The entire film presents itself as a metaphor for heaven and hell. Barton Fink is played by John Tuturo (what ethnicity is this guy!? He plays everything) who is a critically acclaimed playwright who is hired to a contract in Hollywood to make the transition into film. He claims to write scripts for and about the "everyday man." After being offered to bunk up in a Hollywood suite, he insistintly declines in order to stay in an average hotel called the Hotel Earle. When Chet (Steve Buscemi, the hotel clerk) first appears he comes out of a door on the floor after it takes him a long while to reach the top, like if he was ascending from the underworld. - The word "six" is said three times in the elevator. - Hotel Earle can be an anagram of the words Hell and Erato, the Greek Muze of lyric poetry.
Charlie (John Goodman) is Barton Fink's neighbor who Barton feels an attachment to. Most people concur that Charlie represents the devil. Instead, I think that Charlie represents the repressed rage that "common men" trapped in dead-end lives feel. The pealing wallpaper and heat represent the rage stewing just under the surface, the flames are when Charlie's pent-up anger and resentments finally explode to the surface. Barton struggles through writing his first film, with deadlines about a wrestler. He seeks aid in the help of a famous writer's wife (Audrey) who he ends up sleeping with and he wakes up to her dead (slashed, bloody) body next to him. He finds out that Charlie is a serial killer who chops off people's heads from the police who question Barton after finishing his script. The studio hates the script and Charlie arrives at home to his apartment lit on fire by Charlie who kills the police investigators that are waiting for him with a shotgun.
The Hotel beings to burn and the wallpaper (which has been ripping off throughout the movie continues to rip away). Charlie then says my favorite line in the movie, as the apartment is burning to the ground: "If you need me, I'll be in my room." He then says he went to visit Barton's parents on the East coast where he is from and leaves Barton a gift in a box.
Barton leaves the apartment and walks on the beach where he sits down in front of a beautiful women which resembles exaclty the picture of a woman on the beach that has rested on his wall of the hotel room that he had gazed at for realease throughout his time spent there. This brings us to the last lines of the film between the woman and Barton:
Beauty: It's a beautiful day.
Beauty: I said it's a beautiful day.
Barton: Yes. It is.
Beauty: What's in the box?
Barton: I don't know.
Beauty: Isn't it yours?
Barton: I don't know. You're very beautiful. Are you in pictures?
Beauty: Don't be silly.
The questions arise: what is in the box? what does the girl in the picture come to real life represent? and finally what does the wallpaper ripping off mean?
Here are some explainations I have dug up:
First of all this is like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction it is not meant to be known. I have always thought it was Barton's mind. He couldn't write before but once he got his mind back he was free to write away. Also at the end he finds out that Capital Pictures owns him and his mind so when the girl asks if that is his box he responds "I don't know" meaning he doesn't know if it belongs to him or to Capital Pictures.
Now this of course isn't supposed to be taking literally I know his mind isn't actually in the box but it is symbolic of it.
The suggestion seems to be that's it's Audrey's head. Yet, there's a very "Pulp Fiction" aspect to it as well where we're not really meant to know. And yet, more than in "Pulp Finction"- where the mystery remains much more sublime than any attempt at explantion- we seem invited to seek out an interpretation here to find one that is more symbolic than literal. Barton's "mind" or "the truth" are good ones- "mind" could also be interpretted as Barton's creativity or even his soul (much like those slightly tedious interpretations of Marcellus's briefcase- I reckon it works better here.) The only real clues we have are the size of the box and Mudnt's confession that he lied and that it doesn't really belong to him (ie. does that mean it's Audrey's head or something belonging to Barton?)
However, I think it's significant that Barton doesn't actually open the box- therefore doesn't actually release his mind/creativily/soul. The way I like to look at it is that it is that very mystery of not knowing what's in the box that finally releases his creativity (and so leaves the explanation unknown-like Pulp Fiction). The point that Barton also confesses that he doesn't know what's in the box- and therefore might mean that he doesn't know if he still owns his own creativity- is a good one, but it could work on this level too- ie. that he still doesn't know what's in the box and is- perhaps- still feeding of that mystery. Who knows? Do we really need to know? Sometimes unanswered questions are more inspirational than answered ones.
Personally I thought that what was in the box was the head of his parents who he went to visit, meaning that when you go to hell, you bring everyone you know down with you. What did you think?
Rotten Tomatoes give this move a 91% rating
Zoom In Analysis will DISAGREE with this rating and give it a 7.5 out of 10
Although there is a lot of ambiguity and the movie defintly pulls on the critics strings hitting all the right notes, it lacks audience appeal, but a great flick for those who love to interpret movies. If only judging it as a well written story with long lasting affect I would agree with RT, however when popping this movie into a wide appeal audience it won't be for everyone.