gracie’s review published on Letterboxd:
“I’m sad? You’re the one who's not getting anywhere. You don’t wanna get anywhere”
I think it’s safe to say that Llewyn Davis is depressed. He wakes up each morning uncertain of what he’s doing, what the day holds for him and what poor friend’s couch he's going to be sleeping on. His art is going nowhere and neither is he. He sings a couple nights a week at The Gaslight, he made an unsuccessful solo album and his former musical partner just killed himself. His dad’s in a home where he doesn’t even remember his own family, he had an affair with his friend’s wife and had to help her get an abortion. Despite all of this, Llewyn does nothing to better himself. He continues making the choices that lead him to be miserable and poor and sad. The truth is, for Llewyn, his miserable demeanor and unsuccessful life are his identity.
The depression and mental illness represented in Llewyn are heavily relatable. His mindset that he doesn’t need to get better or change anything is something so often seen in artists and other creative people. The issue with Llewyn is that he doesn’t do anything with his struggle besides complain and ruin his own relationships. Other artists would take that suffering and put in their own creativity to make something more than themselves. To take an example from the movie: at the end, we see Bob Dylan performing in The Gaslight. This is a really prominent example of the quote en quote “depressed artist”, something that Llewyn has all the makings of, but never achieves due to his own self pity. Dylan’s life and story plague Llewyn as Dylan represents everything he’s missing out on and everything he’s not.
Many other characters in the film fill this role too. Almost all of them, in fact. The Gorfeins are wealthy and happy, Jim and Jean are happy and talented and well-liked, even Al Cody seems to be more well off than Llewyn. Llewyn sees himself as above these people as he’s living in the struggle so to say. Llewyn’s conversation with Jean in the cafe really hit a lot of points about his character. He tells Jean that she's "square and sad" because she wants to move to the suburbs and have kids and live a happy life in lieu of their music careers. In response to this, Jean says some of the most important lines in the film in regards to my argument : “You know, you don't want to go anywhere and that's why all the same shit is gonna keep happening to you. Because you want it to.” These two lines outwardly show Llewyn’s mindset of repeating his actions and driving himself further into the ground with each interaction. Llewyn as well as many other depressed people tend to cause themselves misery just for misery's sake. In his case, I feel like Llewyn is fully in love with his own depression and enjoys wallowing in his own self pity (relatable).
Now that I’ve introduced Llewyn’s mindset, I think it’s time I introduce the connection I’ve been wanting to make for a couple weeks now. So we all know Nietzsche right? He has this concept called the eternal return that has been irking me for some time. It fits so well into Llewyn Davis himself and into Inside Llewyn Davis the film. Others have already made this connection and I bet more people will continue to see the similarities further down the line.
The concept of eternal recurrence is described as “the universe and all existence and energy has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space". In simpler terms, things will keep repeating and there's nothing you can do about it until you die and then it'll be passed on to someone else. An example of this concept can be seen in the myth of sisyphus. Philosopher and writer Albert Camus used this example in his book with the same title. Sisyphus was “condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again.” This repetition of meaninglessness and suffering gives one cause to examine the meaning of this somewhat pointless life we lead. Any normal person would say you should create your own meaning and do things that make you happy, but oftentimes depressed persons would switch it up and say that it's easier to suffer than to be happy so they take the easy way out.
The myth of Sisyphus and the theory of eternal recurrence connect really well with the self induced suffering of one Mr. Llewyn Davis. In the film, Llewyn starts his week-long journey at The Gaslight, booing some woman and getting beaten up in a back alley. The film ends with the exact same situation playing out just as it had at the beginning of the film. This is the film’s eternal recurrence. Llewyn doesn’t grow throughout the course of the film and ultimately falls back exactly where he started. He continues thinking in the same way every day over the course of the entire film and will probably continue to do so after the film has concluded. He believes that nothing can get better, so why try?
Davis’ relationship with eternal recurrence is that of taking the easy way out. He figures that it's simpler to suffer than to try and beat your own struggles. He sees getting help and finding stability as a force working against his artistry, he blames other people for his misfortunes and he doesn’t appreciate those close to him for how much they do to help him. Llewyn Davis is selfish and self-pitying and in love with his own depression. He finishes a week of misfortune and heartache and more suffering with the exact same experience as the week previous. It seems like he’s content with this lifestyle and I understand. I think it’s important that we as people need to see how depression and other mental illnesses can affect people in different ways than just “feeling down”. Davis and many others struggle with the idea of being in love with their own suffering, myself included.
Anyway, my thesis statement is that Llewyn’s depression and his habit of falling in love with his own self pity relates to the theory of eternal recurrence in the same way that the film does. In other words, you know what else “is never new and never gets old” besides a folk song? Depression and also the eternal recurrence of the lives of those who have it.
TLDR : Llewyn Davis is depressed in the same way that I am and I don’t like it, fuck this movie.