to mean a pseudo-warning: a man that reflects the world becomes evil, or a man that is of the world is evil. The Bible teaches us that goodness cannot come out of worldliness, or that one must choose between either the world or God. The second parable, on the other hand, I could not put my finger on. Possibly, it suggests that the market is a consumerist lifestyle and that one cannot be fully human, or be fully born, if one is lost in the marketplace. This is reinforced whenever the film repeats that living in the future results in forgetting one’s past troubles or debts. The alley behind the market place could suggest a path that transcends the consumerist lifestyle, and so it leads to the palace.
From the blog of Patrick Meaney, I was able to understand the film better. He asserts that the woman who is watching the television is actually the actress in the first making of the film, where the curse supposedly started. This makes sense because later on in the film, she is shown to be reunited with a man and a boy, suggesting that this is her husband who might have been murdered. Also, the character of Nikki is seen at one point to be kissing the girl, suggesting that they have both experienced the same thing and are of mutual understanding.
I really enjoyed the layers of the film, albeit I didn’t come to a full understanding of it. The scenes which meld Blue Tomorrows with the life of Nikki, or in other words when the audience isn’t sure whether or not Laura Dern is Sue or Nikki, was very perplexing. Also, whenever the film parallels the crying girl in the room with Sue/Nikki it was also equally puzzling. Lastly, the character of the Phantom, pulling the strings and orchestrating Nikki’s troubles, revealing himself in the different worlds presented in the film, surely left the viewer in shambles.
The scenes with the rabbits were a recurring motif in the film. Again, from Patrick’s blog, I found out that the male rabbit which leaves the room is actually the husband of Nikki and that the two other female rabbits are Nikki and the crying girl. Additionally, it is only the male rabbit that can leave the room, reinforcing the sense of imprisonment of the two female characters. From what I was feeling at the time, I understood the rabbits to be a symbolism for the whole film, in that Nikki was falling into a rabbit hole like in Alice in Wonderland or The Matrix, and that she was in for a wild ride. Well, true enough, my expectations were realized.
The film, and I think that most of the class would agree with me, contained the funniest scene this semester. Of course, I am referring to the scene with the three homeless people (a pleasant surprise when I saw Terry Crews’ cameo!) watching Sue die a slow and painful death. I think what made it so humorous was its juxtaposition to the earlier scenes, and the film’s lack of blatant humor up until that point. Honestly, any humor at any point in the film would have been much appreciated; it is good to see that David Lynch had the foresight to place this scene in response to the possible expectations of the viewer.
I would say that I wouldn’t watch the film anytime soon, but I would certainly watch it again, considering I have stockpiled a few answers to some questions I had in the first viewing. I actually found the film to be a good one, once I understood it. The triumphant look on Nikki’s face at the end, wherein she stares at the old Polish lady after her victory over the almost-incessant torment, was just priceless. In its entirety, I didn’t find the film to be a bad LSD trip but rather a severe nightmare wherein when you wake up you realize you are safe and sound. It wasn’t just a wild ride for the character of Nikki, but for the audience also. It was visually stunning: there are scenes which I will remember for a very long time like the Phantom getting shot, the Rabbits in the living room, and when Nikki looks through the hole in the silk. To this day, I am at disbelief to what I witnessed. Honestly, there isn’t a film like it.

Eyes Wide Shut – FELIX, Victor

Eyes Wide Shut was not the first Stanley Kubrick film that I have seen: I’ve seen The Shining and A Clockwork Orange. It was nice to see the reuse of masks, and I even recognize the signature long-nosed mask used in A Clockwork Orange. The distinctive emotional aura experienced instinctively in Kubrick films is also present.
The film revolves around the marriage of Bill and Alice Harford, specifically the period in between the fallout and the rapprochement. It covers a lot of themes: the mediocrity of marriage, the animalistic nature of man, the boundary between fantasy and reality, the illusion of attraction, and gender roles. The catalyst of the denouement happens when Alice divulges her previous sexual attraction to a Navy officer, thereby challenging the delusion of their perfect marriage. Actually, if one is technical, it could be said that the whole movie might have started because of a bad pot trip.
Moving on, devastated by the revelation, Bill’s world is shattered. Prior to this, he was sure about their relationship, never really considering that his wife is capable of infidelity. He becomes insanely covetous of his wife’s encounter, and suddenly we see him go from cool, calm, and collected, to borderline wrath or choler. He is plagued by what never happened (or could have happened, if you look at it differently) and it spurs him to do rash things. I think that this was inevitable, since the two characters are both staggeringly attractive in their own way, and sooner or later they were going to achieve a form of critical mass. Judging from their relationship, it is as if Alice was neatly compartmentalized into Bill’s perfect life, and ultimately this birthed her ennui.
It also can’t be helped, since both characters are sexually confident. Although they wear the fanciest clothing, just like all the other characters, they’re just animals in suits. Everything, from Ziegler’s party to the orgy in the manse, is carefully crafted to create an illusion of magnetism and arousal. I think this would be also good time to say that this also shows the duality of night and day, and by extension, fantasy and reality. The characters of Bill and Alice are different during the day and night, possibly because the night offers a sense of wonder, expectation, and anticipation. This is actually addressed, wherein Bill literally has to buy a tuxedo, a hooded coat, and a mask to enter the surreptitious party.
Now, the scene at the manse would be the highlight of the film, and it also extends, to some extent, a microcosm of the whole thing. First, right from the start the relationship between Bill and Alice has been predominantly patriarchal. It is incapable of being avoided: Bill is an alpha male and this is his hubris. This is alluded to when the men in the party are essentially in a high class brothel: the women are mere pleasure tools for the men, and they have sex openly as if they are authoritatively declaring this fact. The men are also clothed while the women are not. Secondly, Bill is shocked when he finds out that Alice may not have been the picture perfect wife he has come to know: it is as if she has spoken out of her station much like the prostitute who defended Bill, and she was punished for it. It is implied that Bill wanted to punish Alice, although not directly since he was close to cheating on her himself, even going out of his way to hire a prostitute. Thirdly, the party was kept in secret and we find out later that it was filled with high-ranking and affluent people. As mentioned, it is clear that the characters in the movie purposely hide their innermost sexual tendencies; that is obvious because no one can act thoughtlessly in public. But the fact of the matter is that, as much as one can have self control, there will forever be the shade of desire looming around. The question is just whether or not you act on it. This also highlights the taboo side of sexuality: since the participants take great lengths into hiding the party it just means what they are doing is fundamentally wrong.
Alice mentions, in an emotional scene, her dream/nightmare wherein she participates in an orgy. This particular scene takes the whole movie and turns it on his head because, strangely, it is a relatively exact account of what Bill just went through. I think that this brings into light the thin line between dreams and reality, and specifically it challenges the legitimacy of Bill’s encounter with the masquerade brothel. Either way, it discombobulates the viewer and adds another layer to the film. It is eerie, but it also closely encircles the entire film into a soundly whole. I couldn’t imagine watching the film again without it.
The film went full circle, and the dialogue at the end is successful in both explaining the title and concluding the recent events which happened to the Harfords. Alice says that what has happened to them shouldn’t define their married life, and that they should “fuck” at the soonest time. Marriage isn’t a prison sentence, especially in the liberal society that America is in: anyone can leave at any time. But ultimately, open communication and honesty can strengthen the bonds of marriage, even though this might lead to the surfacing of one’s flaws. A person who wants a relationship to last should have “eyes wide shut”, wherein everything is visible but some things are kept mum.
All in all, the film was beautifully done. The night scenes were, in my opinion, some of the best I’ve seen in a film. It achieved the type of surrealism that I believe Kubrick was going for. And the scene at the manse was extremely memorable, it certainly leaves a lasting impression. I would highly recommend this to any of my friends.

Masculin Femenin – FELIX, Victor

Masculin Femenin was certainly one of the more interesting films we have seen in class. I say interesting because the film isn’t what I would usually watch outside of class, nor would it even be recommended to me by my peers. It is the first time I have heard of Jean Luc Godard and it is my opinion that the film provides a suitable introduction to his range of works. I had no starting point to work on in this film except that the last fully French film I have seen is Amelie.
The film deals with subjects ranging from French youth culture, to the evils of industrialism, to gender roles and stereotypes, and freedom and exemption. Through the various shenanigans the young group participates in, the viewer gets more and more immersed into the Zeitgeist Godard wants to portray. Central to all of this is the character of Paul: his romantic advances, his stand on the world’s status quo, and his viewpoints on the gender, politics, and reform.
Firstly, the film has a lot to say about the differences between men and women, particularly that of the youth. Men are frank and blunt while women are dodgy and purposively mysterious, they are only frank with themselves (as shown when Madeleine reveals she keeps a diary with all of her thoughts). Men are interested in everything while committed to nothing, while women find importance in the smallest of superficialities. Men have a hard time expressing themselves while women have no problem at all: they express themselves from their partiality in fashion, hairstyle, music, and choice of peers or partners. Also, it is said in the film that “a man can control his ideas which are nothing, but not his emotions which are everything”. Lastly, it is also shown that men concern themselves with politics, while women are seen to be naïve on the subject.
This dichotomy is explored when it is extended to older men and women. We see in the café between the husband and wife and in the scene in the train with the prostitute and the two French-Africans, that with age comes different gender perspectives. It is more apparent, here, that men look down on women, and that those that are older look at the youth with disdain and condescension. It is also implied in the film that when people get older, they either lose their freedom or their sense of freedom is redefined.
Although the dichotomy is defined in the film, it isn’t rigidly followed per se. There are ironies in these stereotypes: although men may know more about the world around them than women, it is easy to see that men are equally as fanciful, in that Paul and his friend quickly recognize threats to their masculinity, and they are easily swayed by beautiful women. Although women don’t follow politics, they unwittingly participate in politics themselves, except it is that of social and emotional politics and it is amongst their group of peers.
It is said that the film is “the child of Marx and Coca-Cola”. The statement resonates, again, the dichotomy of the male and female, wherein the man is an agent of Communism and in extension collectivism in a classless society, while women personify Coca-Cola, the symbol of consumerism and pop culture. You can equate this to the two central characters, Paul and Madeleine: Paul is outspoken, fresh out of military service, and disenchanted from contemporary society, while Madeleine is a singer, a fashion icon, and a symbol for the developing consumerist society. This is also reinforced when the audience later finds out that Madeleine is pregnant (the literal child of Marx and Coca-Cola). The abortion of this baby is symbolic, possibly suggesting that Marx and Coca-Cola are incompatible, if not mutually exclusive.
In its entirety, the film challenges the general notions of gender, industrialism, and freedom. In between scenes, however, Masculin Femenin cleverly portrays the nuances and niceties of youth culture, the interaction between the individual and the world around him, and the repercussions of participating in a relationship. The film comes across as a documentary, actually, and this is built on by it monochromatic delivery and Godard’s use of genuine French youth interaction. Although it isn’t a film I would go out of my way to watch again, it is certainly something that would be gratifying and wonderful when revisited.

Repo Man – FELIX, Victor

Repo Man was, and I think most of the class would agree with me, the most familiar film we have seen this semester. It dealt with youth culture in a not so distant time and in an intimate setting. It dealt with world problems from a different era, yet it is easily equitable to problems that we experience in our own world today.
Right off the bat, the Repo Man theme hooks the viewer and also gives him a sense of the film’s vibe. It was a pleasant surprise when I found that it was performed by Iggy Pop, reminiscent of the time where artists like Morrissey and Blur and were at their peak. Although we were told prior to our viewing that it was a punk rock film of sorts, and the main character himself is a self-proclaimed ‘suburban punk’, it didn’t completely have punk rock overtones. I actually found it to have a lot of classic rock & roll undertones, as personified by Bud and Miller.
The first thing I noticed is that almost everyone in Repo Man is rude, tactless, or unmannerly. This clearly indicates that life is hard, and this is reinforced when the film shows excessive use of alcohol, drugs, and crime as a form of escapism. The people in the film stick and move, they act uncivilly, and they forget their actions easily. It is not hard to see that the youth, represented by Otto, have a disdain of and are alienated from what they consider as ‘normal people’.
I found it interesting that Otto was initially from a punk culture, has stoner parents from what is assumed to be the hippie generation, and he slowly transforms into a working man of society. It is ironic that he used to have anti-establishment tendencies, in that his job as a repossession man is leaning towards a conventional lifestyle but it also has the implicit disposition of being anti-consumerist. Repo men work for the bank in that they collect mortgages from unpaid loans. Unpaid loans, in turn, stem from excessive consumerism and lax debt management, all of which come from irresponsible spending.
The movie also plays on the themes of collective fear. As was mentioned, the problems and fears of the world in Repo Men such as aliens, nuclear winter, and war can easily translate to problems we have today, like global warming, large-scale natural disaster, nuclear war, and the collapse of the market. The ‘conspirator’ vibe imbibed by Miller is evocative of the commonplace fears the common man might have. This imbedded fear can affect the collective consciousness in unimaginative ways, and this is severely depicted in the scenes like where Otto’s parents squander off his college fund for tithing, or when Otto’s friends nonchalantly live a life of crime.
I would say that my favorite characters would be between Bud, since he portrays an unorthodox and maverick-like mentor, and Miller, in that his zaniness exceeds no one else, to the point of him seeming either ahead of his time or just plain insane. Bud is central to Otto’s character, since he introduces him to the life of a repo man and convinces him that this is the life Otto wants. True enough, Otto realizes that the life of a white punk is nothing compared to the ridiculous and adventure-filled endeavor that is repossessing: there is car chases, gun fights, deception, intrigue, and an authentic sense of danger and risk. It is too enjoyable and compatible that Otto cannot help but join the real world.
The character of Miller is not only important in the development of the character of Otto, but for the entire film as well. He speaks of ‘the plate of shrimp’ representing the ‘lattice of coincidences’, in that we are connected by one entire cosmic unconsciousness. I think he is referring to Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, wherein one chances upon an opaque piece of information, oftentimes an unfamiliar one, and then that person encounters the same subject again. This phenomenon is very interesting, since it has a lot to do with the patterns of our mind, wherein we place significance on information whenever such information repeats itself, thereby conforming to a cognizable pattern. This is very much related to what Miller is saying, because our minds perceive these occasions as coincidences when in reality, it is just one point in our mind-map which resurfaces, thereby creating the illusion of happenstance.
What I noticed about the film is its spot-on comedic timing. I think that one of the funnier scenes we have seen this semester is that of Duke and his gang. Lines like “The lights are growing dim Otto. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am…” and “Yeah! Let’s go get sushi and not pay…” just left me bawling in laughter. Indeed, what makes this film so good is that these jokes can only come from this particular world.
The film achieves multifariousness and, oddly, some depth: I haven’t even touched on the subject of aliens and the Chevrolet Malibu! These two are recurring motifs in the film which both flesh it out and provides the build up for the punch line of an ending. It entices a second viewing and compels the viewer into delving deeper into the movie. All in all, the film provides a wild ride (literally) into the heart of derisory concurrence, the meeting of minds, and the collective anxiety of a people.

Barton Fink – FELIX, Victor

Certainly the most intriguing and genre-encompassing of all the movies we have seen so far in class, Barton Fink leaves the viewer with an odd but strangely satisfying aftertaste. The eerie composition of its various scenes, the inclusion of distinguishable and rummy characters, the numerous metaphors and allusions littered throughout the film, and the message it brings to its viewers make the entirety of it so appallingly thought-provoking and compelling. I want to say a lot of things about the film but I’ll focus on what I felt are the more important scenes, themes, and metaphors (or at least the ones I was able to pick up).
The film centers around a successful playwright named Barton Fink and for the most part of the film, explores his struggles and, even deeper, his inner anguish. I would describe the character of Barton Fink to be hauntingly frigid, purposively pent-up, and in some ways, willfully dense. The peculiarity of his character stems, in my opinion, from the combination of his obvious lack of emotional intelligence and the fact that he is cursed with the unbridled gift for scripting (at the time) contemporary plays. I say cursed because all throughout the film his literary prowess spurs him (even if he welcomes it or not) to complete his masterpiece, his saving grace, his so called “theatre of and about and for the common man”. In that way he is burdened by his talent, and this is reflected in his temperament: he is shifty, standoffish, and some could say that he is continually zoning out.
It starts to really pick up and allure the audience when Fink is thrust into unfamiliarity, into a foreign expanse, namely the Hotel Earle. Everything about this hotel, each of the scenes which feature Barton in the different places of the Earle, is so suggestive or inscrutable that one can’t help but feel strangely curious and at the same time extremely cautious. When Barton checks in the hotel (right after the quaint beach scene, superseding what we assume is his travel from New York to Los Angeles), it is as if it was at a standstill, seemingly stuck in time, and his arrival turned the switch on and started the gears grinding again. The scenes in the hotel lift also reinforce this: the elevator man looked like he had to take some time in remembering his directive. In general, I had the notion that the quality of time in the Hotel Earle is just as its tagline says, your stay in the hotel is so blurred it feels like “a day or a lifetime”.
I think what makes the hotel so phantasmagorical is the way the hallways and the adjacent rooms are portrayed in the film. The long, empty hallway and the numerous doors give the viewer a sense of wary isolation. It is suspicious because the viewers can never surely know if Fink has any other neighbors, since we do not see any of them, yet there are cues such as the shoes left outside the doorway and the various sounds or snippets of conversations heard around Fink’s room. These cues are shady in themselves: there is exactly one pair outside each and every door, each apart in an almost equal distance, and the sounds around him provoke a mild unease. These are shown in the scenes even before Fink meets Charlie Meadows, and so ostensibly, we know that in the back of our minds (and in Fink’s mind as well) there is something awry about this hotel.
All of these different aspects of the Earle point to something too surreal. The first sign of other residents is unsettling laughter (the source of this noise, we find out later, is Charlie Meadows). When Fink called to complain about a distracting noise coming from the room next to him, Chet answered in a blink of an eye, as if to imply that he is either continuously or vigilantly brooding over the telephone, or he was expecting the call. Either way, it is spine-chilling. In a way, the Coen brothers were able to flesh out the Hotel Earle so much so that it became an entity in itself: something living and breathing. And the viewers see this also, when the wallpaper peels to reveal a weird and unidentifiable adhesive, giving off an almost putrid effect. This is built on further with the use of colors in the hotel because I notice that a lot of yellow, green, and brown is used, which are the colors most relatable to decay.
Charlie Meadows is an equally particular character in the story, and crucial to the progression of Fink’s character. The film uses him to do a number of things and one of them is to portray the common man which Fink, as mentioned, campaigns for and empathizes with. But because of the two characters’ various interactions, we see that Fink’s emotional intelligence is worse than we taught: he is such a social troglodyte that he cannot understand the common man. He is, in a way, a very uncommon man. In the scene (a very telling one, at that) where Charlie and Barton’s shoes are interchanged and Barton blindly tries them on, we see from his facial expression sheer discomfort and unfamiliarity; Fink cannot seem to empathize with the common man because simply, he is not capable of such exercises. In the conversation right after they switched back, Fink questions the very source of his creativity saying “maybe I only had one idea in me: the play”, referring to Bare Ruined Choirs.
One motivation for his creativity (and Fink says this himself) is the great “inner pain”, the very same one which burdens Fink to create a theatre for the common man. One thing I noticed is that, although Fink kept on staring at it, the picture of a woman on a beach did not goad him into a writing mood. Only when that image of peace was situated with the totem of death and anguish, namely what is assumed to be Audrey’s head, did he get into a writing frenzy. This, I feel, is directly related to the climax of the film, wherein Charlie Meadows reveals to Barton Fink that all of Charlie’s actions have been for the sake of Fink, in that he wanted to release Fink from his mental prison (which is shown in the breaking of the bed rail) by making him realize that Fink does not know true pain, does not know how to empathize with others because Fink is so balled-up and somewhat close-minded that he sees people (specifically the common man), pain, and empathy as a mere abstraction, as a cognitive entity. It’s a shocking and violent crescendo, but a much needed one in the progression of Fink’s psyche.
Although the ending certainly leaves the viewer with a lot of questions, it also goads them into a second viewing. And indeed, repeated viewings actually flesh out Barton Fink even more. I don’t think I can state enough how unique the film came across to me, possibly because I have not seen any other film like it. One thing is for sure however: the first up until the last screening will leave the viewer with that Barton Fink feeling.

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