I know I shouldn’t read a Coen Brothers’ film morally, but I can’t help myself. One week inside the life of Llewyn Davis felt like an eternity. As Jean tells him, everything about him, he turns into shit, or, like his father’s fading smile turns out to be shit. Beaten up in a backalley in Greenwich Village, why we’re not sure. Wandering from place to place in Greenwich Village, out to his sister in Queens, off to Chicago, and back to New York. A beautiful voice, but, as Bud Grossman, a producer in Chicago, tell him, he doesn’t see a lot of money in it. That’s at least the Bud Grossman line that all the reviews pick up. But what Grossman really tells Llywn Davis is more important, which is that Llywn Davis doesn’t connect; broke and alone after the suicide of his partner, he can’t harmonize.
Is that it, then? Inside Llewyn Davis is a bleak winter film in a universe that perhaps few critics realize is not, in fact uniformly hostile. The moral fulcrum of the universe is simultaneously occupied and constituted by the Gorfeins and their orange tabby cat, named Ulysses. Llewyn Davis and Ulysses might ramble and roam, but they loop back to a warm Jewish hearth, the Gorfein’s apartment in the Upper Westside where Llewyn Davis finds food and forgiveness. Is it for his beautiful voice? At the end of the movie, the film loops back again. We see Llewyn Davis, again, getting beaten up by the mysterious stranger in the black suit in a back alley as Bob Dylan takes the stage. As it turns out, we now understand that Llewyn Davis got exactly what he deserved. There is often a logic and justice of a rough sort outside in the cold in films by the Coen Brothers, which is made that much colder by the small, gentle warmth of a domestic interior scene that offsets it by way of contrast.
About Llewyn Davis there’s nothing to like. For him there’s no hope. But just because he’s the center of the film doesn’t mean he’s the center of its moral and conceptual universe. If we ignore or even despise the Gorfeins, heimisch and homely, the place that they’ve made for themselves and which they share with others just as homely as themselves, that probably says a lot more about us than it does about the film itself. Like Fargo, there’s domestic warmth inside the outside of a cold film. Alas, I could not find a single image of the Gorfein’s apartment online, but was happy to make do with look of judgement on Jean’s face.
When I first posted this post, I was asked why I didn’t like the movie. But that was a misunderstanding. I don’t like Llewyn Davis but I love Inside Llewn Davis. What strikes me as profound in movies by the Coen brothers, maybe not all of them, but many, is the backdrop of cruel judgment, call it karma, and offsetting little domestic scenes that are warm, that provide a small and precious moral point to the picture as a whole.