I'll wager that most people are probably going to find Llewyn Davis one of the more "difficult to love" Coen films. I know I did. I am finding the best way to describe it as a A Serious Man meets O Brother Where Art Thou? (When I said this to my friend Justin he instantly quipped: O Serious Man Where Art Thou?) But in truth, Inside Llewyn Davis is quite serious. Its main character is a difficult man who spends the entirety of the movie further messing up his own already precarious life.
The film's structure, too, is difficult. The film begins, moves along for a bit, and then it fades to white. Is what we see next a flashback? The film doesn't tell us until much later, but one gets the sense that this has all happened before, that Llewyn Davis is spinning his wheels, continually making the same mistakes and not learning from them. Llewyn stays on his friends' sofas. He imposes on them. He eats their food. He makes very little money. And although it is snowing outside, he has no winter coat, no boots, and no intention of moving south any time soon. Llewyn tries to make music – tries to earn a living making music – but he has principles, see. He doesn't want to make the kind of music other people want to make. He wants to sing folk music. He is, in fact, great at singing folk music, and the early 1960s saw a kind of renaissance of folk music.
I really liked Llewyn, even if it isn't all that likable. I know men and women like Llewyn: difficult people who simply can't ever get their lives to make a kind of sense, who never can get a foothold but keep working hard at it, doing their best but continuing to make terrible, selfish decisions. And I liked him for all that. He's sympathetic and difficult, and I wanted to take him in and clean him up. I felt a little like his friends the Gorfeins, I guess.
|Mr. Isaac as Llewyn Davis ("It's Welsh.")|
The appearance of Bob Dylan at the film's end said one other thing to me. Renaissances like the rejuvenation of folk music as a genre in the 1960s are paved by unhappy, struggling people like Llewyn Davis. These people do the thankless work of making space for people like Bob Dylan. There is no Bob Dylan without guys like Llewyn who perform the labor of teaching audiences about what is good, giving music a kind of cultural value, rediscovering songs that other people will make famous, playing guitar on other people's famous hit records. Inside Llewyn Davis gets to the struggles of people who end up never finding fame or fortune in the industries in which they labor, but who contributed deeply, on a grassroots level, to the USAmerican music scene.
I should mention, too, that the performances in Llewyn are pretty awesome, particularly Oscar Isaac's work. I really liked Isaac in W./E. and I absolutely could not stop talking about his work in Drive, and so I am glad that this actor will be getting more work and I hope to see more excellent performances from him.