This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Mary Conti’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Llewyn sits in the dark of the Gaslight Cafe, barely lit by the tawdry spotlights of the second rate arena he performs in. He doesn't really need the lights as the music he plays seems to brighten up the room he's in, as the song he sings pleads for human connection just as any artist might.
Yet Inside Llewyn Davis is the tale of a man who cannot connect to anyone beyond his music. Why? Because he's, as Carey Mulligan bluntly puts it, "an asshole". He's an artist incapable of revealing himself to others. He's an inauthentic man trying to survive in a world that necessitates authenticity. Is Llewyn a rotten man on the inside? Debatable. His gait is that of someone in pain and willing to offer help. Is he willing to show anything else of himself other than complete misanthropy? No.
So Llewyn walks the earth like a cat might ("Llewyn is the cat"), struggling to survive from day to day, going from owner to owner, gig to gig, song to song. Aside from working as a merchant marine, all Llewyn knows is his music, and yet he can't for one minute sacrifice himself for success. Why? The mysteries of the human soul live on.
Life isn't worth living without the one you love. The only man who seemed to keep Llewyn sane is his partner, dead from suicide (A metaphor for the relationship of the Coen brothers themselves could be drawn here without a doubt). So Llewyn walks the earth alone. He carries his heavy guitar on his back, his soul bearing down on him, and all he wants to do is sing to people.
For the first time in their entire career, The Coens are able to observe their characters without any sort of judgment, and it comes with their most troubled character. Many other filmmakers would choose to judge, but the Coens understand that he is the way is, because, well, that's Llewyn. For once, they merely observe.
It's not an easy task. One can't help but feel for Llewyn's plight, but we know what becomes of him. He will always go on the sacrificial walk for music, yet unable to make the final sacrifice when he reaches the end of the road. He'll always find himself waking to that cat. He'll always suffer from the curse of Goodman. He'll always heckle another performer and always suffer the consequences. He will always miss the spotlight by mere inches, and he'll always be in that alley from then until his dying days.
But he'll always be singing.