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Why You Should See the Coen Brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis'

By Ross Smirnoff on Dec 17, 2013 02:36 PM EST

Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by the Coen Brothers, is about a young and talented but seriously strained singer-songwriter who, like all artists, is on an undefined quest of discovery.

The story takes place in Greenwich Village. 1961, pre-Dylan. The artist in question is, of course, Llewyn Davis--playing solo after losing his music partner to suicide.

And for a movie based on the book of the life led by Dave Van Ronk, there's some fine acting in this film. Oscar Isaac's "Llewyn Davis" is often magical.

To wit, the scope of the narrative is focused through the eyes of Ronk-cum-Davis. Thus, the title Inside Llewyn Davis reflects the viewer's perception of the entire film vis-à-vis that particular protagonist.

Ultimately, I don’t think the Coen Bros. intend for you to like Isaac's character. However, they do allow the viewer to become slowly invested in his dilemma--as we see, again via his own eyes, how every relationship is hijacked by some existential devil pulling the strings, making his journey far more difficult to complete.

Inside that, the film becomes a metaphor for the artistic experience--albeit one without fame, success or glory. In fact, the Coen brothers constantly force Mr. Davis down a road of empty, fragile and sometimes just broken delays.

Near the breaking point, Llewyn Davis, himself, declares that he is quitting. He is, quote, “tired.”

And it’s precisely at this point that the deus ex Dylana shows up, playing the Gaslight for the first time, while Oscar Isaac's "Llewyn Davis" heads for the exit. With Bob Dylan in the background strumming the stuff that would turn him into an icon, we see Llewyn Davis in an alley on the street spitting up blood.

The irony of the scene nearly pours from the screen, with the filmgoer left contemplating all the symbolism that the Coens put into their film: a lost box, a lost cat, a lost soul. "Llewyn Davis," then, is their Ulysses, with Joel and Ethan Coen obsessed as to how any true hero must struggle and, in the end, maybe he still never really makes it.

Perhaps the better point is you’re either "the dude," or you're not. And the sooner you accept that--stop trying and just do it instead--your destiny will be what it is and was always meant to be.

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TagsRoss Smirnoff, Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, Oscar Isaac