Brazil and Barton Fink

BRAZIL

Synopsis

Sam Lowry is a typical government employee in a futuristic dark and inefficient world. In his sad, dull, and lonely life, his nightly dreams of being a winged, armor-clad hero who saves a beautiful lady keep his spirits up. He is assigned to investigate an inter-department discrepancy and in so doing, realizes that there has been a glitch in the system. Fortuitously, he encounters the man the government is looking for: an air-conditioning specialist and suspected terrorist named Harry Tuttle. Sam tries to restore the mishap but gets distracted when he chances upon the girl of his dreams, Jill Layton. In pursuing her, Sam suddenly gets inadvertently labeled as a terrorist, a fellow conspirator of Harry Tuttle and Jill Layton.

Characters

Sam Lowry

A government employee who just wants to escape from the city with the girl he dreams about. He gets caught in an incident with a terrorist named Harry Tuttle and encounters the girl in his dreams in the process.

Jill Layton

She is the beautiful lady who keeps on reappearing in Sam Lowry’s dreams, an object of his desire. A witness to Buttle’s wrongful arrest, she becomes accused of conspiring with a terrorist after reporting the incident.

Harry Tuttle

He is an air-conditioning specialist and a former government employee who is associated with the ‘Resistance’. He aids Sam Lowry throughout the film, from fixing his air-conditioning unit to helping him out of a tight situation with repairmen.

Mrs. Lowry

Mrs. Lowry is the mother of our protagonist. She has a lot of connections with the top brass of certain departments ultimately becomes the catalyst for Sam’s promotion. She is also a devotee of cosmetic surgery, particularly from a surgeon named Dr. Jaffe.

Scenes and Explanation

Points

Explanation

Dreams of Sam Lowry

Sam Lowry has a recurring dream of a woman. Here, he gets to play the hero by saving her. In the first few scenes, this was the only chance of encounter between Sam and her.

Identity Mishap

The government issued an arrest for Harry Tuttle, a former government employee and a suspected terrorist but there had been an identity mishap and a Harry Buttle was arrested instead. Sam Lowry saw through this problem and tried to correct it. However, in his pursuit to straighten things up, he gets involved with Harry Tuttle and the resurgence of terrorist attacks.

Investigation

As Sam Lowry tries to find more clues regarding the incident, he suddenly encounters the woman he has been dreaming about, Jill Layton. She, coincidently, was the witness to the unjust incarceration of Harry Buttle. Instead of focusing on the incident that he had been investigating, his attention swayed towards Jill Layton.

Encounter with Harry Tuttle

Sam’s air-conditioner breaks down and so he calls the appropriate department for the services. Harry Tuttle intercepts the call and went to help Sam. In Sam’s encounter with Harry Tuttle, he learns that Tuttle quit his job due to the government’s wrong deeds and heavy paperwork. He also learns a few things about Jill Layton.

Encounter with Jill Layton

Sam eventually meets the girl in his dreams. He then obtains files and records of Jill and tampered its contents. He then uses his recently acquired position at the Ministry of Information Retrieval to change Jill’s identity information to the status of “deceased” in order to save her from the government.

Getting Caught

The government eventually finds out that Sam misused his position to change the information of a wanted person, a suspected terrorist. While Jill and Sam were enjoying the temporary freedom brought by Sam’s abuse of his position, the police eventually caught up with them and apprehended Sam.

Lobotomy by an Old Fiend

Sam ends up with Jack Lint, an old friend, to be tortured and lobotomized. He ended up in this situation because the government now sees Sam as one of the terrorists like Jill Layton and Harry Tuttle.

Descent of the Terrorists

Right before Jack Lint hammers the huge needle down Sam Lowry’s head, Harry Tuttle and a number of terrorists dropped down and shot the people surrounding Sam including Jack Lint. However, as the terrorist group tried to escape the Ministry building, they were peppered with gunfire leaving just Sam and Tuttle. As both continue to escape from the police, Tuttle suddenly gets covered with paper and magically disappears.

Running Alone

As Sam continues to run from the police, he ends up in a funeral where he meets his mother, who a stunning resemblance to Jill Layton because of the cosmetic surgery performed by Dr. Jaffe. He asked his mother for help but she refused. Puzzled and in a state of panic, Sam started to run again ending up in the coffin of Mrs. Terrain, who died probably because of the Acid Treatment she got from Dr. Chapman, another cosmetic surgeon. He then ends up in the dark streets similar to what he saw in his dreams and continues to run from the police. When cornered, Sam took another path and climbed up a pile of flex-ducts and then finds himself in a truck with Jill. The two left the city far from the government and their old lives.

Lobotomized

Just as the two were headed outside the city, the next few scenes show that everything that had happened to Sam Lowry in the recent scenes were all part of his dream as he was being lobotomized. He was indeed caught and successfully lobotomized. Towards the end, he was just dreaming of the things that could have happened after he escaped from being tortured and lobotomized. The film basically ended with Sam Lowry’s dream of a happy ending with Jill Layton but in reality, he did not.

Watching the film

A typical moviegoer would probably get caught off-guard watching Brazil. Aside from it being made in 1985 and perhaps considered too old for most viewers our age, the film will basically pepper its viewers with tons of weird and unusual scenes that do not compare to most contemporary movies. So for this film, it would be best to take note of all the weird scenes first and tie them up together along the way.

Another factor in trying to sway the viewers into not being able to grasp the film would be the use fantasy and reality. It is, however, easy to determine in the first few scenes of the film whether they are based on fantasy or reality. A good example would be the dreams of Sam Lowry with the lady he saves. In his dreams, he is dressed in a shining armor flying in the sky towards the lady to save her. These scenes are really easy to distinguish because Sam Lowry’s reality is a dark and combusted city and not a blue and cloudy sky where he is a winged savior and gets to glide all he wants.

Being able to distinguish reality and fantasy is really important because in order to understand the film, one needs to incorporate these two eventually. These are like puzzles pieces that one needs in order to understand each and every scene. If you get to successfully distinguish and incorporate the two, you would notice how the fantasies of Sam Lowry play a huge role in explaining the scenes. From the start, it showed the dream of Sam Lowry as a winged savior trying to save a lady and this basically explains the goal of Sam Lowry throughout the film, to escape his current situation with the girl of his dreams. The looming samurai can symbolize the vast and dreadful government while the masked figures in cloaks could symbolize the incessant state of fear one experiences in that society.

Forcing yourself to focus and understand just one scene will not be very effective and helpful in understanding the film as a whole. If you do force yourself to understand each and every scene closely, you might as well watch it more than once. The film has tons of scenes which involve either reality or fantasy and sometimes even both. It would be better to try to digest whatever the scene gives you first and then expect that the next few more will be related to it because each and every scene and fantasy will basically work together for the viewer to understand Sam Lowry’s current situation and his ultimate desires.

 

BARTON FINK

Synopsis

Barton Fink is an acclaimed playwright that is transported across America for a newfangled and high-paying career opportunity. In his new job, however, he finds himself unable to start writing the script he was hired to write. By his various attempts at overcoming his writer’s block, he encounters different characters that help him in discovering the root of his problem. Along the way as well, the audience get to the heart of Fink’s character flaw. In a vehement denouement, the character undergoes self-discovery and catharsis, but also finds himself unable to satisfy his new employers. He ends up in writer’s limbo: unable to leave the state and obligated to complete his contract by writing for the picture company works that will never be published.

Characters

Barton Fink

He is the protagonist of the film, a successful playwright from New York City that is employed to write a screenplay for a Hollywood picture company. A pent-up social troglodyte, we follow Fink through his journey in the other side of America.

Charlie Meadows

An insurance salesman, he is Fink’s neighbor in the Hotel Earle. We later find out that he is a wanted serial killer, known as Madman Mundt, distinguished by his pattern of decapitating his victim’s heads. He is central to Fink’s uncovering of his psyche.

Jack Lipnick

He is the head of Capitol Pictures and Fink’s new employer. Fink was assigned by him to write a typical wrestling picture with “a Barton Fink feeling”. Ultimately, however, he is unsatisfied with the script Fink presented at the end of the film and so he sentences him to a dismal life.

Audrey Taylor

An assistant to esteemed novelist W.P. Mayhew and an excellent writer herself, she aids Fink in overcoming his writer’s block. The audience later finds out that she herself writes the scripts which are thought to be written by Mayhew. Her death is the catalyst to the Fink’s inspiration in finishing the script.

Scenes and Explanation

Points

Explanation

Fink’s Initial Success

Fink is seen at the start of the film as a highly acclaimed playwright. He is seen as a rising star in the contemporary theatre scene of New York. He was noticed by Hollywood executives and was asked to travel to Los Angeles for a writing job.

Encounter With Charlie

After settling into his new home, the Hotel Earle, he meets his neighbor, Charlie Meadows after a misunderstanding. Fink finds out that he is a homely insurance salesman who has a lot of stories concerning both Fink’s current assignment and his dream for a ‘theatre of, about, and for the common man’

Encounter With W.P. Mayhew

Fink stumbles upon a once-great writer that also does what Fink is doing. Mayhew invites Fink for a drink but later in that meeting is requested to come another time by his secretary, Audrey Taylor.

Intercourse

In a desperate attempt to overcome his mental block, Fink implores Audrey to come over and aid him. They end up having intercourse. It is also at this time that Charlie mentions his business trip to New York

Departure of Charlie

Fink wakes up to find Audrey murdered. In his shock he goes to Charlie for help, who disposes of the body. Fink is as advised to lie low for the time being, and is left a box before the departure of Charlie. It is supposedly Charlie’s belongings and Fink was asked to take care of it.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Fink is visited by two police investigators who reveal to him that Charlie is in fact a serial killer who goes by the name of ‘Madman Mundt’. He goes up to his room after this revelation and, from pondering on the bloodstain and the contents of the box, is struck by inspiration and proceeds to finish the script.

Return of Charlie

After a night of celebrating, Fink arrives in his room to find the two police investigators. They inform him that Mayhew has been murdered and, after noticing the bloodstain on Fink’s bed, handcuff him to the bedrail. Outside the room, Charlie steps out of the hotel elevator and flames ensue in the hallway. Charlie shoots and kills the policemen, and in an emotional conversation with Fink, explains that Fink ‘does not listen’ and that he can never understand the common man. He adds that Fink is merely a visitor, and that he can leave the Hotel Earle at any time while Charlie cannot. Amidst this, Charlie breaks the bedrail, thereby freeing Fink from his cuffs. Fink picks up the box and the script and leaves the burning hotel, while Charlie retires to his private quarters.

The Final Meeting

In the final meeting with Lipnick, it is revealed that his script was not met with favor. It was the complete opposite, in that Lipnick made a mistake in hiring him, in that the style of Fink can be mimicked by other writers. Ultimately, he relegates Fink into a writer’s limbo, in that everything that Fink writes will be the property of Capitol Pictures, and that his work will never get published.

In the Beach

Fink, in the concluding scenes, is walking along the beach. He encounters a woman, not unlike the one in the picture hanged in Fink’s apartment. She inquires as to what are the contents of the box, but Fink replies that he himself does not know. The last scene shows the woman mimicking the pose seen in the hanged picture.

Watching the film

Barton Fink’s ending would most likely not offer a lot of satisfaction to the audience during the first viewing. It truly is one of those films which get clearer and better after you see it a second or a third time. I suppose that its cryptic conclusion, alluding to a repeated theme or motif (namely the hanged photo), has the ability to confuse the viewer since it is very unexpected.

One way to help understand the film is through the character development of Barton Fink. It is clear to see that, although he has good intentions, he cannot empathize with the “Common Man” which he is so inspired by. He has reduced this concept to a mere abstraction, thereby separating himself from the world. It is easy to see, then, why he figuratively lives in recluse. He cannot empathize because he is incapable of empathizing. One can see how Charlie releases Fink from this prison, albeit in a strange and severe manner.

Another way to look at the film is through the Hotel Earle. 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 a lot of yellow, green, and brown is used, which are the colors most relatable to decay. Charlie is easily relatable to the Hotel: he is excreting a weird fluid from his ears, it is as if he is the only resident, and in the denouement of the film, exclaims that this “dump” of a hotel is where “he lives”.

 

The Middle Ground

                There are a few ways in which we can connect the films Barton Fink and Brazil. The first is through the similarity of the character’s ‘journey’. Both characters, Sam Lowry and Barton Fink, had a lot of responsibility in their hands, in that the people around them expect a lot. They ultimately do not reach the expectations of their respective worlds, and they are punished for it. Fink is relegated to a sub-standard life while Lowry is lobotomized.

Like Sam Lowry, Barton Fink too has a marvel of thoughts in his mind, to the point that any viewer might even take them both as insane. Agreeably, they may be insane since both of them end up in the tightest and toughest situations brought about by their own unusual fantasies. And like Barton Fink’s situation, it would really help if you get to distinguish first what his fantasies are in order to help you understand what he is actually feeling, saying or doing in reality, although it is not as clear cut as is the case in Brazil.

Barton Fink also contains almost the same concept as Brazil. It plays with the imagination of the main character making the whole film to be about a life of a person and his or her own fantasies. It then concerns borderline-reality and borderline-fantasy to fully define the main characters current situation and possible desires. Both films also feature a woman

These two films also encompass similar genres. They are both very noir, like the night scenes in Brazil and the hotel scenes in Barton Fink. They are both dark comedies, although it is easier to see this in Brazil. And, most obviously, they are both fantasy films. From the moment Barton Fink stepped into the Hotel Earle, the film started to become a fantasy. While on the other hand, Brazil had fantastical overtones throughout the film.

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