This was, incidentally, the first Coen Brothers film I’d seen in a theatre. It was an experience well worth it.
Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a struggle – one man’s struggle to come to terms with his own underachievement. It is not a pretty sight to watch (although the cinematography is beautiful) Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) go from one failure to another. To compound his misery, he is haunted by the death of his singing partner. He has no home, and lives by skipping from one couch to another in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. I wouldn’t call him a loser, but I have to concede that it is a tempting proposition.
One morning, while he is about to leave, the house cat escapes, and he is locked out. Mornings cannot possibly get any worse.
Except that they can. And often do.
Llewyn learns that he may just be the father of the child being carried by Jean (Carey Mulligan)…. who lives with Jim (Justin Timberlake). He agrees to pay for the abortion, naturally. But not before he’s given a piece of innovative advice on condom wearing by a furious Jean in one of the most hilarious scenes of the film.
After failing to get any money out of either them or his sister, Llewyn is invited to perform with Jim for a recording. The recording scene, without exception, is my favourite scene in the film, and a small masterpiece in itself. It showcases everything that is good about the film: the acting, the wonderful use of music, subtle humour, and of course that special dose of Coen Brothers’ magic.
I wanted the scene to go on forever, but like all perfect things, it lasted just long enough. With a sigh, I let myself be led on by Llewyn, who then heads to Chicago and seeks out Bud Grossman (F Murray Abraham).
But to get there, he needs transport. When Llewyn got into a car with two musicians and I discovered who they were, I stopped regretting that the earlier scene had ended, because one of them was the magnificently irascible Roland Turner- played by the inimitable John Goodman, determined to rewrite the role of a character who can broadly be described simply as “pain in the ass”.
After a misadventure or two, he leaves a knocked out Roland alone in the car, and gets to Chicago, only to have a not exactly encouraging audience with Bud.
Llewyn returns downcast and goes to make up with his estranged dad, but like his other endeavours, it too ends far from success. Any man ought to be broken at this point, but he seems to be able to march on nonetheless.
The film begins, and ends with a scene where our man is being given a good beating. The first time I felt a tinge of curious sympathy for him. The second time, not so much. Perhaps that says more about the man than his singing.
Then there is the cat, the damned cat which gives poor Llewyn so much pain. He makes a quick exit through an open door, jumps out through an open window, he appears to return (sans his scrotum, as we learn to our amusement), and Llewyn even appears to mow him down on the highway.
We don’t know where he’s been, but I’m sure he went places, and got into a lot of trouble.
His name, Llewyn and I learnt, fittingly enough, is Ulysses, and he gets home at the end. And that is all that matters.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a beautifully made film, with a wonderful soundtrack, and topped off with gorgeous cinematography throughout. I watched the film peacefully, sat through the end credits and went home a happy man.