This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Daniel Cruse’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
“If it was never new and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.”
A tragic folk odyssey. Inside Llewyn Davis is in the running for my favorite movie of all time. I just got the Criterion edition Blu-Ray and we still don’t have internet in my apartment which is why I’ve mainly been watching the movies that I own and love already so I decided to give this one another watch as soon as I could.
Oscar Isaac’s performance as the cynical and self defeating, down on his luck folk singer is perfection. He’s impressive in everything I’ve seen of his, whether it’s Star Wars, Annihilation, or Drive but this one really cements him as a favorite of mine. He manages to make such a mean spirited and rude character so watchable and relatable. Carey Mulligan is also maybe one of my favorite actresses working today between her great supporting roles in this film and Drive plus her phenomenal lead outing in last year’s underseen Wildlife. F. Murray Abraham, Adam Driver, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, and pretty much everyone else in the movie is great too. As per usual with the Coen Brothers there’s an eccentric ensemble of characters that range from rage inducing to hilarious to lovable.
The movie is a tonal departure from the other works that I’ve seen from the Coens’, trading the quirky, zany pacing and crime centric stories for a more understated tone and a focus on a singular character. This and A Serious Man are my two favorites of theirs’ partially for how unique they feel among the rest of their work. That being said, this is still a really funny movie in a much darker sense. Lots of great and memorable dialogue.
I said in my first review of this long ago that the atmosphere of this film gave me waves of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, a beautiful record that is very warm and welcoming while also feeling somewhat cold and detached at times. That album is my all time favorite so the comparison is definitely meant as a compliment.
The thing that interests me the most about this movie is the underlined mythological references. The cat being named Ulysses, the club where Llewyn fails his audition being called the Gates of Horn, etc. etc. I believe the semi-frequent allusions to Greek mythology are vital to unraveling this movie. The Gates of Horn are those at which dreams arrive and pass through if they are considered true and right. Llewyn’s dreams and aspirations of a fulfilling career as a musician are locked outside of the gate when his audition isn’t met with praise and this climactic failure builds on all of his past failures throughout the film to leave viewers with this scary realization that we could put all of our effort into something and want it more than anything in the world but we may miss the opportunity because of past mistakes or sheer bad luck.
I personally believe the cat is purely an extension of Llewyn mainly because I think that works well with the characterization of Llewyn and how lost and meandering his life is from day to day and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the cat’s name is Ulysses which is a variant of the hero’s name from Homer’s Odyssey. The cat represents Llewyn’s sense of a lack of place in the world. I feel this is especially noted in one of my favorite shots of the movie of the cat looking completely bewildered and overwhelmed by the passing subway stops toward the beginning of the film, unsure of where it’s been or where it’s going.
Ultimately the cat being hit by the car is the final nail in Llewyn’s metaphorical coffin. If the cat is meant to represent Llewyn, it’s poetic that the cat’s fate is determined primarily by two things, Llewyn’s actions and horrible luck. The cat survives even that hardship and limps away into the unknown woods, signifying Llewyn’s failure leaving him broken but still alive and continuing to chase his dreams. I know they actually didn’t shoot that scene necessarily intending for it to be the cat or a cat at all but seeing that it’s up for interpretation and I think the cat is entirely a metaphor anyway, I choose to watch the film with the belief that it was the cat.
The homage to Bob Dylan gave me chills both times that I’ve seen this movie as well because his career trajectory seems like such a stark contrast to Llewyn’s seemingly stagnant state. Although the ending is an extension of the opening scene, I do believe Llewyn has turned a new corner and I think it ends on a hopeful note with Ulysses and him both back home where they’re comfortable. He may have signed away the royalties for the space song but I like to believe there is growth in the fact that we see him keep the cat inside, assuming that the end isn’t actually the same scene as the beginning but a continuation of a loop that Llewyn is stuck in, because it shows that he’s learning from his mistakes and he can eventually stop living the same week over and over.
It goes without saying that the film has a phenomenal soundtrack and although frequent collaborator Roger Deakins was unable to shoot this film, the cinematography is stunning. I usually don’t like when movies look cold or desaturated but it fits so perfectly with the tone of this film that it comes out beautifully and I don’t see how this film could’ve worked if it was oversaturated with bright colors and sunlight. Bruno Delbonnel did great work here behind the camera.
All that being said, this is one of my longest reviews recently because this movie really connected with me even stronger on the second viewing. It’s a masterpiece in every regard. Easily the best on screen cat in history.