Inside Llewyn Davis, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen (2013)
Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song) / Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford
If I had wings like Noah’s dove
I’d fly the river to the one I love
Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well
So sure as the bird flying high above
Life ain’t worth living without the one you love
The film lives within the music. Llewyn Davis’s soul inhabits the lyrics. And yet, he is a troubled and irritable musician who can’t seem to find the right footing in his career, or the right audience, to express the vast grief that he lays bare in his compositions. One could pity him and argue that he grew up in the ‘wrong generation,’ a generation that seems to have fallen out of love with Folk music. However, as we delve ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, he never fully redeems himself of his shameless behaviour. Indeed, life as an artist is a struggle, and that’s exactly what his art is—a means to survival, of subsisting emotionally and physically. He can’t reconcile with the demands of the business, and yet as much as he complains, he always returns to his guitar. Penniless.
Though Davis is not a personable character, he isn’t entirely despicable; there’s a melancholy and tiredness that seems all too understandable for artists in solitude. His caustic, self-serving, and forthright attitude also cements itself as the humour throughout—though I’m sure for the characters he encounters it isn’t as funny as it is uncomfortable, disappointing, and utterly frustrating.
Although plentiful with charismatic, albeit minor, supporting roles (Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, even Adam Driver’s fleeting screen time, are all fantastic), the Coen brothers never detract from their main man, Llewyn Davis, and Oscar Isaac plays his role tremendously.
I can’t help but recall what I read from a review, which was a quote from the Coen brothers, on the protagonists that they create: “What’s interesting to us are the people you know that are very good at what they do but aren’t necessarily successful." It aptly describes the unambitious, but clearly talented, Llewyn Davis. What’s also fairly interesting to note (not only that the cat that treads alongside him is called ‘Ulysses’) is that the main theme, "Fare Thee Well," is titled "If I Had Wings" in the film. "If I Had Wings" is indicative of an earlier time in his life, perhaps when Davis was more hopeful and less of a vagabond deadbeat—before his duo partner jumped off the George Washington Bridge.
The film could have narratively been about a lot of different things, concerning itself with different characters, and different plots. But Inside Llewyn Davis is essentially plotless and more of a character study, one that doesn’t take us all the way ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ through the script, but rather through his music. Davis is a character defined by many untold stories that reside within himself. He’s on a single path that’s met by many bumps, as life can be sometimes, but he sees no other roads he can take.
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