Inside Llewyn Davis ★★★★½

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Much like the Coens’ loosely based Barton Fink on the screenwriter Clifford Odets, they do the same with Llewyn Davis, loosely basing him on Dave Van Ronk. A folk singer with a raspy voice, Van Ronk was a prominent figure in the folk revival, one album of his was entitled Inside Dave Van Ronk and even featured a little cat at his feet. Though Van Ronk is the character’s inspiration, Llewyn Davis seems to have a closer relation to Barton Fink. Davis and Fink see themselves as great artists even though they’re undone by their own high-mindedness. Their self-centered mindset prevents them from considering the feelings of others, always overflowing with condescension. The same way Barton speaks of an idealistic theater for the common man while writing a wrestling picture for Wallace Beery, Llewyn speaks of playing music for a living and show business even though he’s a homeless drifter.

And there are other allusions to prior Coen Brothers films. The car ride with a perpetually silent Johnny Five and the talkative Roland Turner brings memories of Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare in Fargo. The runaway cat is named Ulysses, the same name as George Clooney’s character in their depression-era take on Homer’s Odyssey, O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

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