Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Waiting For Llewyn
INSIDE LLEWIN DAVIS is a comedy. But not a fall down laughing comedy. Not Judd Apatow or Will Ferrell comedy.
This is existential comedy. And the philosophy of absurdism argues that the human mind struggling for value and meaning in life is also incapable of finding such. We are screwed and we should laugh about this tension. This movie is about a guy who is fairly talented and may even turn out to be an okay guy but is having a very bad week. We find out that Llewyn Davis was part of a singing duo and his partner has killed himself. We never find out why his partner kills himself in not in flashbacks not in dialoque ...but I believe we can surmise that the kind of week we witness is the kind of shit that can break a persons spirit. And we may also find out that an artists spirit may break at least by a week like this one. There is no reason to assume "bad luck" has just occurred worse this week than other week. And so is our human opportunity to laugh or to cry.
There are many layers to this movie though on one level it is a bitter story of an ungrateful selfish man among a bunch of phony "hipsters" in New York in 1960. Llewyn Davis' worse attribute is he sees these phonies for who they are much like Holden Caufield and he can't be diplomatic.For him, diplomacy is phony and a sell out and compromises his folk ethos. He partly seems to think he is better than others one minute and then the next he is making jokes about language and success. So on the superfical layer of the movie, it is filmed dark, with dark brooding angry characters and overall the movie seems to be a commentary on American concept of success.
As well as a critique of notions of success the movie can also be a critique of communities based on faith and ideals in a capitalistic economy. Existentialism is the only sane attitude.
The entire movie has repetitive language and lines of dialoque. I thought about counting how many times "make a living" was said. At least three or four I think. We know the movie is concerned with cyclical time because it's told in a flashback the opening scene is also the last scene and many images mess with our heads about the sense of time. Several characters look so much like each other it's hard not to think the Coen Bros. did this casting on purpose...adding to an incantatory feeling. After the movie Stagg says it's like a folk song. Well damn...he was so correct. We watched a documentary about making the movie and if T Bone Burnett doesn't say it's constructed like a folk song!!! Go Stagg!
This is a very sad movie. Yet, how can such a sad set of events be funny? I think this movie will grow on you with repeated viewings because it is a mobius strip like another brilliant movie Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY. The construction of the story is simple and yet it's meaning is attained by meditations and reverie...and like folk music by repetitive playing.
A fascinating contrast between "folk music" being free and then the variables of "talent" that plays and interprets these traditional songs... Then mix it with people who want to make money. The contrast between commercial-music-making-machines of record producers and club owners versus the people who practice music and perform becomes the root of an absurdist existential story with classic colourful characters. Any one of the characters in this film would be a riot to hang out with however several of these New York "wanabe hipsters" and "authentic hipsters" surrounding our hero Llewyn Daivis they become creepy soul-sucking monsters. Either musicians are innocent angels new to the business or they are cruel assholes judging other genres of music or judging someone who has ideals. Being an artist becomes a totally impossible double bind.
At the end of the movie we wonder what all great literature asks...to be or not to be? If you can accept the cruel Buster Keaton-esque joke of the universe then you're ready to be an artist. If you can't then you'll jump off a bridge. The cruelty of a money-based prove-your-hip-credentials of the music business (and arts and literature) is if you jump off a bridge it better be the appropriately cool bridge. Ouch Cohen Bros, thanks for the painful laugh.
The actors are incredible. I am hopelessly crazy about Carey Mulligan, and Oscar Isaac is a new favourite. And Justin Timberlake is turning out to be nothing less than as good as Frank Sinatra. 10/10.