The new Coen Brother’s film Inside Llewyn Davis is a film that says what it needs to without saying everything. As I find myself saying in response to a lot of artistic projects (whether a film, play or musical), Llewyn is a character who we can relate to. It struck me that the majority of people he encounters blame him for the mess he’s in and although it’s hard for the viewer to say these people are wrong all of the time, we do not know why his musical partner threw himself off a bridge, or why Llewyn’s music is not appreciated, so it’s not really right to blame him for his bad luck. The wider message is – we all have a story which has landed us where are; only the person who is in trouble knows that story.
We’re not meant to dwell too much on these questions – he is down on his luck and life in general and is someone for whom things just do not work out. Not much has changed. I’ve not been in a position as unfortunate as his (but we never know what’s around the corner) but I’m surrounded by people who say life is fantastic, based of course on their own experiences. There are many similarities between then (1961 when the film is set) and now – in the West at least, if you’re not ‘in with the crowd’, no one understands you and you’re pretty much ‘done’. If you’re not at a certain stage in life by a certain age, people find you hard to contemplate and it can be a downward spiral to desolate aloneness. People have conversations about their own life which rarely relate to yours. Ironically, the Dylan song which plays at the end of film picks up on the traveller who goes through life ‘unnoticed’. Also ironically, much of the folk music that follows the forgotten era of music that Llewyn portrays, is a music which does have sympathy for the forgotten, the misjudged and people who have not made it. Folk music is generally the music of the people, for the people and about the people. But, like any other art form and indeed like in any other walk of life, some do not make it and there are no happy endings.
The song Llewyn opens the film with goes ‘Hang me oh hang me’ – it’s not the hanging that bothers him but the laying in the grave afterwards. There is a deeper meaning here – he doesn’t want to merely exist in life. He doesn’t want to be living but living in a grave, and for him, not being recognised for his music and his passion, is basically laying in a grave; being buried alive by the expectations of others. I identify with that.