Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Inside Llewyn Davis

Spoilers are marked.

In this 2013 film, the Coen Brothers Joel and Ethan take us on a musical tour of a week in the life of a downtrodden folk singer named Llewyn Davis in 1961 New York.

"Llewyn and the Orange Tabby" new band name, called it!

Llewyn used to be part of a duet, but now he must try to make it as a solo act, and it's not going well. He is played by Oscar Isaac with enormous amounts of melancholy, and real talent on the guitar and vocals. He probably sings more words than he speaks in the whole movie, but watching him silently plow through a very bad week isn't as depressing as it might seem to be. The script and Isaac's performance puts us and our understanding right where the title promises us we'll be, with masterful subtlety.

The supporting cast is full of acting and singing talent too. Carey Mulligan plays the meanest character I've ever seen her do, and she's not subtle about her antagonism either like she is in Northanger Abbey. I was surprised and impressed. But I shouldn't have been surprised, because everything she does is pretty impressive. Justin Timberlake is there too, and incidentally, I finally have an answer for if I'm ever asked what my favorite song of his is.

"We... are not amused."

John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, and Adam Driver all make small appearances too, but with no less fully developed characters. There's also a cat, and the most talented cat-actor I've seen (not to mention very cute) and I'm not even kidding. That cat was brilliant -- or perhaps rather the directors did a fantastic job getting what they wanted out of it.

There were two main things I liked very much about this film. The second I didn't really realize until after the movie was over, but the first I got full enjoyment out of while it still ran: the music. Folk music, actually performed by the actors who appeared to be performing it. As a Coen Brothers movie, it's no surprise that this film might have very good music to it, but this one even more so than others because it really was a musical -- in the most realistic way a movie can be a musical -- there was a song sung in the film at least every ten minutes by a wide variety of characters and they were the most easily enjoyable parts of the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them, but this one below was just too funny and stuck out so much that I have to share it -- though the more serious songs are definitely better musically:

The second thing, that I only truly enjoyed once the film was over, was the symbolism. There is some very fascinating symbolism in this movie -- and not only for the audience, because we are inside Llewyn Davis, the symbolism is something he sees too, and is, in retrospect, a very important part of the film. 

This going to take some Spoilers to explain, so skip over this next paragraph if you wish to avoid them.

Llewyn's singing partner committed suicide before the film even began, and the plot revolves around Llewyn trying to move on from that -- trying to become a solo act. But more than that, he is trying to make peace with his friend's suicide, and trying to understand him, because he realizes he didn't really. Llewyn is accidentally stuck with his friend's parent's cat, and that orange tabby becomes a symbol of Llewyn's misunderstanding of his friend, and the baggage his death left him with. That's why when he goes to Chicago to try and land a solo gig, he feels that he must leave the cat behind, and then while driving there hits (or imagines to hit) and injure a (the) cat -- feeling like he's betraying his friend by trying to move on. And that's why, once the cat is safe back with its owners, and Llewyn finally finds out what its name is, he suddenly has closure and begins to come into his own as a solo artist.

Great cinematography.

For the most part this film moves along unassumingly with absolutely no pomp or circumstance and no obvious purpose, but then, the way it ended was quite unexpected and made all that previous uneventfulness suddenly leave a large impression on me. That rather outstanding wrap-up, combined with my better understanding of the meaning of the film afterwards raised a film that was undoubtedly well made, and pretty interesting, and pretty entertaining, up to a fantastically unique and invitingly thoughtful film that made me think and get more and more out of it, hours after the credits had rolled and the last tune had been sung. And that's a movie and a mind I can appreciate being inside of.


  1. Oscar Isaac! Carey Mulligan! In a musical! ;D This certainly brooks looking into! How was it content-wise?

    1. Haha, yeah, but don't get too excited about the musical part; it's done very realistically so doesn't at all feel like one. ;) The music is so good though!

      Content-wise it wasn't great. It's rated R... for language only, but there was a good bit of it, and some was sexual.