Inside Llewyn Davies has been nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing, the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical which must surely qualify as “critical acclaim”. However, many people who see the film dislike it intensely. So what is it about the Coen brother’s latest offering?
The first point of divergence in opinion is on the music. Some people love it, others hate it. If you don’t like folk music (and I don’t) parts of this film can be as excruciating as having toenails drawn. If you’re a folk music fan and especially if you’re over 60, you will love this film. It’s really that simple.
The second point of divergence in opinion is over the main character, Llewyn Davis played by Oscar Isaac.
To many he is charming, focused and otherworldly. To others, he is feckless and irresponsible.
” Where you stand depends upon where you sit.”
If you believe that people should have “a direction in life”, you will be infuriated by the Llewyn Davis character. If you believe that people should be true to their artistic talent, you will sympathise with him. Again, it’s really that simple.
This is what makes Inside Llewyn Davies such a great film and possibly a greater film than Blue Jasmine. It is difficult for the audience to extract the slightest bit of sympathy for Jasmine. In fact, very few people feel sorry for her in the final scenes. Again, this is what makes Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of judgement so brilliant. She can maintain a fundamentally unsympathetic character throughout an entire film.
The Coen brothers add an extra dimension to Llewyn Davis in that the character divides the audience into likes and dislikes You can understand why some people are infuriated by Llewyn and wish to participate in the opening and closing scenes where he gets whacked around in the alleyway. But you can also understand why people sympathise with him, as do most of the characters in the film.
The Coen brothers not only hold a mirror up to nature but hold a mirror up to the audience as well. We can see our own prejudices reflected. In part, this is what makes this such a good film.
There are other touches that you would expect of filmmakers of this standard. A travelling cat called Ulysses, who may or may not be Llewyn’s musical partner, Mike, who has committed suicide. Again, you can see Llewyn’s decision to abandon the cat in the car trip, and then appearing to run it over later as well as his success in restricting it to the apartment at the end of the film as indicative that he has moved on from his grief.
Or you can simply see Llewyn’s relationship with the cat as the only one in which he has a modicum of success and even then he abandons it in the middle of a snowstorm almost about the same time that he decides not to visit the woman who has had his child and is now living in Akron.
The film opens and closes with the same scene of Llewyn being beaten up in an alley behind the Gaslight Cafe. Again, do the Coen brothers show this scene at the beginning of the film as a flashforward and then show how Llewyn came to be in that situation?
Or is it a little more complex? Has Llewyn’s life simply gone round in a circle? Have all experiences of the film taken him nowhere? The sad thing about it is the second time round he be will doing that without the cat.