Inside Llewyn Davis another Coen inside joke

lars logoINSPIRED – I have now seen the Coen Brothers’ most recent film, Inside Llewyn Davis, four times, and am prepared to admit that upon further and much closer examination…I whiffed on it the first time.

They got me.

I should have known by the soft edges of the frame, by the consistent imagery of trains and elevators and long endless roads to nowhere.

I should have recognized the steady unraveling of events fueled by exaggerated circumstances and characters leaving Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) in a perpetual state of frustration and anxiety.

The cat named Ulysses should have been a dead giveaway.

Oh well. I’m glad I knew well enough to take another look.

Much like their early masterpiece, Barton Fink, this film is a prolonged dream sequence, the torment of the artist.

Llewyn davisWhile Barton Fink examined the Coen’s dark interpretation of writer’s block and the living hell of that isolated art form, Inside Llewyn Davis spends its time scratching the scab off of the raw wound of being a unique storytelling voice in an industry that not only values formulas, but rewards mediocrity. They use folk music as their vehicle here to express their mutual disdain for the commerce machinery of the arts, but…it’s Hollywood they are lampooning.

Watching it over and over again, I am now totally in love with this film – with Llewyn’s depressed bewilderment at the musical acts that thrive around him while his song writing, obviously a cut above all else in the story, is barely applauded and ultimately rejected by the Faustian producer at the end of the road (played superbly by F. Murray Abraham).

Llewyn rises to the occasion beautifully in an impromptu audition under the microscope of the industry gatekeeper. The song Llewyn sings for the ungracious bean counter is pitch perfect, from the heart, and bursting with talent. But it’s rejected with a smirk.

“I don’t see a lot of money here,” Abraham’s Bud Grossman tells him.

Is it self-indulgent, at this point in Joel and Ethan’s celebrated careers, to still be playing the “misunderstood and unappreciated artist” card? With multiple Oscars on their mantles (Fargo and No Country for Old Men), probably. But it’s that edge, that chip on their Minnesota shoulders, that keeps them fresh – and more importantly, vital.

We need the Coen Brothers to keep searching like Ulysses, even if, like poor Llewyn Davis, they some times can’t even get out to sea.

Thankfully, for all of us who love the Coens and their unique brand of storytelling, they didn’t listen to those many voices along their Odyssey who told them they didn’t “see a lot of money here.”


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