- Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
- Producers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
- Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
- Genres: Drama, Sport
- Actors: John Turturro, John Goodman, Michael Lerner, Judy Davis, John Mahoney
At the start of the movie, Barton Fink is enjoying the success of his first play, Bare Ruined Choirs. His agent informs him that Capitol Pictures in Hollywood has offered a thousand dollars per week to write movie scripts. Barton hesitates, worried that moving to California would separate him from “the common man”, his focus as a writer. He accepts the offer, however, and checks into the Hotel Earle, a large and unusually deserted building. His room is sparse and draped in subdued colors; its only decoration is a small painting of a woman on the beach, arm raised to block the sun.
In his first meeting with Capitol Pictures boss Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner), Barton explains that he chose the Earle because he wants lodging that is (as Lipnick says) “less Hollywood”. Lipnick promises that his only concern is Barton’s writing ability, and assigns his new employee to a wrestling movie. Back in his room, however, Barton is unable to write. He is distracted by sounds coming from the room next door, and he phones the front desk to complain. His neighbor, Charlie Meadows (the source of the noise) visits Barton to apologize, and insists on sharing some alcohol from a hip flask to make amends. As they talk, Barton proclaims his affection for “the common man”, and Charlie describes his life as an insurance salesman.
Soon afterwards, Barton is visited by two police detectives, who inform him that Charlie’s real name is in fact Karl Mundt â€“ “Madman Mundt”. He is a serial killer wanted for several murders; after shooting his victims, they explain, he decapitates them and keeps the heads. Stunned, Barton returns to his room and examines the box. Placing it on his desk without opening it, he begins writing and produces the entire script in one sitting. After a night of celebratory dancing, Barton returns to find the detectives in his room, who then reveal Mayhew’s murder. Charlie appears, and the hotel is engulfed in flames. Running through the hallway, screaming, Charlie shoots the policemen with a shotgun. As the hallway burns, Charlie speaks with Barton about their lives and the hotel, then retires to his own room. Barton leaves the hotel, carrying the box and his script. In a final meeting, a disappointed and betrayed Lipnick, who has been drafted into the Pacific Theatre of World War II with the rank of Colonel, angrily chastises Barton for writing “a fruity movie about suffering”, then informs him that he is to remain in Los Angeles, and that â€“ although he will remain under contract â€“ Capitol Pictures will not produce anything he writes so he can be ridiculed as a loser around the studio while Lipnick is in the war. Dazed, Barton wanders onto a beach, still carrying the package. He meets a woman who looks just like the one in the picture on his wall at the Earle, and she asks about the box. He tells her that he knows neither what it contains nor to whom it belongs. She assumes the pose from the picture, and the film ends.