There’s a line in a Bob Dylan song — “I know plenty of people put me up for a day or two” — that perfectly sums up everybody’s scrambling days, when you were between fixed abodes, between relationships, between steady jobs, between plans, between dreams . . . when you wore out every welcome you received because you didn’t know where the next welcome was coming from, when you were too proud to go home to mom and dad (and maybe you’d worn out their welcome, too), when you just didn’t know what the fuck you were going to do next.
When you’re young you figure such days will pass, and they usually do, after a fashion, but you never really get over them. Inside Llewyn Davis is about such days in the life of a struggling folksinger in New York in the early 1960s. Its evocation of that time and place, that musical scene, is magical, but it’s the evocation of Llewyn’s scrambling life that makes the film memorable.
It’s not one of the Coen brothers’ most inspired efforts — the litany of Llewyn’s woes gets a bit repetitive after a while. Once you realize that nothing is going to turn out well for Llewyn the narrative loses momentum. And yet . . . Inside Llewyn Davis gets at something, portrays something, that few films ever have.
[Image © Langdon Clay]
I spent many of my own scrambling days in New York in the 70s so the film brings back poignant memories, and a curious personal revelation. I got all, or almost all of the things I dreamed about getting in the 70s and one by one they have all evaporated or come to seem hollow — and I feel today more like that scrambling kid in his 20s than I ever have since the 70s. With one difference — I’m no longer looking for a home in this world, I mean, one that I can rely on. I know that all homes are provisional, as provisional as sleeping on a couch in a friend’s living room.
So it’s heartbreaking to see Llewyn Davis’s heartbreak as he looks for a home, a place for himself. I want to slip him 20 bucks and tell him not to worry — tell him that he’s already as home as he’ll ever be, that life is a perpetual scramble, and worth the discombobulation. Not that he’d listen, anymore than I would have when I was in my 20s.
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