Inside Llewyn Davis

Smoke and Fears


Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan

Review written by Robert D. Patrick

Siphoned of robust brush strokes and pastoral imagery, the Coens evoke a very somber, sometimes morally diaphanous 1960s. There is color, but the plumes of cigarette smoke make the proceedings almost monochrome. Our protagonist – if we can call him that – is a struggling artist of the obligatory kind. Adorned with a crestfallen lyrics and an ethereal vocal delivery, the eponymous singer trudges through coffee houses and bars in a sort of blase haze. “Why am I not famous?” and “my manager is a lemon” are thoughts that gallop out of the gates of Llewyn’s mind. Because of a damp, starry nineteen-sixties New York that the Coen brothers present, the world looks lived in and not romanticized.

The story is fueled by existential quandaries and dilatory pacing, and some have chastised the film because of those aforementioned, and alleged, imbroglios. There isn’t much in the way of dramatic arcs or cinematic bombast. There is little pomp or pop, and our characters spend most of their time bobbing for apples in a bucket of hope. That said, the steely skies and boot plowed snow provide a sort of claustrophobic scenery. Our character’s winter coat looks more like a straight jacket than a piece of comforting apparel. What is a journey, really? While the movie posits questions about the state of emotional inertia, it also champions a slinking cat. Serpentine and aloof, the feline is the Sundance Kid to our downtrodden Butch Cassidy.

Inside Llewyn Davis captures the discord of a young artist in the 60s without the polemic sign bobbing or the snarling rock riffs that every other director uses as a Greek chorus to let you know what decade they’re referencing. People are mauled, not lionized. And what an ensemble. They are there to provide for the story, not for the glow of the marquee. These brooding characters, whether through murky, unfiltered mumbles or irate, patronizing diatribes, are memorable entities. The Coen brothers have made a film about isolation and longing that feels tactile and sincere.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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