Folk Singer with a Cat: Inside Llewyn Davis

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Folk singer with a cat. You queer?

Over the last thirty years, the Coen bros have served us treat after treat, we have become spoiled. With each new release they show more and more how important they really are to lovers of film and how vast and chasm-like their imaginations and inspirations can be. Their filmography makes for fascinating reading, they have done it all, broad comedy farces, noir, gangster films, dark thrillers, westerns, character pieces and musicals (well, almost). Each project has those unmistakably eccentric Coen brush strokes running throughout it that are like a watermark of quality and reassurance that you are in for a delicate and intricate slice of movie magic.

I am struggling to think of a Coen Bros film that has resonated with me and lodged itself in my brain more than Inside Llewyn Davis. It is a modern classic and basically a work of art that continually rewards upon reflection. Warning if you haven’t seen it, there are spoilers below.

Upon first watching it could be possible to be left cold from what you have just seen. On the face of it Inside Llewyn Davis is about nothing. A drawn out tale of a frustrated musician who ultimately gets nowhere, but that is indeed the point. In terms of character journeys there isn’t one. In fact the only character that does go on a journey is the cat (aptly name Ulysses) and we don’t see a single second of his lone exploits. Llewyn’s journey is all about acceptance, acceptance as a solo artist, acceptance with his family and acceptance with women, all of which he is unable to achieve as each and every avenue Llewyn walks down is blocked by someone or something.

However Llewyn isn’t a nice guy, he is his own worst enemy, only concentrating on the now, rather than the when. His life is strewn with emotional ship wrecks and broken down processions of baggage. Everyone has a grievance or solid justification for feeling the way they do and he is the only person who fails to understand what he has done to cause such treatment.

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The only thing that Llewyn is any good at in his life is weighed down with the millstone of a previous partnership, sadly dissolved when his partner jumped from the George Washington Bridge, and the car crash relationships he builds up within the growing Greenwich Village music scene. All he has is his guitar, he has no house to live in and is jumping from couch to couch while he tries to fulfil his dreams, which all seem more and more unlikely to bear fruit. In fact the only people that seem to want to stick by him are the put-upon Gorfeins, the owners of Ulysses, who allow him to stay whenever he wants, offer him encouragement and food and believe that he is something very special, so obviously Llewyn does his best to ruin that relationship too.

It would seem the only person around that Llewyn actually cares about is Jean, but numerous letdowns, betrayals and general idiocy have burnt all his bridges with her, his last remaining connection is a baby, that may or may not be his, that Jean wants to get rid of. The only time that we see Llewyn express true emotions (aside from when he visits his father in a home) is when he finds out that Jean has slept with someone to get him a gig. Finally Llewyn decides to leave this life behind and rejoin the merchant marines, however even that path is blocked by bureaucracy, and so he is trapped in a nosediving spiral, within a graveyard of ambition.

The film is clever in that there are moments in which you feel it is driving down the road of formula – literally in the case of Llewyn sharing driving duties on a road trip to Chicago, which is set up as the beginning of a journey of self discovery and growth, but ends just as abruptly as it began. On the way back Llewyn has  the opportunity to look up an old girlfriend who seemingly gave birth to his child, however he carries on along the road and misses the turning, ignoring the ghosts of the past, or perhaps not wanting to know why she had the baby rather than terminate. as they had arranged A lesser film would have taken us there and bogged us down in melodrama, but this film is ultimately a study of a man who cannot bring himself to ask questions.

Oscar Isaac’s performance here is nothing short of remarkable, he carries the entire weight of the film on his shoulders, and also sings with such a sweet, broken tragedy that stays with the viewer long after everything is over.

Most character pieces like this will have an arc at the end, the journey will be complete and the hero will be a changed man. At the end of Llewyn’s journey to nowhere, we are literally returned to the beginning – what we thought was an opening scene of Llewyn at a terrible low point in his life turns out to be one of the closing scenes of the film. Another day begins at the end, and the only difference in Llewyn is that he remembers to prevent the cat from escaping for another adventure. He himself sets off into the unknown once again. If he has changed at all, perhaps the only difference is a deeper cynicism.

Originally posted 2014-06-26 18:08:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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