‘Inside Llewyn Davis’
The Criterion Collection
What if we told you “Inside Llewyn Davis” was a laugh riot? Yes, “Inside Llewyn Davis”: the Coen brothers’ bleak chronicle of a folk musician (Oscar Isaac) in the pre-Dylan era who didn’t make it. Who literally had no home. Whose musical partner had killed himself and who couldn’t get a solo career going. Who dragged himself, with wet shoes, from New York to Chicago in a last ditch effort to save himself, only to get shot down eight seconds after he's finished his sad-ass song. Who was consigned to a circular hell of disappointment and aggravation. Who was the sadsack, beardo hero of one of the Coens’ least hopeful films.
Not many would agree with us. We once showed "Davis" — newly out on Criterion home video, in a typically lavish package — to our parents over a holiday. They know the Coens, count “Raising Arizona” as a family fave and once bought the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. They still bring “Davis” up, years later, as that horribly depressing gruel-fest we made them sit through. On the other extreme, there’s a story we heard about a friend of a friend. He went to an advance screening back in 2012 and, while dressed in rags, found himself sitting next to no less than Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The audience was silent, reverent. Pitt, who’d been in an arguably even darker Coens film, “Burn After Reading,” was laughing his ass off.
Is pain and failure and shattered dreams funny? It’s at least as funny as the nicest character in “Burn After Reading” — the knuckle-scrapingly dumb, fist-pump-dancing personal trainer played by Pitt — getting shot in the face by a complete stranger. The Coens’ detractors write them off as chuckleheads who laugh at their characters, as though from a place of superiority. But they really laugh at everything, including one thing that’s truly not funny: all of us, good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, will one day die. Many of us will suffer before then, some far more than others. We will hitch our sails to meaningless, foolish beliefs: religions, relationships, jobs, our self-perceived talents, crappy bands that tour the world. But by the end we’re all equal, which to say dead and forgotten by the cosmos.