August 31, 2016

Inside Llewyn Davis

Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013
The Coen Brothers could quite possibly have the most diverse filmography in movie history. Their body of work is divisive. But one undeniable fact is if you polled anyone on the street who is a true fan of film and asked them what their favorites of all time are, it's almost a certainty that there is going to be a Coen Brothers film on there somewhere in the top 20. They approach widely different topics and you are never quite sure how specific that approach is going to be.

So of course it's intriguing when you hear that they are making a movie about a struggling folk singer named Llewyn Davis. And Llewyn is certainly struggling; freezing his way through the Greenwich Village streets lacking the proper winter attire. He is a man that is stagnant, can't seem to get to that next level in his career. Can't seem to manage his relationships properly, therefore having many displeased people in his periphery. It's a dreary character study. A man sort of ahead of his time. He's working before the big folk explosion in 1961. People haven't really been exposed to Bob Dylan yet. The big question is can Llewyn even survive long enough to make it there. He of course has no clue. While the odds seem more and more insurmountable, he spends a good portion of the film even wondering why he keeps at it. Is it worth it? What's the point? It's this quest for survival that adds the heart to the story. While Llewyn isn't a largely likeable character, you are rooting for him.

But his stagnation continues to be draining on you as you watch. The universe is using him as a punching bag. He doesn't seem to even draw luck from it. So he wakes up daily, stuck in the bondage of desperation. In a sense the film resembles Groundhog Day. Like there is the possibility that if Llewyn could transcend on some level, make some attempt to personally evolve, that there would some kind of epiphany. But he doesn't do himself many favors. He doesn't treat people as well as he could. He has a lot of pride, too much pride. He refuses to work a normal job, although it's exactly the type of thing that could help him upgrade his current situation. He's all in on the music. That alone is admirable.

There's a segment in the film when Llewyn is hitchhiking. It's a segment I can't seem to get out of my head. It so resembles some kind of purgatory. The sound, the visual elements at work. Man, only the Coen Brothers could create a landscape like this in the middle of a film. The fog on the highway, the hypnotic repetition of the painted lines.

Llewyn is certainly not a feel-good film. If anything it's a feel-sorry film. But it's memorable and unique, qualities of all of the good Coen Brothers movies.

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