Through the clanking of glasses and soft mutterings, navigates his voice …
“Hang me, Oh hang me” he croons….“Hang me, Oh hang me..I’ll be dead and gone”
The new Coen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, shepherds us into a week in the life of Greenwich village folk singer; Llewyn Davis (Oscar Issac), trying to find a gig that pays his dues, and is befitting of his talent. Llewyn goes from one couch to the next, away from the owners, who await his arrival after he’s exhausted the charity of all his friends in the five boroughs, with boxes full of things he’d left behind.
Llewyn’s music, as told by a big shot representative, isn’t meant to make money. It isn’t likable enough. His music would deeply affect those who like it, but most won’t like it to begin with. So Llewyn exists with the help of his friends; Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carry Mulligan) who find him single paying gigs, his sister (Jeanine Serralis) who hates his every decision, Mr. and Mrs. Gorfien (Ethan Phillios and Robbin Bartlet) who are friends of his dead partner and give him food and lodgings whenever he needs and along multitude of others he encounters this week, always asking for help.
Llewyn is, whilst couch surfing, trying to earn his next paycheck, with the help of his artistic ego, his old Gibson and the gingerly ginger cat.
The art direction and cinematography in the film are immersive, and more importantly, successful in their attempt to mirror the Pre-Dylan world of American folk music. The five boroughs are pale, blue and cold, which accentuates the simpler beauty of the time, and of the ginger cat who walks around like a comet waiting to strike any moment in Llewyns gloomy world.
Every Coen brother’s film is filled with great performances (No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, True Grit), and Inside Llewyn Davis is no exception. From Justin Timberlake’s magnificent beard, Carry Mulligan’s sass, and John Goodman being the oblivious old guy, all parts are flawlessly executed.
Every character in the story comes in contact with us through their interactions with Llewyn, and do not exist independent of him.
The film puts enormous pressure on Oscar Issac as the entire canvas is filled with scattered pieces held together by Llewyn. In return, Issac delivers a performance which gives the film its big thumping heart. He is selfish because he is struggling to care for people after the his partner had thrown himself off the Washington bridge. Without him he is a man going nowhere, devoid of any sense of direction, blowing in the wind. We can feel his melancholy, his existential crossroads as he struggles with the choice of whether to make money or save his narcissistic soul, with a delirious nervous tension which hangs over the entire film. Oscar Isaac’s performance is transcendent and is allowed to step outside the confines of the coloring book because of the music, the absolutely magical music that Isaac sings himself, which takes his performance to a place where Coen brothers have no control and his part; his Llewyn becomes independent of the their grand canvas.
The film works like clockwork but what makes it truly masterful are the isolated moments which the Coen’s create by letting the camera wander for an extra second. It allows us to stumble on to the realization of the randomness of happiness and sadness, and that we only become aware of each, when we let ourselves feel something for just an extra second.
Llewyn looking at the cat beading away into the nights, him realizing what Jean had done to get him a meaningless gig, and lastly Llewyn curiously looking at the 16 year old who he would have to share his nightly bounty with, the kid who would change everything, whom the world would soon know as Bob Dylan.
Inside Llewyn Davis is the reason we go to theaters. Its poetic in its conception and masterful in its execution and I urge you to watch this beautiful, gut-wrenching, delicate, delicate piece of art.
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