Photo by Frederick Dennstedt, via flickr
Rafael Abreu/Contributing Writer
A shroud of melancholy runs throughout “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen that takes a look at a folk singer (Oscar Isaac) living in 1961 while trying to make it as a serious musician. A self-centered man, Llewyn Davis crosses paths with a cat, a love interest (Carey Mulligan), the love interest’s man (Justin Timberlake), a jazz musician (John Goodman), and his valet (Garrett Hedlund), among other characters. A jerk protagonist, Davis has no permanent residence, sleeps on the couches of others, and receives no compensation for his solo record. He also doesn’t really care about others, only focusing on things that concern him or his friend’s cat.
Little story exists within “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which prefers to have weave across plots as we see Davis go from problem to problem. The Coen Brothers are well known for making films where their protagonists suffer and receive no mercy; Llewyn is not only no different, but in fact may be the worst. It’s one thing to have a protagonist who goes through hardships he doesn’t deserve, but it’s another to have a protagonist who goes through hardships that, half the time, he brought onto himself. From an unforeseen pregnancy to refusing to accept royalties for a song, there’s plenty for Davis that doesn’t go right, even though he is still to be blamed for some of it. His self-centered ways don’t allow others to help him, even though he continually needs money from others (as if a couch weren’t enough).
While this film has plenty of unique characters (another Coen hallmark), the only constant being is Llewyn Davis. We witness his life and see the people that come in and out of it, from a folk singing soldier to his own father, all of whom impact Llewyn’s life in some form or another. Oscar Isaac is phenomenal as the down-on-his-luck musician, who only wants to be taken seriously as he views folk music as a way of life. As can be expected, every single actor does a fantastic job, no matter how small the role might be (as is the case with many of the characters). Special mention to the cat that follows Davis throughout the film and might also be responsible for some of his troubles.
Music is at the center of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” showing us a man who is sensitive and in pain, even if he can be a jerk to just about everyone he comes across. It becomes very clear that this music is Llewyn’s only way of expression and living, and even if he gets mad at it or things don’t go his way, he cannot abandon what is such a big part of his life. In fact, throughout the course of the film, and especially at its end, it can be argued that life will not allow Llewyn any other option besides being a folk musician. The songs themselves are all great, especially “Please Mr. Kennedy” (an original piece) and “Dink’s Song” (also known as “Fare Thee Well”); like many of the Coen Brothers’ previous films, you don’t have to be a fan of the genre to enjoy the music.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” presents us with a very sad film that, unlike most Coen films, doesn’t aim to make fun of its character through pitch-black comedy. That’s not to say the film isn’t funny, but its main aim is to provide melancholy by way of its protagonist and his struggles to become a successful and respected folk singer. It shows us the pain of its title character and never asks us to sympathize with him. “Inside Llewyn Davis” struck me hard, and I think it’s a motion picture worthy of anyone’s time.