INTRODUCTION. In some twist of meteorological fate, I went to see Inside Llewyn Davis on a grey and rainy afternoon that greatly resembled the general overtones of this latest Coen brothers production. It was a sublime experience – shared with what must have been less than ten other audience members, on account of the London tube strikes coming into effect last week.
STORY. The plot follows New York folk music performer Llewyn Davis in his drifting, meandering lifestyle of string strumming and couch crashing. Llewyn falls into the Coen pattern of being a bit of a loser, albeit a talented loser. We are introduced to a slice-of-life with Llewyn throughout the course of a universally understood human juncture: a rut. Down on his luck, spirits, and maybe even friends, all Llewyn has is music – and even then the fellow’s a bit aimless, sailing somewhere between desiring genuine success and living in contempt of commercial innocuousness. He is effectively homeless and sleeps on the generosity of friends. But don’t get me wrong. This is a dark comedy. There are laughs to be had on the surface of whatever sifting truths we are able to glance about Llewyn’s personal history.
This following paragraph has mild spoilers (i.e. hardcore spoiler-free viewers steer clear). An element of the story that we pick up on along the way is the suicide of Llewyn’s previous musician partner; it is an allusion to a different era in terms of popular music and his personal history. An old, grimy album cover displays a gleaming pair of men in contrast to the rugged visage of the Llewyn Davis we see onscreen. This is a decisively layered narrative, brimming with themes that saunter in circles within circles. I have implied a meandering energy, yet it’s important to know that there are definite climaxes to Inside Llewyn Davis. Harrowing, intense scenes in which I found myself holding my breath and unable to look away. It is likely that you will get through the movie feeling either unfinished or pensieve (or rightfully impressed) but I’ll be honest: movies like this are all about putting more questions than answers in our heads. Smokey, slippery questions pertaining to both Llewyn and our personal notions of success.
CHARACTERS. We should get this out of the way. Llewyn Davis is a bit of a jerk. The magic is that he isn’t just a jerk and it doesn’t take very long for us to sympathise with the poor guy. I mean, yeah. Llewyn is shortsighted, resentful, self-centred, a touch bitter. But he also emanates a rough, self-deprecating charisma. A mindlessness and weary eagerness that is so beyond his own observation that it hits a sweet spot in the audience, amalgamating pity and admiration and humour. Llewyn’s shittiness is exclaimed/implied by the people around him – he takes derision like he takes the weather, and responds erratically to kindnesses. What’s more is he reminds us that the aspiration to succeed can be a complex emotion. We really are seeing ‘inside’ of him in a way that none of the side characters are able to; within moments of mundane loneliness. Speaking of which. Oscar Isaac is damn good but the rest of the cast of Inside Llewyn Davis do a spectacular job as well. I won’t even try to explain. They caught me off guard and they should catch you off guard too.
CONCLUSION. Worth seeing in the cinema, alone or with a group of friends. Inside Llewyn Davis is an excellent movie. It is going to make you laugh and hurt and sneer, all in one fell swoop.
P.S. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Sight & Sound’s February issue if you’re interested in perusing a good Coen brothers interview. They also have a spoiler-heavy review of the movie that was a delight to read after my viewing.
CHARACTERS: 9/10 STORY: 9/10 REWATCH FACTOR: 8/10 OVERALL: 9/10