Inside Llewyn Davis movie poster.One Step Behind In Life
Inside Llewyn Davis
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham, Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan
Directors/Scriptwriters: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Soundtrack on StudioCanal Records
CBS Films
Rating: R for language and themed material
Running Length: 105 Minutes
Back to the Sixties, when folk songs were king, you expressed yourself in them, sadly, mournfully and rarely with humor. The Coen Brothers (remember Fargo?) take us back to this time with the character of Llewyn (pronounced Lou-in) Davis, a folk singer/guitarist who travels through the Midwest trying to find work. A running joke here is Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) trying to find a place to sleep every night. Along the way, he meets many musicians on their way up including Bob Dylan. The story of Llewyn is loosely based on the life of Dave Von Ronk, who sings one of the songs on the soundtrack. Folk is not advancing and, in fact, may be heading down a bit with rock on the way up. Is there a place for Llewyn Davis in this new world?  Oscar Isaac, by the way, has a great voice and gets the lyrics out. His character travels with a guitar, backpack and a stray orange cat he found along the way. This is another running joke as he keeps trying to find the owner of the cat that sticks to him like glue.
The film opens with Davis (Isaac) sitting on a bar stool on a small stage in a dimly lit café singing “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.”  This seems the epitome of his life and from here, he travels to Chicago trying for that big break and a paycheck. He has little money and always looks for a place to sleep for the night. He is supposed to leave the cat outside, but manages to open a window for it. People feel sorry for him. Hanging around recording studios he hears other artists, such as Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan). Discussions with fellow artists are sometimes raw, usually concerning women and relationships. It is the ambience of the Sixties, along with a background movie poster of The Incredible Journey. There is humor here, also, and brutality. For money, Davis offers to drive a businessman (a crude John Goodman) as a chauffeur and gets in over his head. Finally, he gives up and wants to go back to his job as a seaman but can't find his license, no money for the fee and you can see the pattern of his life continues from one career to another. Always in step with the music but one step behind in life, with an element of danger from the streets, too.
Newcomer Oscar Isaac plays the musician as a man who can't quite grasp life. Forgetting things is part of his persona, as is helping stray animals. We all know people like this. In today’s world, even if they had a personal organizer, it would be misplaced soon. What is projected to the audience is a love for music, and in this instance, it is folk music, mostly of a sad nature, as this is Davis’ life right now. Hope is going down like the sun does every night. The characters he meets try to help but eventually patience wears thin. You wonder when Davis’s patience with himself will wear thin, too, and even the cat’s patience with him. The last verse of “Farewell” (Bob Dylan) says it all, “Oh, the weather is against me…and the rain…I still might strike it lucky…on a path beaten trail.”
The Coen Brothers have a symbol in their films and it usually is a hat, either worn by someone or placed nearby (reference The Coen Brothers film, Barton Fink) In this particular movie, it is the cat, either carried by Davis or sitting nearby. No one knows what this means but to the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, it is like a moving signature.
I didn't know quite what to expect when I attended Inside Llewyn Davis. What I found was a portrait of a talented artist with little direction, stuck with himself and not knowing how to get out of “himself” and get going. There were many artists like this in the Sixties and we wonder where they are now?  Inside Llewyn Davis is not a comfortable place to be.
Side Note: Oscar Isaac was born in Guatemala, attended Juilliard and was in the 2010 movie, Robin Hood.
Copyright 2013 Marie Asner
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