So here it is. The movie I have waited years for. The Coen Bros. have a good shot at being the best filmmakers on the planet. Their latest flick is among the best they’ve ever done. I’ll just go ahead and say that this is possibly the best movie of the year. We’ll see if The Wolf of Wall Street can top it, but it’ll have to be something special to do that. I consider the Coen’s best films to be (in no order) No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man, Barton Fink, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and now Inside Llewyn Davis. All of them are fantastic movies. What they all have in common is the thread that makes all Coen movies special. They are about an ordinary guy at a very odd or extraordinary time. Their films have religion and greek mythology in their symbolism. Inside Llewyn Davis is no different.
This is a film about Llewyn Davis, an arrogant yet sympathetic folk singer in the early 1960’s. This is before Bob Dylan broke on to the scene and the film simply follows Llewyn for a week in his life. Llewyn is a man just trying to make it in life, yet bad things keep happening to him. Is the universe against him? Is fate sending him down this never-ending cycle of failure and sadness or is it his own ego and arrogance that causes this pain?
The Coen’s send Llewyn through a metaphorical journey that’s magnitude is far more than what you’re simply watching. It’s a tale similar to Homer’s Odyssey among other things. One of the characters name is even Ulysses. Llewyn divides people into two groups, careerists and losers. He’s certainly not a careerist. It’s Llewyn’s depth as a character and Oscar Issac’s profound performance that make us care for him. At times it’s deeply emotional. Even the simplest of shots and looks on Llewyn’s face is heartbreaking.
Carey Mulligan has a role as Jean, a former girlfriend of Llewyn’s and she has a certain charm to her that makes the super dry humor in the film pop. The banter and comedic timing between characters is perfect and gives the film a another level of entertainment. In classic Coen’s fashion the supporting characters are just as memorable as the main character. John Goodman has a smaller role as a traveling musician and his character is one of the most puzzling. There’s also a cat that will mystify you as well. That’s part of the wonder of this film though. It asks big questions and doesn’t answer them in a straight way. Inside Llewyn Davis makes All Is Lost’s big questions seem like a first grade pop quiz. (note that I liked All Is Lost)
That’s the power of the Coen’s. The levels that this film works on is quite incredible and it can be read so many different ways. Like I said, you’ll find yourself asking what does that character mean? Or why is that happening? The Coen’s eye for detail is why this film is magnificent. The cinematography is bleak and dark yet the snowy city has never looked so beautiful. The folk music is such a pleasure to listen to and pay attention to the lyrics, specifically towards the end. The richness of this film is like a novel written with the deepest of details. The film drags at a few points and doesn’t feel as iconic or memorable as some of the Coen’s flicks, but it’s one of the best crafted. The character study here might possibly be the best the Coen’s have ever done.
The nature of fate or destiny is brought into question while also contemplating the view of how we see the world. The world is not black and white. It’s gray and the Coen’s clearly know this. And the ending is one of the best of the year. I’m not sure what to make of all this yet and I will spend weeks contemplating the film in my head. That’s the pleasure of a film like this though. It takes us so far into the character that it becomes a part of you. It strikes a chord that you relate to because we all were Llewyn at one time. The Coen’s raise questions about art and ourselves in the most intriguing ways that they ever have.