MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By CBS Films
On Blu-Ray, DVD, Amazon Instant, iTunes and Video On Demand
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan.
Joel and Ethan Coen have been making movies that defy easy categorization for decades. Inside Llewyn Davis is no exception, combining nostalgia, music, satire, comedy and tragedy in a way that is hard to describe but also hard to forget.
The title character (Isaac) is an accomplished folk singer trying to break out of the Greenwich Village music scene of 1961. His moment of early fame came as part of a two-man group; that moment was so fleeting, Davis still has boxes of unsold vinyl albums on hand. Times are so bleak that he sleeps on couches in friends’ apartments. And his attitude is so bleak, he has a habit of alienating even those who try to care for him, including Jean (Mulligan), an ex-girlfriend, and Mitch and Lillian Gorfein (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett), a Columbia professor and his wife.
I heard one film critic say that Llewyn’s life is “death haunted” and that is a good way to sum up this movie. Rather than confronting mortality, Llewyn pushes away from it; even on a road trip, grief is never far away. And what better songs to accompany this theme than early folk music, with its stories of injustice, hangings and unrequited love? The music is quite wonderful and Oscar Isaac is not only a talented actor but also a good singer and guitarist. The film is full of accomplished musicians playing their own instruments and the music does a nice job of underscoring the film’s quiet pain and also evoking an optimistic time in America, with John F. Kennedy as president and Bob Dylan just around the corner.
The trademark Coen brothers’ humor is never far away, including a goofy novelty song about the space race (“Please Mr. Kennedy”, written for this film) and a jazz loving, folk music hater (John Goodman) who shares a drive to Chicago with Llewyn (driving past the Akron, Ohio exit ramp).
The fame that Llewyn Davis seeks may be just out of reach, but his redemption may be even harder to grasp. The existential angst and the absence of God are formidable deterrents to a joyful life. But then, there is always the music to bring joy out of tragedy.
The film is shot in a muted color scheme that my memory recalls as black-and-white.
You may wonder why anyone would want to watch a film of this kind; if so, I suggest that you give it a pass. If you are intrigued and want to experience yet another singular work of art by the Coen brothers, by all means give this a rental.
Three halos: A melancholy remembrance of the early folk music scene, filtered through unresolved grief and loss.
One pitchfork: For pervasive swearing throughout; a self-centered antihero.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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