Reflection on Inside Llewyn Davis: A Struggling Persona in Changing Times

Anchored by a career-defining performance by Oscar Isaac and other superb and well-placed casts, Inside Llewyn Davis eschews a traditional “rags-to-riches” narrative normally associated with tales of its kind. Such tale is in favor of a somber and melancholic story of a musician trying to make ends meet in a changing time. It’s the Coens’ most restrained work to date.

Oscar Isaac in a career-defining Inside Llewyn Davis (credit: StudioCanal)

Inside Llewyn Davis is set in the 1960s Greenwich Folk music scene. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a wandering musician struggling to make chunks of change by performing in bars, trying to make it as a solo artist. The story follows a week in his life, as he goes from gigs to gigs, surfing between couches simply because he has no place to live.  Llewyn hopes for a break in his career, despite almost losing his love for music. Oh, and he has to carry a cat while doing it.

There are a lot of interesting things one can say about Inside Llewyn Davis. Among them would probably be Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography, which so aptly captures Lllewyn’s listlessness and desolation as he trudges through his meagre existence, or simply the well-rounded cast. Moreover, I’d like to give a special nod to the depiction of our titular character itself. It’s superb, multi-faceted work, both in terms of writing and performance.

Greenwich Willage Folk music scene portrayed in a story inspired by Dave Von Ronk’s life (credit: StudioCanal)

This is probably the Coens’ best character writing since Barton Fink

Most Folk dramas would have depicted Llewyn as a sympathetic character with no moral faults. The Coens’ and Isaac, however, eschew that in favour of constructing a figure that has definitely been unfairly treated in certain respects, but is not exactly a saint either. It makes sense to feel sorry for Llewyn as his rendition of Ewan Maccoll’s Shoals of Herring met with his Dad’s cold disapproval. However, one shouldn’t also forget that Llewyn has a tendency of rejecting people who show him an ounce of kindness. This is probably the Coens’ best character writing since Barton Fink. Isaac certainly makes the most of it.

Carey Mulligan as Jean Berkey in Inside Llewyn Davis (credit: StudioCanal)

There’s no romanticism in Inside Llewyn Davis. No Hollywood ending in sight. I almost teared up watching this movie, as it shows a character clinging on to a small sliver of hope that his existence means something, even if others have grown tired of it.

Faiz Aziz, Jakarta Cinema Club

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