𝐃𝐈𝐒𝐂𝐋𝐀𝐈𝐌𝐄𝐑: A discussion into this film’s position and meaning is unfortunately a discussion that is host to spoilers. Whilst not explicit, one may argue the content analysed gives away too much. Apologies, and proceed with caution.
When I put 𝘐𝘯𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘓𝘭𝘦𝘸𝘺𝘯 𝘋𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘴 (𝟸𝟶𝟷𝟹) on for the first time, my initial thoughts during the first act were how indistinct the film was in comparison to other members of the Coen Brothers filmography. Being an addict of their bizarre and philosophical tales of long-lost-legends, I believed I was merely witnessing a cold and lonely tale of a struggling yet legitimate artist, with all the idiosyncrasies that define their body of work humbly blanketed. The second act served as a heat-check into just how narrow-minded I was, and once the film’s “circle” was complete, I realised I might have just watched the most definitive work of ‘Coenism’ to date.
𝘐𝘯𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘓𝘭𝘦𝘸𝘺𝘯 𝘋𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘴 is the story of Llewyn (Oscar Isaac), a talented and aspiring folk-musician with an equally impeccable talent as a magnet for bad luck. His attempts in asserting a name for himself are met with the same struggles and hardships you’d expect from a legitimate artist whose transcended from the slums; stories and fables that are only told by the eccentric humanoid-aliens who invade popular culture. Llewyn embodies all that is folk music: the grit, the optimism, and the reliance on whims. He’s present on the folk scene in 1961, the year many artists refer to as a period where “something great and crucial happened.” The only issue? That great and crucial “something” is not Llewyn.
𝘐𝘯𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘓𝘭𝘦𝘸𝘺𝘯 𝘋𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘴 seems like a film documenting the steppingstones of a soon-to-be artist living through his origin story, yet once it becomes apparent that we’re enduring a rogue flashback, it also becomes apparent we are witnessing Llewyn’s conclusion. The film is not only host to all the most familiar Coen motifs (bizarre side-characters, dialogue repetition, blurred anti-heroes), but possibly the most dramatic portrayal of their utmost philosophy (similar to 𝘉𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘰𝘯 𝘍𝘪𝘯𝘬 slowly descending into the lower chasms of hell; or the way decadence eventually prevails in 𝘕𝘰 𝘊𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘳𝘺): 𝐟𝐚𝐢𝐥𝐮𝐫𝐞.
It’s this story of failure that makes us understand our own unjustified trust in the system. Solemn as it may be, Llewyn’s absurd eventuation into just another ‘nobody’ is a reality check to the masses of the entitled. The unpleasant and unfortunate destiny of Llewyn directly opposes the desired story structures that have been built by Western cinema over decades of entertainment. The film is a fable of the near-miss, the almost-famous, calamity without retribution. In other words, it’s not the story of success, but the unfortunate story of 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘦𝘭𝘴𝘦.
𝘐𝘯𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘓𝘭𝘦𝘸𝘺𝘯 𝘋𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘴 teaches us that we may feel like the carpet has been ripped out from underneath us, but as we look down at our cold, wet and insecure feet, we— like Llewyn— realise it was never really there.
A dolorous 𝘣𝘳𝘢𝘷𝘰 to you, Joel and Ethan.