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Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): A Somber Reflection of Purpose

The Coen Brothers have created some of the most rewatchable films of all time, which range from the classic dark comedy Fargo to the intense western No Country for Old Men they have created some of the best films ever. So why did Inside Llewyn Davis fly under the radar for many film goers?

Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) is a broke folk musician who gets by living off the couches of whomever he meets. Living in The Village in New York City, he is trying his best to get by while also coping with the death of his best friend and music partner. After running around in circles, he hears about an opportunity to play at a big time bar in Chicago. So he takes the journey to Chicago in order to catch what might be his big break.

Ok, this film is heavy. It is not an easy watch for any audience by any means; that is mostly because of our hard-to-like lead Llewyn Davis and the solemn tone of the film. Even the grey color scheme portrays the story and main character’s very indifferent outlook on life as he trudges through trying to find his purpose. This film can be very well done though, it took me two watch-throughs to completely fall in love with the film.

Inside Llewyn Davis would not work without our main lead Oscar Isaac in the role. Who has quickly established himself as one of the most versatile actors of the 21st century. Davis is not a really nice guy, acting like a high and mighty jerk throughout most of the runtime, but what makes him so empathetic is his desire to find purpose after he lost his best friend to suicide and how he struggles to copes with it. He also has a relatable drive to him that keeps Davis playing music even though he is fighting an uphill battle. Other performances like Carey Mulligan’s Jean are great, since she acts like the female version of Llewyn, plus her insults are next level sass. Each character has some level of asshole to them, but one character, Jim (played by Justin Timberlake) does not. Playing the straight musician adapting to the changing musical landscape; he is the only genuine nice guy on the cast, even giving Llewyn a gig on a new song recording.

The story is something that has been done before in the media, although I don't believe it has been done this meticulously well. When the film starts, Davis gets beaten up by a stranger in an alleyway behind a bar, but then we jump to him on a couch thinking it either happened the night before or it was a dream. What we don’t realize is that the film started right away at the end, then looped back around to where it started. It may be a little confusing saying it, but watching the story play out this way reveals how tragic Llewyn’s life really is. As he will be in a constant loop of making poor decisions, bad breaks, and rejection. It also gives the themes of purpose real weight in the story, as he wanders aimlessly and hopelessly in a circle that is now his life, with very little purpose.

What I didn’t expect to play so well in this film was the music. Most of these songs are more reinventions of classic folks songs from the era, with the exception of “Please Mr. Kennedy” which was actually co-written by Justin Timberlake and The Coen Brothers. Songs such as “Fare Thee Well” and “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” perfectly describe the tone, our main character, and the themes this film tries to convey. What is most surprising is how well some of these compositions are sung. Especially Oscar Isaac’s rendition of “Fare Thee Well” at the end, it is really beautiful.

Even though the Coen Brothers are more famous for their dark comedies like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, and more serious crime thrillers such as No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis truly stands out from the pack. With very natural and sincere writing for the cast, along with some very relatable themes it is shocking that not a whole lot of people are talking about it. Although its somber tone and unlikeable characters may keep a portion of the audience away, it would be foolish to write it off after a first viewing. A lot like the other Coen Brothers classics, Inside Llewyn Davis ages like a fine wine.

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