The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The snow, the songs and the sadness – my reasons for loving Inside Llewyn Davis

with 22 comments

Inside Llewyn Davis

There are countless of aspiring singers in this world. Even if you only include the ones who have managed to make a real record, there are still thousands and yet thousands of them. Only a handful will fly. The rest will see their dream grow thinner and thinner until it has evaporated altogether. Then they’ll get an ordinary, unexciting job like the rest of us, a box of their unsold records in the cellar the only reminder of that they once believed that they had the potential to do something else. And eventually they have to let go of that too, because they’re moving and there isn’t room for all that old “junk” in the new place.

There are many of them and yet you never hear about them. It’s a matter of logic of course. The moment you hear about them, they lose their status as “unheard of” and they enter that other, smaller category of “moderately to very successful singers”. But there’s more than that to it.

Our current culture teaches us from young age that if you try hard enough you can become anything you want; it’s just a matter of dedication. And this belief is fed by the success stories we’re served in movies, literature and the media, about people who succeed despite having the odds against them. We suck those stories like leeches, never wanting to let go of them. They bring oxygen to whatever fire or hidden dream we carry inside. We want them and we need them. And that’s why the stories of the singers with the broken dreams so rarely are told. It’s too depressing to think about, so we look in a different direction, pretending that they’re not there or pretending that their lives are more glamorous than they are. Deep down we know of course that not everyone can become a star. But it’s not something we like to be reminded about.

Struggles without hope
Coming from this, it’s perhaps not all that surprising that Inside Llewyn Davis didn’t become an instant success with the Academy Awards jury. Struggling artists have been shown before, such as in The Artist the other year, but in that case you weren’t just presented with a problem. You also got a solution and a hope for better times and no shadow was cast on the business. All is well that ends well. Without giving away the end, Inside Llewyn Davis presents a more realistic look on the prospects of the aspiring singer.

To me this was like a much darker, twisted version of the Irish movie Once. They both feature a bearded, talented guy who sings beautiful songs. But in Inside Llewyn Davis, there is no sweet love story, unless you count the cat that spends some time with him on a few occasions.  The singer isn’t just hoping for a record contract: he has already made a record and it hasn’t led him anywhere. And New York is freezing cold, especially if you can’t afford an overcoat.

Plotting around
Those who prefer movies to have proper plots are likely to get disappointed. The film is said to take place during a week, but frankly I had no real sense of time. You just see the musician plotting around, not doing very much apart from playing here and there, trying to get hold of some money or looking for a cat who is on the run. You could say that it’s a little aimless.

But as much as I appreciate good storytelling, I think it’s a little overrated when it comes to movies. It’s not that it doesn’t matter, but it’s not all there is to movie making.

Not all great songs have texts that make sense. Sometimes a few words of nonsense are perfect because of how they sound. Not every great painting needs to portray an existing person or thing. A splash of colour can be much more powerful in provoking a reaction, stir the waters inside you that rarely are visited. A movie doesn’t need to be “about” something particular or have an aim to inspire you to great deeds and to pursuit your dream to be enjoyable.

Why I loved Inside Llewyn Davis
I love Inside Llewyn Davis for the way that the light hits people’s face. I love it for how you can feel the coldness against the legs as Llewyn Davis crosses a patch of snow. I love it for the cat, so help me God. I think it’s a little bit of a cheap trick to insert a charming, quirky pet into a movie to make it more likeable, but every scene that cat is in, he or she steals, that’s just the way it is. I love Inside Llewyn Davis for the melancholy and for how it captures the urge to hit the road, even if it’s a road that doesn’t take you anywhere. I love it because it puts the spotlight on someone who isn’t altogether likeable and who doesn’t pull his shit together and doesn’t personify the American dream.

But most of all I love Inside Llewyn Davis for the music. I don’t think I’ve bought a film soundtrack since I got the one for The Commitments, on vinyl as it was back in those days. I might very well buy the one from this one, because it’s that good. And then I’ll put it in the record player in my car and take a long trip without any set goal. And as I drive I’ll reconcile myself to the fact that I never was a star and that I’ll never become one. Being a beautiful snowflake is all that most of us can hope for. The sky is full of us, and we’re falling, falling, falling, to the ground where we’ll evaporate, and before we know it we’ll be gone, as if we never existed. All there’s left of us is a box of records in the container or a long time forgotten blog post, on drift in cyberspace, read and remembered by no one.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Ethan & Joel Cohen, US 2013) My rating: 4/5

filmspanarna

My fellow Swedish bloggers in the Filmspanarna network have also watched this film. Here’s what they made of it:

Except Fear
Fiffis Filmtajm
Fripps filmrevyer
Har du inte sett den
Jojjenito
Movies-Noir
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord
We could watch movies
Moving landscapes

Filmparadiset

Written by Jessica

February 12, 2014 at 6:00 am

22 Responses

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  1. Great write up! Glad you loved this, it’s a really great film and I totally agree about the music, it’s superb! There was something about it that left me slightly cold though, it’s a difficult one to explain. I do think it’s a bit of a slow burner though, as I already like it more than I did immediately after watching it.

    Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop

    February 12, 2014 at 10:59 am

    • Thanks! It appears to be the same with some of the Swedish bloggers I watched it with, liking it a little more with some distance to it.

      Jessica

      February 12, 2014 at 8:07 pm

  2. I have also put up my review of this today and I actually did not like it. Partly because of the lack of plot, partly because the music did nothing for me and also because I did not like the look of the movie. Can understand people loving this though.

    Nostra

    February 12, 2014 at 11:46 am

    • If you don’t like the music and don’t like the bleak look of it, I can definitely see why you won’t like the movie. Because there isn’t much of a plot to like, as you say. It’s all about atmosphere.

      Jessica

      February 12, 2014 at 8:25 pm

  3. Interesting, I really can’t contradict you in the things I also experienced from the movie. I just didn’t like them as much as you apparently did. But I have to agree that the soundtrack is really nice as long as you edit out Bob Dylan at the end ;)

    Sofia

    February 12, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    • On that we agree. Listening to all the other songs I realize that I really don’t like his voice.

      Jessica

      February 12, 2014 at 8:23 pm

  4. I´m with you with the songs and the snow but the sadness…..I didn´t feel the sadness. I just think “shape up man, stop feeling sorry for yourself, stop being such a bitter jerk”. ;)

    Fiffi

    February 12, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    • Well… even jerks can ooze of misery and he wasn’t jerkish enough for me to really hate him.

      Jessica

      February 12, 2014 at 8:23 pm

  5. I love this review, Jessica. Such a great post. I really liked this movie (watched it last week). I totally agree with your reasons for loving this films, especially the soundtrack, which I already bought!

    fernandorafael

    February 12, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    • Thanks Fernando! I haven’t bought the soundtrack yet, but I may very well do it before I’m off for a vacation. It would be nice to ring with me.

      Jessica

      February 12, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      • It’s pretty great. Love Oscar Isaac’s voice and I am obsessed with Five Hundred Miles.

        fernandorafael

        February 12, 2014 at 8:24 pm

        • Fare thee well is probably my favourite. But it’s all good.

          Jessica

          February 12, 2014 at 8:29 pm

  6. Nice poetry in the end of your text. :)

    I agree with everything you write, especially about story and the fact that sometimes a film works without a story. It’s about everything else, the feeling. Still, for now, it’s only a 3,5/5 film. ;)

    Jojjenito

    February 13, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    • I think a 3.5 on your scale is equal to a 4/5 on my “I’m like a enthusiastic puppy about every movie I see” scale. So basically we’re on the same line. :)

      Jessica

      February 13, 2014 at 10:03 pm

  7. I haven’t written my review of this yet, Jessica for the simple reason that I know I absolutely loved it yet can’t quite put my love for it into words. It’s a wonderful film with so much ambiguity and so many layers. I’ll need to watch it again before I even tackle a review. Loved the way you’ve structured yours, though. :)

    Mark Walker

    February 15, 2014 at 10:26 am

    • Thank you so much Mark. I’m sure it’s going to be a great review and I’ll check it out as soon as I can. Right now I’m in the middle of packing for a trip to Cambodia starting tomorrow, so I’ve been a bad blog reader and commenter for a while. But I’ll catch up.

      Jessica

      February 17, 2014 at 9:44 pm

  8. Jessica, this is simply a beautiful piece of writing regardless of the film. It’s a happy coincidence that we felt very similarly about Llewyn Davis (I came away not quite knowing what to say about it, and I’m very glad I didn’t have to review it, but the longer I’m away from it the more highly I find myself regarding it, and the more I can’t wait to see it again), but even if we didn’t, I would still love this piece. Bravo!

    Jandy

    February 16, 2014 at 8:43 am

    • Thank you so very much Jandy! It’s hard to describe it since there isn’t much of a plot and it isn’t altogether easy to catch a mood. I’m glad that you could recognize it.

      Jessica

      February 17, 2014 at 9:40 pm

  9. Lovely review, very nicely written.

    Seen it yesterday and although I liked it, I don’t like it that much as the critics seem to love it. I’ve got a big weakness for depressed singer songwriters like Nick Drake or Elliott Smith. Their songs hit me to the bone… which the songs in the movie just don’t do. A movie about their life, that would be something (actually, Elliotts has just been filmed, I just have to see it).

    Then again, that might be the point of the movie. Llewyn is just not good enough to equal them, just as 99.999% of us mere mortals. Everyone aspires to be Kurt Cobain but most of us never make it, due to a lack of talent, because the moment isn’t right, or just plain old bad luck. It reminds me of a facebook musician friend who posted a “Looking for a regular job, no evening hours” a few months ago. He’ll still try to make it but he also needs to pay his bills.

    carrandas

    July 20, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    • Thank you for your kind words! I think you’re spot on in what this film is about. It’s not about those who “make it”. It about those who almot make it, but end up having to take a job just to pay the bills. A group that rarely is portrayed and besung. Until now then.

      Jessica

      July 21, 2014 at 12:19 am

      • Some of those who took a job still made it though, there’s always hope. *inserts happy ending*… or not.

        carrandas

        July 21, 2014 at 11:48 pm


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