Every film the Coens make is a period piece. No one can pick a time period, evoke it to a tee and establish an atmosphere as adeptly as the brothers Coen can. Inside Llewyn Davis is no different, in fact it may just be the most potent example of this mastery.
In a telling little featurette (found here), multiple Coen-collaborator T Bone Burnett discusses the films narrative genius. Like a folk song, the film begins and ends with the same scene. The middle serves to shed light on that opener, and when you see it again, it’s context opens it up. It is a cinematic-onomatopoeia, like a song bookended by the same verse.
This narrative quirk is telling of the Coens three decade collaboration, producers, directors, writers and editors one and the same, their process by now must be unfathomably tight and it shows. Their lead, the eponymous Llewyn Davis is an asshole, and nothing happens throughout the films duration. But in the end, you route for him, drenched in the melancholy that follows him in the wake of his musical partners suicide. No one but no one could pull that off, other than those Coens.
His is a character seemingly without a goal. He does want to play his music but finds himself becoming inexorably laboured by the task. His passion fades, he reaches a crescendo and is stopped in his tracks. Rather than try again, he seemingly gives up. The cyclical nature of the film means we’ll never find out where Davis ends up.
That all this conspires to make an engrossing film is just symptomatic of the powers of the Coens. This is a film dangerously close to being morose and alienating that ends up being touching and eminently watchable. To paraphrase Davis; “if it ain’t new and it never gets old, it’s a Coen film”. Something tells me I will be watching this one again and again and that each watch will provide something new.
– Oliver Drew