A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
The Coen brothers have grown a reputation over the years as among some of the best filmmakers ever. When it comes to visual story telling, their style is unmistakably brilliant almost every time. The way in which they seem to perfectly construct their films, hiding references and meanings within story and character leave audiences thinking and contemplating their films long after they have been viewed. I’m so pleased to announce that their latest Inside Llewyn Davis is certainly no exception to this, and is in many ways more accomplished than many of their earlier films. With films such as A Serious Man the Coen brothers took audiences magnificently far into the mind and life of its main character. With Barton Fink they skilfully portrayed a struggling artists desperately striving for a big hit. Inside Llewyn Davis takes influence from both of these characters and allows us to travel with Llewyn on his journey of despair and uncertainty.
The Coen brothers have created a brilliant, well fleshed out character in Llewyn Davis. A struggling musician who wonders from place to place searching for the chance to play his music. Llewyn is at first a difficult character to understand. He seems distant from the world around him, taking every chance he gets to put others down. He freely hands out sly comments to friends and fellow musicians about the lacking quality of other people’s music. He is very cold towards human interaction, often giving an impression of not caring about the feelings of others at all.
We learn early on about the death of Llewyn’s former singing partner Mike. This incident plays a huge role in understanding the character of Llewyn Davis, he gives a strong impression of isolation and loneliness, like something that was once so special has gone forever.
Llewyn is in many ways a misunderstood genius, his music and voice are incredible, he holds great passion for his music, often using it as the only pure way he can communicate to others. Llewyn is perhaps the most talented musician in the film. He still however struggles enormously to make ends meet however much he tries, this is one of the many points the film makes extraordinarily well. In this often harsh and cruel world, talent does not always mean success.
The film is more often than not a very cynical look at the life of a creative individual. His music is constantly being put down by people of higher stature. They see no money in what Llewyn is creating. His music is not what is “hot” and will not sell as easily as the more current music, so Llewyn is never given a chance pass the point of performing in clubs, however beautiful his music might be. This is a recurring theme in the work of the Coen brothers. The idea of business always having the upper hand on creativity, always being able to crush it for something with more worth. This is ironic for the reason that the Coen brothers themselves are a rare example of artists braking into the mainstream from something that at its core is not always as bankable as other filmmakers or projects may be. They have still however become extremely successful.
Many Coen brothers films are steeped in meaning and hidden substance with Inside Llewyn Davis this often comes in the form of a lost cat. While crashing at a friend’s house early in the film. Llewyn lets a family cat escape the house and is immediately faced with the situation of not being able to return it, because of this, Llewyn keeps the cat with him, taking it to houses he stays in and even on the underground tube. At first it seems that Llewyn does this to avoid getting into trouble, however with this cat he quickly develops a relationship. The cat seems to fill a gap in Llewyn’s existence. Other than his guitar, this cat is the only thing that Llewyn puts himself out for and genuinely cares about. The cat runs away and returns to Llewyn in various forms throughout the film, sometimes seeming not real, sometimes seeming like a different cat. Either way this cat symbolises a connection very deep within Llewyn, perhaps still from his lost partner or from his failing music.
The film is undoubtedly cold and withdrawn, with browns and blues dominating the colour palate. Despite this the screen remains beautiful in a vintage and timeless way. The world is beaten and wounded, yet still manages to withhold hope between its seam. One of the films highlights is its music. The pieces are wonderfully constructed with a romantic folk tone, one that reduces all pain in the world of the characters and places them in moments of wonder for small amounts of time. Music is used to say so much in the film, at some very personal and difficult moments to express feelings the characters cannot always show on their own.
Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis does a great job in the lead role he fits every note of the character and sounds great when singing and performing. The music in the film was all done live on set, meaning the cast could not rely on post-production studio work. When taking this to mind it is extraordinary to believe the amount of great performing work executed in the film to an extremely high level.
Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the years best and is no let up in the career’s of the Coen brothers. With this film they show us that they are still at the very top of their game. They construct a film deep with emotion and meaning. The way in which they take us inside the world of Llewyn Davis shows a high level of cinematic story telling, on par with their very best work.
Darrell Ron Tuffs
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