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Film: Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis (trailer) is a 2013 comedy-drama film directed, written and co-produced by the Coen Brothers. The story follows the titular character (Oscar Isaac), a Greenwich Village folk singer, travelling through New York and Chicago over the course of one week in 1961. Despite being a talented musician, nothing in life seems to be working out for him, and his confrontational, careless and self-destructive personality only serves to sabotage his situation further. The supporting cast includes Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Berserk Button: Don't mention Mike Timlin around Llewyn. And especially do not insult Mike Timlin around him.
  • Book Ends: The film opens and ends with Llewyn performing, and later getting beaten by a man in an alley, an event that is revealed to have taken place at the end, chronologically. Both at the beginning and end of his week, Llewyn is staying with the Gorfeins, and the audience hears a rendition of "Fare Thee Well." All this demonstrates a circular rhythm to Llewyn's life, and his feeling of being stuck in one place. At least the cat doesn't get out with him the second time.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Part of the tragedy of Llewyn's character. He is shown to be a great musician, but he doesn't have what it takes to make it big. His unpleasant, self-destructive and careless personality mean that his life and career are apparently caught in a cycle of mediocrity.
  • The Cameo: Mike Timlin's singing voice is provided by Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons.
  • Dark Reprise: Llewyn plays "Fare Thee Well," which had been his signature duet with Mike Timlin, one last time at the end of the film, with a more subdued presence and different, lonelier lyrics.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Llewyn reaches this towards the end, having his dreams of stardom crushed, finding out Jean slept with Pappi to get him his last gig, visiting his dementia-ridden father, and deciding to go back to the merchant marine only to find out he doesn't have the papers and is stuck in his old way of life.
  • Foil: Many of the characters that Llewyn meets over the course of the film help to highlight aspects of his personality and outlook on life.
    • Troy Nelson is a soft-spoken, ever-smiling idealist, in contrast to the acerbic and cynical Davis. Unlike Llewyn, he is seen as a potentially marketable and lucrative asset by the music industry.
    • Jean is similarly foul mouthed and acerbic as Llewyn, and also seems to gain a completely incongruous, almost angelic quality when singing. However, she aims to earn some money and settle down, something Llewyn regards as "selling out". Also unlike Llewyn, she does not appear ready to accept any responsibility for her own mistakes and failings.
    • Al Cody represents the sort of self-reinvention (and inauthenticity) that Llewyn sees in the folk scene as a whole, and which he himself refuses to embrace, probably to his own disadvantage.
    • Llewyn's sister, who represents to him the everyday "square" existence of non-artists, and the ultimate conclusion of "selling out". He sees such a lifestyle as "existing" rather than "living".
    • Roland Turner is an aging, foul-mouthed junkie who makes Llewyn seem downright pleasant by comparison. It is possible that Llewyn sees in him the logical conclusion of the development of his own personality, a few years down the line: a great musician who has been left a bitter and friendless Insufferable Genius with no audience worth speaking of.
    • Bob Dylan, who appears at the end of the film is the unspoken presence looming over Davis's story. He possesses many of the qualities that Llewyn does not, and is willing to make many of the compromises that he refuses to make, such as self-reinvention, "inauthenticity" and "selling out," right down to renouncing the whole folk music scene within a few years. As a result, he becomes a music legend and one of the great artists of the twentieth century, while Davis is doomed to mediocrity.
  • Foreshadowing: Llewyn is warned twice that taking his money immediately will forfeit his royalties to "Please Mr. Kennedy." It's obviously going to become a hit.
  • Hero of Another Story: The stories not told on screen are at least as important as the one that is.
    • The Gorfeins' cat must have experienced lots of adventures on the way home, lampshaded by his name Ulysses and the appearance of a poster for the 1963 film The Incredible Journey. This epic voyage of return stands in contrast to Llewyn's own Shaggy Dog Story.
    • The other cat that Llewyn picks up also has an off-screen story of her own, albeit one that ends less happily.
    • Ultimately, as pointed out in this article, the true unspoken protagonist of the whole story is Bob Dylan, who only appears at the end and is never named. He will be everything Llewyn is not, and is already making the beginning of his own "incredible journey" while Llewyn is wandering aimlessly through New York and Chicago.
  • Historical Person Punchline: The musician Llewyn briefly sees at the end of the film is, naturally, Bob Dylan, whom he is both literally and figuratively opening for. The Clancy Brothers also make an appearance in an earlier scene.
  • How We Got Here: The first scene of Llewyn being beaten up in the alleyway behind the Gaslight chronologically takes place at the end of the film. Over the course of the film, the audience gets to know the reason for this event, as well as the identity of the act that he is sharing a billing with that evening.
  • It's All About Me: Llewyn's main flaw. In reverse, Jean's attitude is "It's all your fault" when dealing with Llewyn.
  • Jerkass:
    • Llewyn himself. His considerable talent arguably makes him an Insufferable Genius.
    • Roland Turner is an ageing, heroin-addicted jazz musician who is not afraid to be insulting in anything he says. He shows absolutely no sympathy when hearing that Llewyn's singing partner killed himself.
    • Also Jean with her Never My Fault worldview, cheating on Jim (who is obviously a square but doesn't do anything otherwise to deserve the treatment), constant belittling of Llewyn and forcing him to pay for an abortion on his own when he is near penniless.
  • Jerkass With A Heart Of Gold: Llewyn isn't without compassion, from his concern for the cat to being willing to pay for Jean's abortion. Most notably, unlike Jean or Roland Turner, Llewyn apologizes for his mistakes and genuinely feels guilty when he upsets people. This makes his failure to stop making the same mistakes over and over all the more frustrating.
  • The Last DJ: Llewyn sees himself this way, as aloof from all the phony and shallow careerism that he sees in his contemporaries like Troy Nelson. Then again, he sees any attempt to earn enough money to settle down and start a family as "selling out," so perhaps he is just making excuses for his own failures.
  • Mood Dissonance: Llewyn plays a song for his father at a retirement home. He waits for a response, only to realize moments later that his father soiled himself.
  • Never My Fault: Jean places all the blame for her possibly-adulterous pregnancy on Llewyn and lambasts him for "sleeping with other people's women," one of which is her. Llewyn lampshades this attitude, and tries to bring up the expression "it takes two to tango," but is brushed off by Jean.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Various characters are based on figures from the early 1960s folk scene.
    • Llewyn Davis is an expy of Dave Van Ronk, and the film was inspired by his autobiography The Mayor Of MacDougal Street.
    • Al Cody is a self-styled wandering cowboy singer whose real name is revealed to be Arthur Milgrum. In this regard, he resembles Ramblin' Jack Elliott (born Elliott Charles Adnopoz), who cultivated a similar image yet came from a middle-class Brooklyn Jewish background.
    • Troy Nelson, an idealistic, pacifistic soldier, is based on Tom Paxton. He sings the latter's hit "The Last Thing on My Mind," now a folk standard.
    • Chicago folk impresario Bud Grossman bears considerable similarity to Albert Grossman. His venue was also called the Gate of Horn.
    • Jim and Jean are an amalgam of various performing duos, including a (not actually married) pair of the same name. Their performance with Troy Nelson is likely a Shout-Out to Peter, Paul and Mary. Jim bears some resemblance to Paul Clayton.
    • Bud Grossman talks about putting together a 2 guy, 1 girl group, probably another oblique reference to Peter, Paul and Mary.
    • Elizabeth Hobby, the Appalachian singer that Llewyn heckles in the Gaslight, resembles Jean Ritchie. She is played by real-life folk singer Nancy Blake.
  • No Ending: We don't know what Llewyn does or where he goes after getting beaten up by Elizabeth Hobby's husband.
  • Posthumous Character: Mike Timlin, Llewyn's singing partner, is revealed to have recently killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. This loss affects many of the characters in different ways, but is rarely directly addressed. It is clearly a painful memory for Llewyn, based on his behaviour at the Gorfeins'.
  • Red Herring: There a frequent story hooks that tease a shift in the plot, but they're all passed by so that the film remains a Shaggy Dog Story:
    • Llewyn overcomes obstacles to get to a possible gig, but gets turned away, so the whole trip was a waste.
    • Llewyn is tempted to visit Akron, where his former girlfriend moved with their son, but he passes on by.
    • Llewyn's sleeping passenger slams his head on the dashboard, but he just sleeps right through it.
    • Llewyn's senile father seems to have a breakthrough, but he was just having a bowel movement.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: In-Universe. "Please Mr. Kennedy" is a novelty song about manned space flight, the first instances of which took place in 1961.
  • Running Gag: Jean calling Llewyn an "asshole." Almost a Verbal Tic.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: As usual for the Coens. Llewyn has not managed to change anything about his life. He's still homeless, without a career or prospects.
  • Shout-Out: The titular album is a reference to 1963's Inside Dave Van Ronk.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Turner, twice; when Llewyn tells him his old partner killed himself, clearly hoping it'll make him feel guilty enough to stop heckling him, Turner's only response is to make fun of Mike for jumping off the George Washington Bridge rather than the Brooklyn Bridge. When Llewyn straight-up threatens to shove Turner's cane up his own ass, Turner, completely unfazed, responds by threatening to kill him with Santeria.
  • Sir Swearsalot: Jean becomes this in any conversation with Llewyn.
  • Slimeball: Pappi Corsicato. In the middle of the idealistic Village folk scene he's using the worst kind of casting couch practices.
  • Starving Artist: Llewyn Davis lives a very hand-to-mouth, semi-vagrant existence crashing on the couches of acquaintances and relatives, at least those he has not completely antagonised yet.
  • Stylistic Suck: "Please Mr. Kennedy" doesn't suck, exactly, but Phil Ochs it isn't.
  • Title Drop: It's the name of Llewyn's debut solo album. Grossman asks him to play "something from Inside Llewyn Davis".
  • Tragic Dream: Pretty much what the whole movie is about.
  • Tsundere: Jean never tires of putting down Llewyn and telling him what a piece of shit he is, but is still willing to let him crash at her house and even cares about what he's doing with his life.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Based on the memoir by folk artist Dave Van Ronk, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. Van Ronk ultimately had a good deal more success than Llewyn, however.


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