|This post, as always, contains spoilers, but I don't think your experience of the film will actually be ruined with this spoiler. In the trailer above, Jean (Carey Mulligan) tells Llewyn that everything is going to keep happening to him because he wants it to,... towards the end of the film, you realize, everything is starting over and going to happen again. Why? We will spend the post discussing this through various levels of text the Coens present to us. One of the popular approaches critics use to discuss films is called the auteur approach: it's French (meaning "author") and based on a particular director imparting their vision to the film they are creating: for example, you "know" an Alfred Hitchcock film when you see it, there are techniques he employs that no one else does (well, "did") and you know the feel of his films, like Steven Spielberg (before 2008) or David Lean, Fellini, Wes Anderson, etc. The Coens, because of the body of work they have built, and because they have a specific "style," could be approached from the angle of "What makes a Coen Brothers' film a Coen Brothers' film?" and you could analyze and compare all of them. We're not going to do that, however, the various characteristics of Inside Llewyn Davis we will be discussing can be applied to their other films as well (especially how they use music to create a sub-text of commentary).|
Because F. Murray Abraham is in the film.
|I think this is from the opening scene. Llewyn sings at The Gaslight Café which was a historical location for poets and singers; case in point: towards the end, when Llewyn exits to go see "his friend" outside, the not-famous Bob Dylan has got on stage to start his act. Davis complains throughout the film about how the Gaslight is a dead end and worthless, however, the Coen Brothers wanted to emphasize that many famous artists got started there and Davis' inability to launch a career was not due to a lack of opportunity, rather, a lack of talent (we will substantiate this further a bit later). Why bother to do this? Most of us in the audience probably don't have much of an ear for music--okay, at least I don't--so the film makers take pains to illustrates that those who have an ear for music, and who have the respect of their peers, don't see much talent "inside Llewyn Davis," which is probably where the name comes from: by the end of the film, you realize there is nothing good inside Llewyn Davis, just someone who thinks he is better than everyone else, and that lack of innate goodness bears the equivalent fruit (fruit that's not so good, mediocrity). Davis' condescending attitude towards Troy (who tells Davis that Grossman has signed him to his label and is a very good man) is later heightened in how Roland Turner treats Davis (the film makers have to treat Davis carefully so the audience will keep "identifying" with him throughout the film, but Roland Turner gives us the concentrated dose of Davis' unlikeability which Davis himself hints at when he meets Troy and Davis tells him that Jean never ever said anything nice about Davis to anyone.|
Davis wants all or nothing: he wants to be famous, not sharing in the glory with others, which leads us to Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his sidekick Johnny Five; what's their purpose? They re-iterate the thesis above, that some people think they are better than others, and Roland offers an extreme example of being better than everyone, which is why he is "crippled," he can't value anyone but himself. His heroine addiction symbolizes how he gets high from "injecting" himself with compliments and self-importance. Davis' desire for "all or nothing" can be seen in another character tied to the theory of infant death: Loki from Thor the Dark World. Davis has two abortions tied to his character--the one that didn't happen, and the one Jean is supposed to get--and Odin (Anthony Hopkins) tells Loki he would have died as an infant if Odin hadn't saved him. Like Davis, Loki wants to rule others he feels he is superior to (Davis thinks he's superior to Troy, to the Gorfeins [he yells at the wife at dinner during the song], to the poor woman on stage he heckles and her husband beats him up, to Al Cody, and probably even to his dead partner Mike, not to mention his father and sister). Is there a segment in our society today who thinks they are superior to everyone else and wants to rule over all those they treat with contempt?
|John Goodman plays Roland Turner, the highly condescending "backseat driver" who we the audience are supposed to "turn-over" and see as an extension of Llewyn Davis, i.e., Davis "turning" into "Turner" if Davis doesn't convert. Is that the "soul" purpose of Roland Turner? I don't think so. As we will see with the cat, the name "Roland" is ambiguous but full of meaning, just like the name of "Llewyn." Roland is not a typical name, so it possibly refers to French philosopher Roland Barthes, who didn't like the idea of the auteur theory, rather preferred what he called "the Author and the scriptor": the lone author slaving over a work isn't realistic because of all the influences we come into contact and are then incorporated into our lives and work; so rather than an author, Barthes proposed instead the "scriptor" who comes up with a work based on several other works encountered; this, along with other theories of Barthes', could refer to the Coens. On the other hand, it's highly possible that the character of Roland Turner actually refers to the Song Of Roland, a medieval French text about the soldier Roland who became overwhelmed by enemy forces and was too proud to call for help. Do we see that in Davis? For example, does he ever ask for help getting through the suicide of his partner Mike? He refuses the coat he original agent offers to give Davis, and we see how many times Davis was in need of a good winter coat. Does Davis ever ask for help thinking through his ex-girlfriend's non-abortion (his child he didn't know he has?)? Granted, we see Davis crashing on the couches of many, but does Llewyn Davis ever ask for help from anyone? To de-stabilize the name of Roland even more, we can observe that the name "Roland" sounds like the word "rollin" because Davis rolls from place to place without ever staying in one locale. What's the purpose of exploring all these different meanings? We'll touch on that below in discussion on the cat.|
We don't get the name of the cat until near the end of the film, when it's revealed the cat is named "Ulysses." There are, like the name "Roland," at least three potential references for what we are meant to understand by "Ulysses." Please watch this short trailer which highlights some of the scenes the cat is in:
The Fine Art Diner
P.S.--Here is the original Please, Mr. Kennedy, by Mickey Wood, which was actually about not wanting to be sent to the Vietnam War; it's an interesting song, especially given how it was changed up for the film: