Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
What'd you say you played?
Folk songs? I thought you said you was a musician?
Like a great sweeping piece of music, sometimes a film can take on a unique life of its own that doesn't always mirror the filmmakers intentions. With that in mind, the latest Coen venture might just be their masterwork. Inside Llewyn Davis is very much a Coen Brothers film; its got the typical melancholy bleakness, dark humor, and slow kindle pacing that is both chill, but immensely engaging. But where this film differs from the Coen's other pictures is that it exists in its own self contained sentient universe. This film is alive. Its got auteurship written all over, but at the same time its quite unlike anything the Coen's have done before; and unlike anything they'll ever make again.
Like a song with complex chord progression or delicate overlapping sounds, Inside Llewyn Davis is an ever changing elegy designed to pull different feelings and memories out of its multiple tonal shifts, varying melodies, and soft lyrical beauty. Llewyn Davis is not a "musical" that uses musical score to elevate life up to dizzying Broadway-esque heights. It's instead a "musical" that uses real life to drag music down to our level. Where things are cold, hard, and often painful. We sometimes forget that music can go to quite literally everything; a song to bob your head to in the car sounds entirely different than one you would ride off into battle to. Inside Llewyn Davis presents us music and imagery that is synonymous with strapping your boots on snug, pulling your coat tight and venturing off into the cold and lonely void of a human soul.
Obviously that's a very bleak outlook; not everyone's soul is as desolate as Llewyns. But anyone who has battled with depression or severe frustration with the misdirection of their lives is sure to recognize the icy grip immediately. In many ways, the weeklong journey of Llewyn Davis through 1961's NYC mirrors that of a coming of age film. But here we don't get happy kids, nostalgic summers or happy resolutions with lessons learned. Instead we experience the moments our waking subconscious tries to erase. The moments we stay up all night thinking about while staring at the ceiling. For Llewyn Davis, this existentialism comes in the form of throwing everything away to pursue the arts as the creative world flashes quickly before him and wide eyed optimism takes hold.
Only for it to chew him up. And shit him back out. He might even hear the soul crushing words "I don't see money in this."
Now I feel like I've talked too much on my emotional analysis of the film without mentioning the brilliance of well, just about everything else. Llewyn Davis is spearheaded by a terrifically aching performance by Oscar Isaac. You feel every cold breeze that whips across his face and every insult thrown his way right down in the pit of your stomach. Its unforgivably cold nature is made effective by the best damn cinematography in years. An Oscar Cinematography category hasn't had this much visual flavor since The Assassination of Jesse James. The exterior shots are almost apocalyptically uncomfortable while the interiors radiate comfortability. Like Llewyn, you ache for a place that feels comfortable. Home.
Unfortunately I'm running out of praises for this film that won't sound too generic. Its honestly just a grand, emotionally complex film that oozes with technical brilliance that comes pretty damn close to outclassing any and all competition this year. The best art, to me, is art that tells a story but also allows people to see themselves in the material. Llewyn Davis was a transcendent experience for me; this film sat me down and talked to me. I could reach out and touch it. Feel it. Your own life experiences plug up the gaps in the story and at the end you are left to reflect on not only the life of the character, but yours, and other peoples as well. As an aspiring director/writer/anything, this story just pierced right through me; not always making me feel optimistic, or happy, but showing me how NOT to make it in any artistic foeld. Sometimes it's not about having talent.
Sometimes it's just about keeping your shit together along with a healthy dose of humility.
Llewyn Davis might not make you feel the way you want, but it will make you feel regardless. If you aren't ready, Llewyns songs might hit you hard.
"Please Mr Kennedy."
"Dont you shoot me into outer space."