In case you missed our first segment on Barton Fink, we explained that sometimes the final image of the film can be the missing clue to what the film may mean. Sometimes it makes you question what you’ve seen in the past (The Shining), but in this case, the questions come way earlier than the final image.
This might focus more on the final act rather than just the final image, so this will be the exception in this series, but if any film deserves it, it’s this one.
Also, it’s best to have seen the film before reading, as this article will attempt to pull apart every puzzle piece in the final act and attempt to contextualize it.
A quick catch-up before we get to the final act (which are the only scenes that truly occurred). The first two thirds of the film were Diane Selwyn’s attempt at making sense of the whirlwind of emotions she went through after a break-up with Camila Rhodes. The third act begins with her waking up from the dream world that she has created. In said dream world, the two leads play other women while the other characters in the film play a different version of themselves.
The two leads, Naomi Watts and Laura Herring, play two different women each and those need to be cleared up in order to have an understanding of the film.
Naomi Watts is Diane Selwyn, but is Betty Elms in the dream, while Laura Herring is Camila Rhodes, but Rita in the dream. Camila Rhodes happens to be played by a different actress within the dream. The reason for this is that the dream world that Diane has created is her way of explaining to herself why things have gone amok.
The final act (again, that is now set in reality) plays out in non-linear fashion based on Diane’s emotions and memory. Only three of the scenes following when The Cowboy wakes Diane up truly occurred once she’s awake. The other scenes are intertwined with what is really going on, as Diane’s worlds (both dream and real alike) are crumbling and crashing together. At one point, Diane is making coffee and as she returns back to her couch she envisions Camila alongside her. She brings herself back to when they were still seeing each other and the moments before Camila tells her that their relationship can not go on. She asks if it’s “him”, and she immediately goes back to a moment where she was on set with Camila watches from afar as the director kisses Camila.
The first post-dream moment is her interaction with the ex-girlfriend who comes to get the rest of her things. Before she leaves, she grabs an ashtray on the coffee table and Lynch focuses on a blue key, which is a more ordinary key in comparison to the one that was shown in the dream.
It’s important to note that Diane finds a blue box that corresponds with the key in her own purse, but only after they find themselves at the club. The club is crucial because this is when Betty/Diane begins to realize that this is wrong. The MC starts the show off by speaking in Spanish and saying that there is no band; there is no music. It’s all a recording. He literally tells the audience that it is an illusion, before vanishing. They bring a singer on stage who sings a song that hits close to home for Diane/Betty. The lyrics include “you don’t love me anymore / and İ will always / cry for your love”.
Betty and Rita believe the illusion of the performance. Then singer faints and is pulled off stage while the music continues to play over the speakers. It’s here that Betty finds the box. The illusion has finally been shattered.
In the dream, the blue key and the blue box represent the escape of this “perfect” dream that Diane had tried to construct.
Before her ex-girlfriend leaves, she tells her that there are two detectives looking for her. This happens in both worlds, but the beauty of the dream world she has created is that, in it, she isn’t being sought after by detectives. She’s free from the poor choice she made.
Through flashbacks, we see that the poor choice she makes is hiring a hit man to kill Camila. She is told that when “it’s finished, you’ll find it where I told you.” As it’s already been shown that Diane has received the blue key, we know the hit man has been successful. Thus, why the detectives are looking for her now. It’s why in the dream she avoids being Diane, she gets away with the murder.
The final scene is what appears to be parental-like figures from the beginning of the film entering the real world. Everything comes crumbling down and Diane begins breaking down. Characters from the dream world literally enter reality by sneaking in through the cracks of her psyche and terrorizing her until she shoots herself. Both Diane and Camila are dead, but the tragedy of it all is that Diane is truly happy now. In a mirror-like image to the opening dance sequence, Diane is seen smiling in a dream world while living in the city of dreams standing next to Camila/Rita.
Which brings me back to the true final image, the woman with the blue hair who sits in the balcony saying one word, “silencio”, to remind us that, once again, everything is an illusion.
Nothing has been real.
It’s all a movie after all.