As I move through the films of the Coen Brothers I find myself falling deeper and deeper into a very strange world filled with odd people and bizarre situations. The characters in these films operate on a wavelength with which I am completely unfamiliar. It’s a joy and a pleasure to experience the world of the Coens.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a backhanded-slap sort of love letter to the folk scene in the 60s. The main character, Llewyn Davis (a fictional recreation of an actual folk singer), is so incredibly unlikable that it is difficult at times to get where he is coming from. This makes it very funny when the characters around him use him as the target for their anger and hostility. But somehow, after spending an hour or so with Llewyn Davis, you sort of being to see the world through his eyes and realize that the world he is surrounded by is kind of filled with idiots. Yet Llewyn is still not a good guy.
This film is, first and foremost, an incredible movie about folk music. The soundtrack is extremely enjoyable and all of the songs are very well performed. Oscar Isaac (The Force Awakens) is particularly surprising. I am unsure whether or not he played the guitar and sang for himself (I have strong suspicions that he did) but even besides that his general performance as the character is terrific. He plays the character with a quiet stubbornness and defeated spirit that just perfectly suits story.
The rest of the cast, by the way, is sort of filled out by an ensemble and features terrific performances across the board. One character in particular, played by Adam Driver (also from The Force Awakens), sort of inadvertently brings about one of the most interesting segments of the film. Llewyn ends up riding shotgun in a car leaving New York and headed toward Chicago. He is riding with a jazz musician (John Goodman who is amazing) and his assistant. This episode is awesome. In one scene Llewyn interrupts one of the many condescending stories being told by Goodman’s character. The quip is very much a threat and is very funny in the context. Goodman’s character doesn’t really care and just moves on with his story.
This is an interesting scene in the movie as it tells us a lot about Llewyn. This is probably the only time in the entirety of the film in which Llewyn asserts himself, yet this explosion of his character is immediately shut down and he puts himself back into his submissive clothes which he wears for the entirety of the movie. Another very revealing relationship in this movie is the one between Llewyn and his (“it’s not mine,” Llewyn interrupts) cat which he sort of stole (“no, I didn’t,”) from a couple he stays with occasionally. This bit with the cat is both the single most entertaining and funny aspect of the film, but is also extremely telling who Llewyn is.
The story meanders around, as is often the case with the films of the Coen Brothers, and seems a bit off at times and yet never feels faked or wrong. It all seems real and very much fits the character and attitude of Llewyn. It all seems to be his just desserts and seems to be exactly what he deserves. We like to see him get lambasted and beaten. In part I think this is because we want to see him grow and change. We want to see him grow past this crazy week of his life which we get to experience with him. We want him to fix whatever this mess is which he has made of his life. But somehow, somehow, even though he doesn’t seem to really fix anything (the argument can be made that in reality he only makes everything worse), that this is the best outcome.
Maybe Llewyn doesn’t change but maybe we can. Maybe we can’t. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Grow or don’t grow, it doesn’t matter, this movie is terrific.
But, when everything is said and done, Llewyn only cares about Llewyn.