Inside Llewyn Davis ★★★★★

"Hang me, oh hang me, I'll be dead and gone..."

I'd been waiting for this for such a long time. Even before it won the Grand Prix at last year's Cannes Film Festival. I'd never wanted to see a film as badly as I'd wanted to see Inside Llewyn Davis, and as a result of this, I thought I'd ruined it for myself. I thought that watching all the trailers and reading so many reviews would mean that none of it felt new when I came to watch it. I went in to the cinema anxious; I wanted to love it, but I was fully expecting to be disappointed.

As you can probably tell, I loved it.

Absolutely loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. I loved it so much that I was put in a strangely joyous mood for the rest of the evening. So much that within two hours of watching the film I'd bought the soundtrack. So much that not only is it my favourite film of the year, or my favourite Coen brothers' film, but also one of my favourite films of all-time.

As the lights dimmed in the auditorium, I became suddenly quite nervous. As the logos flashed up on the screen, I heard the murmuring of a crowd, before the film opened on an extreme close-up of a microphone. Then Oscar Isaac sang 'Hang Me, Oh Hang Me'. Brilliantly. I was hooked.

The lack of Oscar-love is frankly embarrassing, considering it's easily better than American Hustle and Gravity. Its two nominations for the sound mixing and Bruno Delbonnel's gorgeously wintry cinematography are richly deserved, but everything about it - from the beautifully detailed production design to the Coens' excellent direction - is simply wonderful.

The story of Llewyn Davis is a sad one. He's talented but not successful, and was formerly part of a duo - a partnership which ended tragically when his partner, Mike, jumped off the George Washington ("You jump off the Brooklyn Bridge - traditionally. George Washington Bridge, who does that?"). Llewyn has no home, and sleeps on the couch of any friend who'll let him. He lets a cat out of his friends' apartment and has to carry it with him everywhere. He may have made the partner of his best friend pregnant - he doesn't know but has to pay for the abortion anyway. He has a job opportunity in Chicago, the trip to which takes up a large portion of the film.

So much goes on, both thematically and literally, in those 100 minutes (not long enough!), but, paradoxically, if you try to explain the story, you can't help but say that not very much happens. Llewyn isn't particularly likeable all the time, but we feel sorry for him all the same, probably due to Isaac's wonderful performance. The blend of dark comedy and quiet pathos is seamless and perfectly balanced - it is a genuinely heartbreaking but enjoyable film.

There are several things in the film that suggest a deeper sadness for Llewyn. The most obvious sign of this would be that his stoic grief over Mike's death, but there are subtle hints in the choice of songs and a line Llewyn says to Jean towards the end; "I'm tired... I thought all I needed was a good night's sleep, but it's more than that." He doesn't quite know how to cope without his partner, and neither do the people around him, who often talk about how much they miss Mike. Llewyn is being held back by his grief and self-loathing; part of him thinks he will never achieve anything great on his own, and knows that Mike was probably the reason they found any success. He can't quite let his partner go; he plays their record in remembrance, and the cat - who could just as well be a symbol for Mike as it could be for Llewyn - always comes back to him one way or another. At the film's climax, Llewyn sings 'Fare Thee Well', a song he used to play with Mike, by himself. He is finally letting go, because he knows if he doesn't that his life will keep going around in circles.

There are also certain similarities between Llewyn's journey and that of Odysseus, a theme the Coens visited once before in O Brother, Where Art Thou?; a film which, in turn, shares DNA with Inside Llewyn Davis in terms of its music. On Llewyn's journey, he meets Roland Turner, played by the great John Goodman, and his valet, Johnny Five, played by Garrett Hedlund. Johnny is struggling artist, like Llewyn, but he is a Beat poet. Roland is a successful jazz musician who has no reservations about belittling Llewyn at any opportunity. Llewyn and Johnny are talented but not successful, so this juxtaposition is particularly interesting. Llewyn is looking for many things, one of those things being success. The fact he has failed at this makes him very bitter and he alienates everyone who shows him friendship. But Roland is just as unpleasant, probably more so, and yet he seems to have everything he wants and needs; a driver and valet, a long and successful career in the entertainment industry and a seemingly never-ending supply of heroin, to name a few. He gives Llewyn an insight into a lifestyle he is endeavouring to attain, but is there really that much to look forward to?

I can't recommend this enough. It's just everything I wanted it to be. I woke up the next day playing out my morning routine to the melodic tones of Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford singing 'Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)' in my head. It's perhaps the most weirdly enjoyable film I've seen in a very, very long time, and I'm sure that the euphoric feeling of relief, excitement and joy I felt as the credits rolled I will never quite experience with Inside Llewyn Davis again.

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