Skip to content

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

December 23, 2013

inside_llewyn_davis_ver2It’s not a new development for me to leave a film angry. Cinema has always been able to affect me on a subterranean level that even I can’t comprehend at times. I’ve walked out of the movies an angry curmudgeon, a blubbering mess, in elated hope, and even in unabashed fear. Inside Llewyn Davis was one of those films that left me outraged as well as a hopeless dreary mess. Perhaps it was the overcast, bitter weather that swallowed Atlanta that day which paralleled the film’s powerfully dreary cinematography, but my entire day felt out of sorts after watching Inside Llewyn Davis. I was drained, exhausted, and angry at what I had just watched.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Issac) is a struggling folk singer in the 1961 during the early emergence of the folk scene. Opting to work for a dream, he spends many nights sleeping on couches and struggling with money. Bad luck and unfortunate circumstances add to the hardships Llewyn’s career faces just as much as his own ignorance and apathy keeps him in an ongoing cycle of making enemies and skating by day to day. Llewyn watches as all around him others seem to have success within the genre while his chance at a big break is sundered by repeated poor decisions and his general discontent with life. For days we follow Llewyn until he reaches the turning point of his career where he must decide if the couch surfing starving lifestyle is right for him or not.

Oh, what a Coen Brother’s thing to do in not giving audiences a solution— or even a problem for that matter. Llewyn’s journey of self-discovery just meanders on with no real point or meaning before it stops abruptly to no avail. Inside Llewyn Davis, like all of the Coen’s films, attempts to walk the line of surrealism and staunch reality, but it fails as the universe in which they strive to create becomes the obvious product of a fabrication severing any realism that is exhibited. Llewyn’s realm of reality exists at time when the folk scene was a pocketed genre of music breathing life in small coffee shops in urban areas. But, we never get to examine what urges the circle of singers in Llewyn’s life to the genre. We aren’t shown why these people are passionate about the genre and why they choose its struggling lifestyle when it has no promises of success as of yet.

inside llewyn davis whysoblu 2

The entire time while watching Inside Llewyn Davis I felt as though I was missing something. Although, my ears perked at every sound and vocal performance that rang through with gentle, captivating cadence, and my eyes stayed glued to the bleak rain-soaked cinematography that gave the film a rustic, aged look. I still felt like I had overlooked something. Scenes felt out of place and scattered in part to the disjunctive narrative that gives slight insight into Llewyn’s defeated psyche but places certain scenes out of context. Llywen is unlucky to some extent and his own ignorance and inaction is the cause for some of his problems which makes it hard to sympathize with him.  Even more difficult is making sense out of the mounting adversity which seems far too controlled by outside forces that affect him too.

Llewyn’s hardships are a product of his own ignorance and inability to formulate the desire to achieve anything. Yet, the eccentric people he encounters aren’t given the development needed to be considered sensible. A quiet drifter who refuses to talk to Llewyn, even going as far as to light up a cigarette moments after he tells Llewyn he’s out, suddenly opens up in conversation in the wee hours of the night during a road trip while everyone in the car sleeps. Another character with a secret heroin addiction overdoses in a restaurant but is treated as if nothing happened and the character soon after vanishes from the film as if his whole existence was phantasmic.


Llewyn Davis is a particularly unlikable guy. He’s quick-tempered, lacks tact and is self-absorbed. Many other film critics have referred to him as an “anti-hero,” but I rebuke that description seeing as throughout the entire film Llewyn never fights for or tries to achieve anything. During a conversation with his sister, Llewyn explains that he doesn’t want end up like their father and just “exist.” Llewyn instead craves to live. Oddly enough, Inside Llewyn Davis simply exists. It makes no statements nor gives any insight into the characters during this time period. It’s hardly s relatable story as Llewyn’s struggles are a manifestation of his own shortcomings and his livelihood exists in a very particular point in time. Llewyn considers singing to be his job. However, as a fellow musician and frienemy, Jean (Carey Mulligan) puts it, Llweyn doesn’t possess the drive to seek help with his career path. He lacks the fortitude to find new management despite being ripped off. He chooses to walk in icy, unforgiving snow instead of the dry welcoming of a street.


So, what’s the point? Why deliver this story of a hapless, unmotivated, semi-schlub who refuses to take responsibility? Life is hard enough. Why should I waste an hour and a half of my life watching the shit storm of someone else? Why tell the stagnant story of a folk singer who doesn’t even understand or care about the humanistic element that folk music revolves around? What makes Llewyn’s story important in lieu of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger or other folk musicians who used their music as an outlet to promote a shift in social consciousness? I can’t figure out the answers to these questions which made watching Inside Llewyn Davis so aggravating and pointless.

Sure, Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography perfectly embodies Llewyn’s somber existence and the winter mood with its gray and brown earthy tones and muted lighting. Oscar Issac and Cary Mulligan also use the film as a vehicle to showcase their extraordinary talent throughout. But, I just didn’t find them to work well enough to make this story worth being told. I didn’t relate to or care for Llewyn as a person, therefore, his journey seems irrelevantly fantastical despite the fact that ultimately nothing happens to him. The Coen’s have definitely had and their share of misses in their repertoire but Inside Llewyn Davis just might be the worst of them all.

AVOID IT. Had this film been made with all the exact same elements by a lesser known director, I don’t think it would receive half the praise it’s currently garnering.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 23, 2013 6:05 PM

    Nice post and blog.

    If there is any chance you like films from around the world from any period please check out my blog.


  1. A Year of Films to See and Avoid (2013) | The Cinephiliac
  2. Frances Ha (2013) | The Cinephiliac

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: