Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Mark T. Conard on interpreting the Coens' Barton Fink.
Because Barton is a Cartesian-like subject, he lives “the life of the mind” and cuts himself off, not only from the common man, the supposed wellspring of his inspiration, but also more and more from life and reality itself. Consequently, he removes himself from any kind of practical engagement with the world and is thus cut off from those networks or contexts of meaning in which equipment is understood and interpreted. Consequently, the things around him lose their meaning and cease to make sense (like the cell phone would for the gladiator). In other words, the elements of the film (like the box or the picture) that resist interpretation aren’t supposed to make sense. That’s the whole point. Indeed, in interviews the Coens themselves reveal that not everything in the movie has a clear-cut meaning: “What isn’t crystal clear isn’t intended to become crystal clear, and it’s fine to leave it at that,” says Ethan Coen; Joel adds, “The question is: Where would it get you if something that’s a little bit ambiguous in the movie is made clear? It doesn’t get you anywhere.” I’m not suggesting, of course, that the brothers had anything like Heideggerian interpretation on their minds as they made the film. Rather, they acknowledge that not everything in the film is interpretable or makes sense, and I’m using Heidegger to suggest a way to understand why those things lack meaning or sense. Again, things in the world must have a network of relations, a context for practical engagement (like an office in which a typewriter is used, or a workshop in which a hammer is employed), in order for them to have sense and meaning. Because Barton lives more and more in his own head (symbolized by his hotel room), cut off from reality and practical engagement with the world, the things around him cease to have sense and meaning. They’re not understandable or interpretable.
P. 191
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