This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
laird’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
"What are you doing?" - bathroom stall graffiti
Llewyn is often depicted in transit (bus, subway, car), but he's going nowhere but in circles. He accuses Jean of being a careerist, but he tells the Gorfeins that playing music is his job, using the phrase "it's how I pay the rent!" Ironic as the Gorfeins know full well he's homeless, which makes it more than likely he only said it as a feint to avoid dealing with his feelings about his dead friend. He shamelessly asks Jim for the money for Jean's abortion on the condition that he not tell Jean, but Jim has to tell Jean. Another circle, another dead end. Jean wants the baby if it's Jim's, but she can't know if it's Jim's or Llewyn's (or maybe Pappi's if he's to be believed) so she has to terminate it. It's Schrödinger's baby. A known unknown. Llewyn doesn't know about the baby Diane kept (an unknown unkown?). On one of his circular journeys, Llewyn has a chance to exit at Akron to seek some resolution, but Llewyn's an artist, he don't look back. Llewyn's life: a series of narrow hallways with two options, and he just keeps going the same way, making the bad decision. Can the circle be unbroken? At least he remembered to block the cat from escaping. Maybe there's some hope for Llewyn.
When he ends up back at the merchant marine job he once worked, because he is who he is, he's without his license... he threw it away. "A license you keep," the old sailor tells him. Llewyn can't seem to figure out what's important to keep and what's important to jettison in order to move on. Like all of the educated, suburban kids playing folk music to which they have no spiritual connection, the only end result can be stasis. Of course it's an older woman from the Ozarks singing songs from her childhood that Llewyn heckles. And of course it's Bob Dylan playing as the Coen's final joke about circles and repetition is revealed to the audience. Dylan eventually made the old new again by making it personal and political, thereby transcending that (in my opinion, boring and phony) Greenwich folk community (farewell!). Or maybe it was just cruel, indifferent chance that he made it big and Llewyn couldn't, this is a Coen Brothers movie after all.
When I watch, and especially when I rewatch, a Coen Brothers movie I get the feeling that every detail has specific meaning. Almost nobody works at their level of theme and character and still produces such entertaining results. Inside Llewyn Davis is too cold and strategically distanced for me to rank it among my favorites of theirs, but a minor Coen is still a major movie.