The Cohen brothers have become something of near Hollywood myth; a mysterious duo who seemingly always release masterful works that over the years have garnered themselves a cult-fandom that far exceeds that of any other contemporary. The Cohens are known for many things which include humor, their characters, unpredictability, and always slightly obscure but always approachable storylines. The infamous two have received mass critical acclaim for films such as Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, and No Country For Old Men, but now with their latest installment, Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel and Ethan Cohen have decided to tackle the world of 60’s folk music just prior to Dylan with an in-depth look at the life of Llewyn Davis, a folk singer songwriter based on the real life Dave Van Ronk, as he bums around New York City looking for the chance to kick start his solo career. Leading up to its release, Inside was faced with spectacularly high hopes and with the Cohens facing unprecedented high expectations to meet, no one was exactly sure how the two would execute such a premise and film but something in the back of my head told me that it was be at least ‘pretty good’. My expectations were far underestimating.
The film opens up with Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) performing a beautifully melancholic song that will soon come to encompass the entire aesthetic and being of the film itself. Drenched in a cold and mysterious white light while on stage, right from the start, Isaac shows us that not only can he play guitar and sing (all of the songs except for one were played live on set) but he can also really encapsulate and portray the archetype of a ‘tortured’ singer songwriter onstage. Throughout the film, he clearly exhibits this portrayal off stage as well in such sincere and mesmerizing fashion. The plot is a very existential story to say the least without giving too much away and plays out a lot like many other acclaimed and praised works under the same vain (think: Beckett’s Waiting For Godot). Some may come to despise its arguably “pointless” premise and others may love it but ultimately, the Cohens really do seem to capture the essence of a hopeless, luckless artist in the midst of not only a struggle with his career, but also with his friends, family, and identity.
Like all of the Cohen’s films, the performances given by each and every actor are fully engrossing and fantastic. The film features, as previously mentioned, Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, and many more but each and every one of them really delivered. Mulligan; the angered, distanced friend, Timberlake; the naïve, overly-friendly contemporary, and Goodman; the drugged out, haggard veteran musician all coalesce to create another imaginative mosaic of personalities that seem to appear in each and every Cohen Film. Whether they play an integral part to the plot or simply have just five lines, each character sticks with you and you can see how each and every one weighs down and slowly eats away at the grumpy, pessimistic, and distraught Llewyn.
The Cohens’ use of not only wonderfully placed music that helps carry on the story and guide the emotional toll of the film, but also their use of imagery is especially apparent. Light and its effect on different moods and scenes is a real prominent element that the two directors really seemed to experiment with and perfect. From the isolating spotlight in a café on stage, to the gloomy and stuffy cramped apartments to even the silvery moonlight on a highway, the Cohens enhanced so many of their scenes with really discreet yet all too emphasizing light. The entire mood and aesthetic of the film is very cold and harsh but with a little oasis here and there of warmth or refuge. Quite melancholic and even gloomy to a certain extent, Inside has you cheer on a not so likeable character simply because you want him to just escape the unrelenting environment that the Cohens have created. It’s a film that incorporates so many different elements very well and to great effect.
From a Cohen film, it is always sort of easy to know what to expect without at all knowing what exactly it is to expect. If watching the film with very little knowledge on the plot, Inside will surely turn out to be something completely unexpected without too many, if really any, twists or turns. It is a film that groans and trudges throughout without ever really making the audience thinking that they are doing the same and always stays unpredictable and not foretelling. Just as Llewyn cannot see at all for sure where his future is headed, neither can the audience but all the same, there is a slight sense of inevitability and just as Lleywn does not wish to face this reality neither does the audience but all the same we sit, watch, and wait.