The title character of Inside Llewyn Davis starts and ends the film in a little Greenwich Village folk club in 1961, singing the gloomy traditional tune “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.” The song’s world-weary protagonist resigns himself to his impending death, really bothered only by the eternity he’ll spend trapped underground in the grave.
But then resignation is pretty much the default mode for Llewyn (Oscar Isaac), a former merchant marine and semi-obscure folk musician. Homeless, crashing on couches with any friend or acquaintance who’ll take him, he’s scraping by on the occasional gig. His lingering air of self-defeat dooms his meager, sporadic attempts at personal advancement to be met with disinterest by a universe that’s indifferent at best, coldly cruel at worst.
The song that opens the film was popularized by Dave Van Ronk, a musician of the same era who serves as a loose inspiration for writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen. Many of the basic facts of Llewyn Davis’ biography match those of Van Ronk, but apart from those borrowings and a few anecdotes, the character himself is a distinctly, recognizably Coen creation. He’ll weather a barrage of tribulations not unlike those that have greeted the Coen brothers’ other rumpled heroes — think Barton Fink, Jeff Lebowski, Larry Gopnik.
Continue reading the rest of my review over at NPR.
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