Inside Llewyn Davis

I should preface this by saying I’ve only see one other Coen Brothers movie, and that was this week. Their work is still completely new and untouched for me.

Inside Llewyn Davis is an even better introduction. It has their characteristically dark sense of humor, but with a touch of idealism and nostalgia. What I would call a perfect recipe.

The film starts with a vagabond Llewyn waking up on a couch in an empty house. After recently launching his career as a solo act in the folk music world, Llewyn is a homeless, broke, and all-around hot mess. While leaving the apartment, he accidentally lets his kind host’s cat out of the front door, catches him, and becomes the inappropriate caretaker of this pet. It’s immediately clear that he can barely take care of himself, let alone this feline companion.

Essentially, Llewyn is in the midst of an existential crisis. He’s lost his musical partner, he’s running out of time and options, and yet he doesn’t want to give up on his dream. However, his caustic sense of humor and inability to tolerate any nonsense is what makes him likable, on screen, at least. Llewyn seems to say the things we’re all thinking. He feels bad for making others feel bad, but it’s clear that he cannot – or will not – change.

He’s easy to identify with, which makes it easier to want him to catch a break. Even easier, however, is getting angry at Llewyn for so consistently sabotaging himself. We all know someone, or have been that someone, who is full of potential, but just can’t see themselves through to meet it. Philosophically, we understand. Yet emotionally, it’s endlessly frustrating.

As a 1960’s enthusiast, I love the little tidbits of culture thrown about in the film. The reference to Peter Orlovsky’s Clean Asshole Poems and Smiling Vegetable Songsthe hat-tip to Bob Dylan, the budding heroin addiction of the arts community: these clues are simultaneously nostalgic, and a realistic portrayal of our beloved 1961. Particularly relevant is Llewyn’s conviction, his belief in a certain type of lifestyle. The still-current desire to avoid suburbia, marriage, “selling out.”

The content, characters, and humor of the movie is top-notch. Even better is the circular manner in which the story progresses, and an annoyingly vague ending that answers the question of “What happened?” is the most subtly frustrating way.  A bit like the anticlimactic denouement of the decade of peace, love, and harmony.

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