Sunday, January 12, 2014

Outside Llewyn Davis

Elaine and I saw the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis yesterday. I thought more of it than she did (and still do), but the more we talked about the film, the less I liked it.

The film’s title is unmistakably ironic: Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) remains a cipher. How someone utterly insensate in his relationships can sing and play with such feeling is a question that the film leaves unexplored. Even in his devotion to music, Davis is unfathomable. What he hears in (so-called) folk music, how he found his way to it: we never know. There’s not one conversation about music, not one mention of the rural sources of the songs Davis and fellow urbanites are now making their own. The only character I can recall who speaks of music as music (and not as a business) is Roland Turner (John Goodman), a jazz musician whose monologue touches on the difference between music that uses the chromatic scale and music that uses three chords. He’s a more interesting cipher than Davis.

What Inside Llewyn Davis offers is stuff to look at: well-kempt beards, browline eyeglasses, Gibson guitars, corduroy jackets, and crepe-soled shoes. I had hoped to do more than look at. But being kept on the outside looking at the outside seems a given with the Coens.

[Are we meant to hear Llewyn Davis’s music as something extraordinary? I think so.]

comments: 7

Chasm said...

I totally don't get the raves either. I get screeners, and maybe it would have been *more* enjoyable in a theatre, but my wife started squirming before the opening song was over and it just went downhill from there. If you think the movie gets worse talking about it afterward, imagine how bad it is when you talk all the way through it about what an absolute a-hole this guy is.

See "Dallas Buyers Club." Matthew McConaughey is Oscar great.

Daughter Number Three said...

I hear that the musician whose book it's based on (or drawn from) wasn't much like the character as portrayed. Did you see the piece Suzanne Vega wrote about him (Dave Van Ronk)?

Michael Leddy said...

Watching in a theater, we let the folks on screen take care of calling LD an a-hole. :) I do plan to see Dallas Buyers Club. Thanks for the recommendation, Chasm.

DN3, maybe now I’ve read it: is it this piece?

I have some sense of Van Ronk’s life, and I’ve heard a good sampling of his music. (As a teenage folkie, I borrowed Dave Van Ronk Sings the Blues again and again from the library). Yes, Llewyn Davis doesn’t seem much like him.

Chasm said...

I have to continue this because the whole thing is just so baffling. I've seen (almost) every contender this year: 12 Years.. is a GREAT story, though one can quibble with the directing; Gravityhas impeccable direction, but the science and George Clooney are questionable; American Hustle manages to be a confusing con-without-hustle; Nebraska is a state I never wanted to visit and a movie just as flat; and Dallas Buyers Club is by far my favorite for screenplay, actor, production and costume design - yet ILD is the one that won't get out of my head (ok, I haven't seen Wolfor Blue Jasmine yet).

It's the only movie that just sticks with you because you just can't figure out what anyone involved was thinking. Can you imagine what it was like to work on that set for two months? Literally everyone from Oscar Issac on down to the teamster driving the costume truck came to work every morning wondering why the hell anyone was making a film about such a colossal jerk.

As you mentioned, I think the whole point was to draw tension from the "sensitivity" of his performances and his actual disengagement from all human contact and emotion. That and period detail.

I've been a huge fan since Blood Simple, but the C'bros have gone a bit too atmospheric on this one.

Michael Leddy said...

I think Daughter Number Three must have meant this piece.

Chasm, I would imagine that the people working on the film thought they were making something good. Certainly the Coens thought so. And many people see the film as just that. (High praise from critics and music writers.) The thing that surprises me about ILD is that it keeps getting worse as I think about it. It fails to disclose redeeming qualities. When the period atmosphere wears off, the film seems pretty empty.

Geo-B said...

I really loved the movie, and not in any way as a documentary or a true picture of what might have taken place in Greenwich Village in 1961. I thought it was a movie about traveling (through life) with a cat. I thought it similar to Amadeus, where you're talented, pretty good, but just a frustrating inch shy of great. And he's an asshole? So what? Do we read Wallace Stevens or Tennessee Williams or Gore Vidal or Truman Capote because they were nice guys? (And Dallas Buyers Club, really outstanding).

Michael Leddy said...

About Stevens and others (I’d add Frost to your list): such personalities can be compelling in all sorts of ways. But Llewyn Davis seems to me a blank. It doesn’t bother me that he’s not especially Van Ronk-like; I just mentioned that because the Coens have cited him as the inspiration for the character.