Sometimes to truly find out if someone is a noble person, you have to see how they behave in terrible conditions. It’s easy to be a good person when things are going your way. You’re happy, positive, and want to reflect your happiness on others. However, only the truly wonderful people are ones that are able to remain their positive selves even when things aren’t going their way. Inside Llewyn Davis is directed by the Coen Brothers and stars Oscar Isaac as a struggling folk singer in New York City’s Greenwich Village, in the early 1960s. It’s safe to say things aren’t going his way. He has completely hit rock bottom. His music partner and best friend recently committed suicide, he is struggling to get a big break in his music career, and he is homeless and forced to sleep on other people’s couches. We are never told just exactly how Llewyn Davis was before his partner committed suicide. I like to think he was a good person. His music career was probably going fine, and he had many friends and colleagues who cared for him. However, what is left of Llewyn, as we see throughout the film, is pretty much a bitter, cynical man who is sick of the world, and frankly the world is starting to get sick of him.
To see the goodness in Llewyn, just look at his scenes with the cat. The only good, empathetic things Llewyn really does is take care of the cat(s). He feels bad that he accidentally lets the cat out of his friend’s apartment and tries to find it and bring it back. When he loses the cat, he feels terrible. And soon after feels relieved when he finds the cat again, not knowing it is actually a completely different cat. When he brings the second cat back to his friends and they tell him he got the wrong cat, he ends up keeping it and becomes a caretaker for the cat. However, even worse things begin to happen for Llewyn, and at a turning point in the film, he leaves the cat for good in the car, leaving behind the only good in him he had left, and in return, becoming only a shell of the man he used to be. (It’s hard to tell, but I think he ends up running over that same cat later on in the film).
Oscar Issac gives, in my opinion, one of the great acting performances of the decade. Not only does he have to sing and play guitar, but he has the tricky task of portraying a character who is frankly a jerk, but the audience still needs to sympathize with him. Part of the reason why we sympathize with him is the tragedy that happens to him, but so much more bad things happen, and it’s his subtle somberness and wistfulness that allows us to continue to root for him until the very end. Issac also finds a way to make his bigotry very humorous at times. He is an unlikable character, but somehow that makes him likable which is an act that I think is even more remarkable than his incredible guitar playing. A true breakout performance for one of the great actors of our generation.
The Coen brothers directed this film, showing once again their love for American folk music, having directed another favorite of mine O Brother, Where Art Thou which features a great selection of classic folk songs. Another thing the two films have in common is incredible cinematography. With O Brother, the Coens were blessed to have the great Roger Deakins shoot their film, and with Inside, the Coens brought on board the great French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel who shoots one of the best looking films of the decade. The dark grey, black, and brownish color palette of the entire film perfectly reflects the inner being of Llewyn. The lighting and shadow portrayed throughout the film are pitch perfect and create a specific tone that not only fits the characters, but the time period as well. Even though this is a pretty depressing film, the Coens do a great job of combining their great humor, so the film never feels too bleak and depressing.
The Coens do a great job of playing with our expectations throughout the entire film. Just look at the scenes with Llewyn performing in front of the big-shot manager, Bud Grossman in Chicago, and his ailing father back in New York. In both cases, Llewyn gives incredibly moving and touching acoustic performances. The Coens do a great job of slowly maneuvering the camera back and forth from between each character in the scenes, not allowing us to know how the men think about Llewyn’s playing until he finishes. We expect in both cases for the men to clap and give him a standing ovation and say it was incredible, because that is exactly how we feel, but instead both are left with boredom and despair. The same unexpectedness can be said about the entire film. We expect, like in most films, for the character of Llewyn to completely turnaround and make a realization that he needs to become a better person, or for a big break to happen in his career, and for someone to understand his greatness, but it never happens. We have been fooled on many occasions, watching many Hollywood movies where characters change their lives and for everything to get better, but the simple fact is, in the real world, that rarely happens. Inside Llewyn Davis paints the simple truth that sometimes your life will never change, and maybe your life has already peaked.
One can only wonder what might have happened if Llewyn remained positive and optimistic just a little big longer. If he didn’t end up drunkenly taunting the poor woman (played by actual 60s folk musician Nancy Blake) at the end of the film, maybe it would have been him instead of Bob Dylan who became the pop-culture figure who revitalized folk music in America. I believe that is what the Coens were trying to tell us when they showed Bob Dylan at the end of this film. You never know when that big break in your life is gonna happen, so keep fighting and remain resilient until it happens, no matter what brings you down. Unfortunately, in Llewyn’s cases, he lets his demons and depression get the best of him, and we see what happens to him at the end of this film. A bitter ending to a tragic character. Fare thee well, poor Llewyn, fare thee well.
Best scene: With all the incredibly sad scenes that are portrayed throughout this entire film, it is the funny ones that I loved the most. The best example is the performance of “Please Mr. Kennedy” by Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, and Adam Driver. The last three guys you would expect to sing a folk song together, but they really pull it off. While watching it, I never knew if what I was watching was terrible or amazing. It’s a song that isn’t nearly as good as the other songs that Llewyn performs through the film, but it is frankly the most memorable. And it was even nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes, which is ironic because it was meant to be the epitome of everything that can be wrong with folk music. With the being said, it is truly one very entertaining and humorous scene, and one that really sticks out in a film that is actually pretty tragic. Here is a link to the scene: https://youtu.be/lSwO-k-RqNA