Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

Will Spencer 30 January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis possesses a sincerity rarely matched in the Coen brothers’ previous twenty-nine years as filmmakers. Set in folksy 1961 New York, it documents the tribulations of Llewyn Davis as he struggles for success as a singer/songwriter.

Though punctuated with increasingly dark humour, the film is steeped in the despair of its protagonist’s isolation. Previously one half of a moderately successful folk duo, Llewyn has fallen on hard times after his singing partner’s suicide. His quest to make it as a solo artist appears doomed after numerous pitfalls, but Llewyn stubbornly continues. He is particularly scorned by Jill (Carey Mulligan), who blames him for accidentally impregnating her in an extramarital fling.

Oscar Isaac imbues Llewyn’s apparent self-absorption with a humanity which renders his acting compelling viewing. His brooding magnetism ensures that the film is not a simple cautionary tale, but a study of the endurance of the human spirit, his misfortune as much a product of his harsh environment as his own presumption. Llewyn’s more prosperous competitors are laughable, particularly Jill’s vacuous husband Jim (suitably, Justin Timberlake).

Ulysses, the domestic feline which Llewyn lets stray, ultimately returns to its owners, but Llewyn’s fated journey continues, the heroism of the mythical Ithacan unattainable in an unforgiving world dominated by personal financial plight. His singlemindedness may be merely foolish, or conversely commendable. Either way, the film’s dénouement impressively encapsulates the hopelessness at its heart. An elaborated repetition of the opening scene, it mirrors Llewyn’s life: ceaselessly circular but bookended by futility. The fleeting glimpse of a young Bob Dylan is a heartrending reminder of what might have been.

9/10

For fans of…

A Serious Man

Walk the Line

On the Road