There is a moment about halfway through Inside Llewyn Davis where Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is auditioning for an agent. Sitting in a cavernous, empty room, he sings, accompanying himself on the guitar. Upon reaching the final verse, the guitar stops and he sings the final verse a cappella. The sound of the human voice, solo, reverberating through a large empty space is extremely poignant. The purity of Isaac’s voice pierces the air, full of longing and desperation. It represents a simplicity that is missing from most contemporary art that has become weighed down with gimmicks and cheap tricks. As the last note of The Death of Queen Jane hangs in the air, you can’t help but be swept up in the sadness of it. A blunt statement—“Well, there’s no money in it”—breaks the silence. Therein lies the true tragedy of the film. There is no place in our world for passion and art for its own sake. Everything must be measured in dollars. This means that many talented people are pushed out, forced to hop from couch to couch, relying on the support of others just to survive, because what they do is out of fashion or unmarketable.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a love letter to these artists. It is also about a cat.
And that is the brilliance of the Coen brothers—they manage to be both cynical and have fun. They do not let the truths of reality weigh down their work, peppering it with their unique brand of twisted humour. For every moment of depression, there is a moment of offbeat and bizarre commentary. Which brings me back to the cat. Ulysses is introduced from behind as he makes his way down a long hallway to wake Llewyn up, tail impossibly erect, behind waggling. The cat is Llewyn’s constant companion. With his ability to always land on his feet and nine lives, the cat is the perfect metaphor for surviving as a working artist. Independence, resilience and the ability to ignore everything that does not fit with your beliefs and work. The respect that the Coen’s have for all the nameless musicians and the like who toil without recognition is evident. This is mirrored in the casting of Isaac, a relative unknown, surrounded by the familiar faces of Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman and for the fans of HBO’s Girls, Adam Driver. They are the ones we know, but it is Isaac’s film. It is his voice that carries the film as it is book-ended by him in the spotlight. It is what his character lives for, what sustains him, but also what holds him back because what he has to give is not what the public wants. Inside Llewyn Davis gives a voice to all those like him and salutes their ambitions. It also asks us to question our mass consumption of art and commends those who continue on with no hope for recognition.