Folksy Llewyn Davis: A Review of the Coen Brothers’ Film

When I hear the term folk music, I immediately become nostalgic as I reminisce about artists such as Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. Although, I was born in the sixties, my taste in music is eclectic and I have listened to folk music as a way to validate my life experience.  I also enjoy the folksy music of Norah Jones.  In fact, just last night I found myself listening on my IPOD Bose Sound Dock to an old folk song by Peter Paul and Mary- Don’t Call Me Names.  With folk music as the backdrop for Inside Llewyn Davis, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, tell the story of Llewyn Davis’s total colossal failure even when his music is involved.  He has had limited success because he is informed that achieving financial success as a folk singer is difficult.  The scenes also help us to be transported back to the sixties via some of the classic automobiles and other props of the era.  The film begins and ends at the same point. We are first introduced to Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac, in a bar where he is soon brutally assaulted in its back alley.  We are not immediately told about the events that lead to the attack, but the film immediately begins with the depiction of Davis’s life. The cast of characters that help support the depiction of Davis includes Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake as Jean and Jim Berkey respectively, his two musician friends who have supported him in many ways.  Additionally, John Goodman’s role in the film is both comedic and tragic.

Davis has no home, but manages to ruin relationships with either friends or acquaintances with whom he stays with throughout the entire film. With each place that he stays, he has myriad challenges that hamper these relationships.  He loses his friend’s cat, his sister is disgusted with his behavior, he rants at the wife of a friend, and he fails to use prophylactics especially with a forbidden relationship. He is either held in high regard or in contempt both by friends and by acquaintances. The only solace he has is in his music, despite the challenges of receiving music gigs. The story focuses on the many failures and mammoth mistakes that Davis makes regarding his relationships with both family and friends.  He is indigent, but manages to fulfill himself sexually by impregnating two women, one of whom is the wife of his friend, Jim. He offers to pay for an abortion for her although he borrows the money from her unsuspecting husband. He later finds out that the other woman whom he impregnated, never had the abortion for which he previously paid.  Because he perpetually has no address and therefore no phone, (it’s the 60’s in which there is no cell phone) the doctor was unable to reimburse him for the money paid. As a result when he pays for Jean to have her abortion, the doctor says that he still has the money from the prior payment.  It is with this surplus, that he tries to start a new life-possibly as a marine shipman.  Even that desire becomes a financial challenge because nothing turns out as he hopes. The film takes us through his challenges of trying to stabilize what is left of his musical career after the suicide of his partner. He travels to Chicago, and he thinks of traveling to Ohio to find the girl that may have had his child.  In the end, he is battered and bruised as a result of his own disdainful behavior.  He never despairs of his music despite his inability to succeed prodigiously.

The score is what makes this film successful. Oscar Isaac sings  “Fare Thee Well” and “Hang me, Oh Hang Me”.  These songs are the signature pieces of the film which adds to the melancholy and pessimistic tone that possibly Davis can not achieve success either in his music or in his personal life.  The music is extraordinary for its catalytic propensity to catapult the audience back to the 60’s.  Even if folk music is not one’s passion, one can appreciate the music as it tells the story of Llewyn Davis.  I may just purchase the soundtrack to remember times past.

Although the film never allows us to go inside the mind of Llewyn Davis, the film’s purpose may not have been to inform us about his childhood experiences which may have been the incendiary device that causes the series of unfortunate events.  We are also not given background information on Davis’s past.  We are given no information for his failed relationships.  We never go inside Llewyn Davis to help us empathize with him.  Despite the film’s silence on his background, we sympathize with him because we want him to succeed paramountly with his music.  Although the market is saturated with quality films, if one is looking for a film without outrageous plot lines, without hedonism, without hyperbolic sex either visually or aurally, then this is a great film to watch.  I make this statement not facetiously, for I have seen many films during the last several months and “I’ve been all around this world” ( lyrics from the film).  It may not receive an Oscar or a Golden Globe award for best picture, but just possible it may receive one for Justin Timberlake’s song, “Please Mr. Kennedy.” Please, let there be just one hit song to further affirm such a classic film!

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