Review: Inside Llewyn Davis


P&LFF’s Top 1 film of the year 2013 won the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes Film Festival – “Inside Llewyn Davis” is the most mature and structured film by Joel & Ethan Coen. The film has the folk music’s melancholy, a smart and funny quality and is about the folk musician Llewyn Davis in 1961, Greenwich Village, New York City.


Disregarded by Oscar Academy with only 2 nominations: Best Achievement in Cinematography and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, probably due to it’s No Hollywood Happy Ending storyline, the film is however the critics’ favourite and ironically, like the character Llewyn walks in the snow with a pair of broken soaking wet shoes, a musician sings melancholy folk songs which is obviously beautiful today but not appreciated by many back then.


Llewyn, played by Osacar Isaac, sleeps from sofa to sofa at his friends and acquaintances in New York City. He is a talented but under-rated, folk song musician and singer, who refuses to compromise commercially, lives in poverty, loneliness, with his music career frustrated ever since his duo partner jumped off the George Washington Bridge. He got his friend Jean (Carey Mulligan) pregnant, who is the wife of another friend, Jim, delightedly played by Justin Timberlake.  The couple is a popular folk duo with a rising career and moving on commercially both in music style and friend circle which puts Llewyn in a bitter mood when he needs help to process his duo partner’s suicide.


The film opens up with blurry sounds of a small indoor music venue – The Gaslight in New York 1961, a soothing, beautiful acoustic guitar plays in with a sorrow and heartfelt Bob Dylan kind of voice sings ‘Hang me, Oh Hang me’, Llewyn is under the spotlight on stage in a smoky room. The venue’s owner tells him that a friend of his is waiting for him at a backdoor alley which is dark and filthy. Llewyn meets the man who blames him and beats him up for something that he has no recollection of doing. The story plays on brilliantly back to some time before the alley beating with no trace of flashback cliché, which is ingeniously done.


Llewyn wakes up alone in an admirer couple’s beautiful Upper West Riverside apartment. He accidentally lets out the cat and locks himself out of the apartment. He has no key and no way to return the cat, and ends up carrying the orange furry cat in the subway, travels down to the village, drops the cat to Jean & Jim’s apartment, so he can go collect some money from his record company. He doesn’t even have a coat for the cold winter. Later on, he car-pools with a Jazz musician played by John Goodman and his driver played by Garrett Hedlund to Chicago to meet a famous venue’s owner played by F. Murray Abraham. Each times Llewyn encounters a situation where we think people will finally appreciate his music, the Coens keep the anticlimax all the way to the end till where the story started – the beating in the dark alley.


Llewyn named his solo album ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ but none of the songs on the album is actually about his life. A loser in the eyes of society, rejected and misunderstood by his friends his family, his record company and the music scene, which is very common even in the music industry today, or in any indie creative career in general. Despite of the rejection, Llewyn is truly passionate and good at music. Even though we don’t know what happens after the beating, one thing we know is that history repeats itself and we’ll never turn out of hope no matter what struggle or challenge we might encounter.

– Shumaï Chou