Updated: Mar 30
Whilst trying desperately to understand the plight of the common man and being crippled by his own thoughts clouding what he should write about, Barton Fink ignores Charlie Meadows when he says, “And I could tell you some stories…”
This interaction summarizes why Barton Fink is one of my favorite movies. It identifies a writer who has his head so high in the clouds, that he cannot understand anything about the people around him. This is reiterated in a multitude of ways throughout the entire movie, and Turturro’s delightfully absurd depiction of Barton is nowhere closer to understanding anything about anyone.
Sadly, I know this pain. I find myself being deeply over-analytical regarding any work of art I encounter in my life. I can never watch something and take it at face value. As my eye and my taste becomes further intellectualized, (much to my dismay) I find myself becoming a victim of trying to understand the deeper meaning in the artwork, when there might not be one in the first place. Most recently, after watching the highly hyped Russian Doll on Netflix, I found myself caught in this trap yet again.
As soon as it was revealed that Natasha Lyonne’s character Nadia was a video game developer, I went off the deep end of theorizing: Maybe Nadia has a flaw in her code that needs to be sorted, and this will reveal itself to be a new game she was working on and this has all been an iteration. Maybe this will turn out to be a narrative written by a programmer, and this is an “if, else” loop gone awry, and because of a tiny syntax error we have a Groundhog Day-esque program. Maybe the syntax error is a simple semicolon, used in code to terminate a command, but also in language to couple two independent clauses… my god.
Binging on the show, I had an eagle-eye focus on what potential easter eggs could be dropped. For instance, that framed picture in the back of Beatrice’s apartment, which could be indicative of her relationship with Alan, or what changes in environment occurred in each version.
Then, by the end of the series. I sat there trying to cobble together all of the stray observations in my head and realized maybe I need to read some think pieces in order to understand what was happening.
I spoke about it with my wife, who was eager to see my reaction as a new viewer, and her response made me take great pause.
“It’s about caring for each other.”
Maybe that’s all it really is, and my head was so caught up in the possibilities that I missed this.
“Holy shit,” I thought, “I am Barton Fink.”
Predictably, we now have a cavalcade of writers, analysts, and pulled quotes about the what-ifs of Russian Doll. Everyone that has a domain name at their disposal (thanks Burdge!), or a social media account, can wax poetic about whatever the water cooler topic du jour ends up being; and we do so ad nauseam.
Then again, maybe all of my analysis of the show is just one version or iteration of this experience.
Who am I (or any other writer with a pulse) to tell you what to think about this show, or any other show for that matter? Furthermore, the process of writing this piece, and having you experience the show vicariously through my ramblings on it, is by definition, you simulating your/my experience of viewing this program.
This overanalysis (of course) is not new to me. I’ve had a perpetual tug-of-war in my head of meaning vs. emotional takeaway of a couple recurring “works” my entire life. Specifically, this keeps happening with the music of Arcade Fire, and the entire Legend of Zelda game series.
In both of those instances, I have a process I undergo in order to fully digest the media at hand.
First, with Arcade Fire, I have to listen to an album one time through front to back. Then I read every stupid think piece about it, and I consider the marketing campaign and the overall concept of the album. After all of the think pieces are taken into account, I see what they are largely trying to accomplish with their new album, and what it says about our world overall, then I listen to it 10 more times to have a fully formed opinion on it.
I find it extremely curious that I engage with it on this level, and how I consider what they are saying about contemporary American culture and take it so seriously. Whereas with a group who is doing extremely intricate, compositional work like Broken Social Scene, (again, in my mind) I can just kick back and enjoy another beautiful album. Not everything has to be a game-changing concept album that is prodding at, and defying, our societal constructs.
Then, with the Legend of Zelda games, I play through it spoiler-free without looking things up (unless I’m really, really stuck on a puzzle) then take a bit of time away from it, and dive back into the world and analyze any and all possible easter eggs, theories and cutting room floor info that can fuel various head-cannons.
Regarding the series overall, I do think that there is more than meets the eye regarding artwork present in the game, iconography, musical arrangements and composition, narrative framework and a host of other elements per game. Almost every aspect about those games that I can ponder endlessly, I will: I’ve attempted, on multiple , occasions, and I’m certainly not done yet.
Now that I think about it, the two series of works, (Arcade Fire’s albums, and the Legend of Zelda video games) aren’t mentioned at random. I believe that I am growing up alongside them, and their interests and sentiments have been parallel to my own development for all of my thoughts and feelings. This is a much larger subject that I can write about endlessly (and hopefully, eventually will have a book on some of this as well)!
I wish I was joking here.
Sometimes the artist’s intended meaning is just, “dig this sweet guitar riff,” or “play this fun game.” We should halt the head-cannon and let the work just wash over us. Our own experience is just as valid as the artist’s intent (potentially, it’s even more valid).
That last series of paragraphs, by itself, was a digression. A sampling of how I can tend to drone on and on, and get stuck within my own head. Normally, at this exact moment, after a brief “surfacing” from my manic style writing and thought process, I reach a crossroads. Either I choose to ignore my train of thought, and move on entirely to another train of thought or distraction; or, I can take some space and “put it on the shelf for a while.” Supposedly, this helps mature the piece, as if it were a piece of overpriced cheese or wine, but I remain skeptical.
Ultimately, I’ve come to a new conclusion: watch this show for yourself, and go into it knowing confidently that anything you think and feel from art is valid.
You don’t need someone with an MFA or a paycheck from a periodical telling you how to digest an experience. Just go experience it!
Jordan graduated in 2009 from Susquehanna University with a degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies where he met his wife. In spite of God's will, he published his first book PESTS with Lloyd Kaufman; the CEO of the independent stalwart Troma Entertainment. You can see him being snarky and cynical on Twitter and Instagram @settlingstatic , and you can find him being deeply, deeply nerdy on Reddit @SkywardJordan.