Welcome to Film Finales, the 659th segment we’re introducing for this site! In it, we will discuss the final shots of various films. Often, the final image or sequence is the summation of a film’s themes and provides the key to understanding the 2 hours that came before. Sometimes that image is clear (Citizen Kane), sometimes it’s misguided (The Revenant*), and sometimes, they are a cryptic clue that elucidates the cypher of the movie. An example of the latter is this week’s specimen, the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink.
Barton Fink is a Lynchian examination of the evils of Hollywood, and the corruptive nature of show business. However, this is a mere shade in the glorious spectrum of themes this movie explores. I’d be lying to you if I told you I fully understand the film, or have deciphered its complex coding. But, deciphering is exactly what we’re here to do. So, the shot:
Alone, this shot is a rather mundane image that lacks any sort of clarifying information. However, as David Foster Wallace said in speaking of David Lynch, it is the juxtaposition of the horrific and the mundane which creates that distinctly Lynchian mood. And for the preceding hour before this final shot, we have experienced some truly horrific imagery: a hellish hotel, a series of murders, and Nazi imagery. But all this is ignoring the elephant in the room; the one clue we have that this final image is of utter significance.
For you see, that final image is one we’ve been introduced to before. It is the poster that hangs on the wall of Barton’s hotel room. Hanging directly above his desk where he struggles to write his first Hollywood script, it looms over Barton as it looms over us, as we are constantly reminded of its presence. But what is the significance of this recurring image?
Perhaps the key lies in the beach itself. The establishing shots that indicate we are now on this beach match the shots that introduce us to LA when Barton arrives. In particular, the shot of a wave breaking on a rock (I can’t find a still, so you’ll just have to take my word for it). This shot is repeated, perhaps even being the exact same take, simply reused. So, what does the repetitive imagery tell us? It might be telling us that Barton is caught in a metaphysical hell.
Thus, that seemingly mundane picture of a lady gazing off into the horizon, takes on the horror of a waking nightmare. Truly Lynchian.
It is the nightmare of Hollywood. The writers’ dread of being truly alone among a mob of greedy businessmen who have no sense of artistry or craft. It is the dread of knowing you are the most insignificant piece in a machine that is built to profit off lazy B-pictures. It is the hell you are banished to once you’ve sold your soul to that machine.
And maybe, just like Charlie Meadows, this is a hell in which Barton now lives.
* Fuck The Revenant.