Inside Llewyn Davis ★★★★½

Included In Lists:
Criterion Collection - #794

Talent exists and wanders around us. Many hoping to enter into their respective scenes and find appraisal and acknowledgement that they have for so long yearned. Yet despite greatness in abundance, very few break through the mould and succeed in reaching that professional and creative self-actualisation; often held back by either poor fortune or pure disconnect to their intended audience. These individuals find themselves sinking deeper into their holes, hoping to somehow find what they seek through their extensive search and sacrifice.

The Coen Brothers have ventured into the New York folk revival music scene with Inside Llewyn Davis, taking the dark satire of its subject matter, a defining characteristic of their filmmaking, and wrapped itself in a cocoon of a failing folk musician, played here by Oscar Isaac. We become witness to this man’s personal and professional trappings, seeing the dysfunctions that surround his relationships, the toxicity of his existence, the instability of his position, and the immaturity in his reach for success. This is a man who dwells on the frustration of his lack of recognition, one that contrasts the rising success of Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan), of which the latter Davis had a one-night affair with and has to meet his responsibility in the abortion. He is also recently the outcome of a folk duo that had to dissolve due to his partner’s suicide.

In his attempt to break through as a solo act, the lack of success begins to take a toll on him and impart the thoughts that possibly his partner was the appealing hook to their initial spark of potential fame. Broke and desperate, crashing from home to home, wandering like the cat that he has temporarily adopted, hitting all the stops at the village in the hopes he could find a shelter for the night. It was only when he decides to take an impromptu trip to Chicago, only to find himself dumped with a direct and blunt criticism that finally awoken the shrinking and hopeless reality of his future within the business.

In the midst of this almost sadistic portrait of this man’s life, the film is bookended with Davis performing a tune at the Gaslight Cafe, of which we spend searching and wondering the source of his failure and disconnect. As we advance along, and the clarity behind his persona comes to fruition, such pitfalls are justified and apparent. Yet we realise the brilliance and passion that drove that performance, one that clearly touched and impressed the patrons that filled those seats. The film demonstrates by its end the rewards of his own anguish and self-development, realising the spark that connects the audience to the music and the musician, knowing that even if Davis doesn’t follow through the life of a folk musician, things would look up for the better.

We witness at its end, the titular character beaten for his brash attitude that he expressed to a woman performing at the Gaslight Cafe. We view this event twice, initially without context and seemingly mysterious, but by the time we have reached this conclusive mark, we feel the justification of such a reaction and the ironic outcome that has emerged from Davis’ actions. We realise this man is the husband of that woman performing, stating that she and he are done with this toxic scene and that they are better off elsewhere. In a way Davis saved them from the trudging and self-inflicting hardship that he had to go through, giving them the opportunity to escape while the hole is still barely dug, a position that no longer applies to him.

Although initially underwhelmed by the efforts brought here by the Coen Brothers, it became apparent in the years passed after that viewing that the soft-glow in its lighting, its muted chilly colour spectrum, the inspired and well composed musical numbers, and the tender satire of the folk scene never departed from my mind; attracted to the aesthetic that one would after seeing an amazing act. It was only on this return that I saw the passionate heart that pulsed beneath Inside Llewyn Davis.

feedingbrett liked these reviews