"In his Pensees, Pascal laments that “all of humanity’s problems come from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” It’s the photograph—and, in part, what’s on the far side of the photograph—that lures Barton out of his concentrated solitude.
At the beginning, of course, all Barton desires is to sit and work in peace, alone with his mighty themes. But the clamor of the world comes to him, through the thin wall, in the sound of a man weeping in the next room. Or is he laughing? As with much in Barton Fink, the answer is ambiguous, endlessly interpretable, even contradictory.
The horizon, claims French poet Yves Bonnefoy, exists as a temptation, drawing us away from the here and now towards an imagined country—Bonnefoy calls it the arriere-pays. The arriere-pays (translated imperfectly into English as the “hinterlands”) is not a real country—or even a country; part of its allure is its endless mutability and its ability to keep its distance. You can never reach the other side of the horizon. Therefore, this place or non-place existing on the far side of the unapproachable horizon is similarly out of reach.
For Barton, the horizon exists on several levels: the enigmatic woman whose face he can never know, the unapproachable distant edge of the sea, and what’s just over there, the next room over. (The closest we come to seeing the inside of the room next door happens just after Barton discovers that the woman he slept with the night before has been butchered in his bed. A cold blue light spills out.)
The horizon also represents an escape. And, we sense, there’s little Barton wants more than to escape the situation he has gotten himself into.”