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Based on the life of successful poet Charles Bukowski and his exploits in Hollywood during the 60s, 70s, and 80s.


Barbet Schroeder
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mickey Rourke ... Henry
Faye Dunaway ... Wanda Wilcox
Alice Krige ... Tully
Jack Nance ... Detective
J.C. Quinn ... Jim
Frank Stallone ... Eddie
Sandy Martin ... Janice
Roberta Bassin ... Lilly
Gloria LeRoy Gloria LeRoy ... Grandma Moses
Joe Unger ... Ben
Harry Cohn Harry Cohn ... Rick
Pruitt Taylor Vince ... Joe
Joe Rice Joe Rice ... Old Man in Bar
Julie 'Sunny' Pearson Julie 'Sunny' Pearson ... Hooker in Bar
Donald L. Norden Donald L. Norden ... Man in Alley


Henry Chinaski never cared for the American dream, the thought of needing to become 'something' and fit into the system disgusts him. He believes that life is free and yours to live like you see fit, and if that in some cases involves copious amounts of whiskey then so be it. Henry spends his days drinking and listening to the radio, and he spends his nights drinking and fighting against Eddy who he thinks personifies shallowness and shameless self promoting. Sometimes in the middle of this he finds the time to jot down a few lines of poetry or a short story. After fighting Eddy and winning for a change Henry is thrown out of his regular bar where Eddy is a bartender. This leads him to seek another watering hole where he happens to find Wanda who is a barfly, in her own words "if another man came along with a fifth of whiskey, I'd go with him". Henry is not fazed by this thou and moves in with her. Of course Wanda immediately goes off and sleeps with Eddy, but after some clothes ... Written by Erik Wallen <erik.wallen@bluetie.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.


Comedy | Drama | Romance


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

16 October 1987 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Szenen eines wüsten Lebens See more »

Filming Locations:

Culver City, California, USA See more »


Box Office


$3,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$45,900, 18 October 1987, Limited Release

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (TVC)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Contrary to popular belief, Charles Bukowski thought that Mickey Rourke's performance was 'mis-done' to begin with, but grew to like his depiction of Chinaski as the production continued. Verified in the booklet accompanying 'The Charles Bukowski Tapes' on DVD. See more »


Henry calls an ambulance and gives address of apartment building as 334, while in scene earlier that day building is clearly marked 360. See more »


Henry: Drinks for all my friends!
See more »


Referenced in Love Pig (1990) See more »


Piano Concerto No. 4
By Ludwig van Beethoven
Courtesy of Supraphon Records, Prague
See more »

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User Reviews

Some people see the glass half-full ... others see it half-empty.... Henry Chinaski just drinks that goddamn glass ...
6 September 2011 | by ElMaruecan82See all my reviews

"Barfly" is not a comedy in the unoriginal meaning of the word; this one really takes you by surprise and writes your laughs in bold and capital letters. Experiencing "Barfly" is like finding a jewel in a trash can or meeting Scarlett Johansen alone in a cheap motel room...

Mickey Rourke, portrays Henry Chinaski, a barfly buzzing around from a waterhole A to a waterhole B. For the bartenders, among them Eddy, the one he fights every night, Henry is a real pain in the ass, how ironic that he also walks as if he had one. And with his Brando-like eyes, Henry seems to look at both nowhere and everywhere, ignoring but understanding the real world with "real" as the derogatory synonym of obviousness, dullness, hypocrisy ... and when he meets Faye Dunaway (no wire hangers this time, but some priceless hangovers I guarantee) it's the perfect cocktail of cynical poetry and endearing trashiness served to you, on the rocks. Still this is the only alcoholic experience that doesn't leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth, for the film is so wasted you wish you could have wasted more time watching it.

The movie is written by Charles Bukowski, one of the most original authors of the last century, a man who gave to the trashiest and lowest life of American streets the letters of an inner nobility that no one could see, except the unfortunate (or were they?) misfits who belonged to that gripping underworld. I wish I could have said that from my readings of some Bukowski's poems or novels, but it's been my whole life since I just knew about this man, and if one thing, "Barfly" is my first immersion in the world of this poet who stinks the sweet perfume of truth and not the one that awakens some repressed suicidal tendencies through a solemn voice over. In "Barfly", truth is delivered through Henry's nasal voice with a musicality singing that life is too serious to be taken seriously … and the genius of the script is how unpretentiously but seriously hilarious it is.

You literally savor the script like a sweet, red and juicy appetizer, starting with the most significant quote, the film's tag-line: "Some people never go crazy … what truly horrible lives they must live!" Henry is not right because it's naturally better to be crazy, his sentence exceeds his own personal comprehension of craziness, the point is not to be crazy like Henry, but the way we'd love to be every once in a while. The taste of life differs from one person to another. Henry's nonsense speaks true statements about human nature with the same lucidity that governs our hearts when we've just taken one drop too much. Realization is the first step in the road for wisdom while most of us resist to the blinding flash of realization, Henry can't think of what he wants to be, because he's already too tired of thinking of what he doesn't want to be. Henry subtly mirrors our condition as people who not only know but actually ARE what they don't want to be.

Henry can do nothing but drink, sleep, fight and write... still, he's not a loser, hell, how can you be a loser if you've got nothing to lose? The rest of his life consists on a bunch of "can't" but aware, he is, and care, he doesn't; while our masochistic registration to a mediocre formula of life deprived us from the same kind of free-spirited awareness. We try to forget our condition by reassuring ourselves with an ersatz of normality, just to be accepted by the boring majority. "Anyone can get a job. It takes a man to make it without working." Henry's eternal drunkenness injected in his brains an extraordinary view on life so insightful and pertinent, he's the kind of modern prophet you'd constantly wonder what he'd think about anything. And one thing for sure, you'd trade the three quarters of your Facebook friends for one night where you could cheer with Henry, while he raises his glass of scotch and shouts "To my friends!"

And that's the true spirit of "Barfly", it doesn't trash your life and talks to you in a patronizing way, it doesn't tease your brains, again: it doesn't take itself seriously. That's what cruelly lacks in today's films, I'd rather watch a movie where a bunch of true losers are having a good time than a bunch of dangerous losers creating a sort of fascist 'fighting' group to show the world they exist. What's so important in today's world anyway to seek the pride of being part of something, of belonging, networking, socializing? Why the need to collect friends and masturbating over an artificial popularity when all you can have are ephemeral but sincere moments of fun with authentic human beings.

"Barfly" doesn't take itself seriously but doesn't lie either, the ways of truth are impenetrable and often choose the least likely avenues. And "Barfly" works like a reverse fantasy attracting us to the bottom, finding the inner beauty of life in the freedom of action, of spirit and more than anything, belonging to nothing but a true community of ephemeral friends for ephemeral pleasures. No class, no social category, no people, no bourgeois, being an outcast, and even a disgrace, is a luxury providing the most honest vision on the world, not diluted by personal or political bias. You can't be an artist if you're not an outcast and on that level, Chinasky is more than an artist, he's a genuine genius …

So, if only for Rourke's spectacular performance, for the witty script, for the so enjoyably cheerful mood and its gallery of colorful and likable characters, not to mention the beautiful shots on Dunaway's sexy legs … this movie deserves to be consumed without moderation. Cheers!

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