Barton Fink (John Tuturro) has 1 successful play on Broadway, and reluctantly moves to LA to start writing scripts for movies. His first commission is a wrestling picture, a subject he knows nothing about. While a resident in the seedy Hotel Earle, he develops writers block, and begins a friendship with his neighbor Charlie Meadows (John Goodman). While trying to get help meeting his deadline, he sleeps with his mentor's secretary/girlfriend Audrey (Judy Davis) and the next morning wakes next to her dead body. Charlie gets rid of the body, and then leaves town for business, leaving Barton scared and proclaiming his innocence.
Some time later, the police begin investigating the murder, and tell Barton that his neighbor Charlie is actually a serial-murderer named Karl Mundt, who decapitates his victims, and keeps the heads as trophies. Barton eventually overcomes his writer's block just in time for the 2 detectives investigating the murders to find the bloody mattress in his room. While getting ready to take Barton in for the murder of Audrey, Charlie/Karl re-appears, and kills both detectives and burns down the hotel. After a brief talk with Barton, Charlie goes into his room, presumably to burn with the hotel. Barton takes his finished screenplay, a box that Charlie gave him before he left town, and leaves the hotel.
He turns in the screenplay, his self-proclaimed masterpiece, only to be berated by the head of the studio for the screenplay being awful. He is still held on retainer by the studio, but will never be used again. Barton goes to the beach for the first time, and comes across a beautiful woman, who sits in front of him, re-creating a picture that hung in his hotel.
Note to the viewer:
You never do find out what is in the package that Charlie gives Barton, that is up for the viewer to decide. You could also look at this film as all being a hallucination in Barton's mind. Look for stellar cameos from Steve Buscemi, Tony Shalhoub, and John Mahoney.