Lately, I have been listening to a lot of folk music, and by that I mean for hours on end, doing nothing else, aided both by having not much else that I want to do, and Youtube’s wonderful recommendation system that seemed to know where exactly to get me. I was listening to the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan when I stumbled across the song — Five Hundred Miles, that I kept listening to, more because it sounded familiar (which is a huge factor that decides whether I enjoy a song) than anything else.
The song, and then other songs that appeared in my feed, as it happened, were from the movie Inside Llewyn Davis, and they all seemed pretty decent. I looked up the movie and it was about the life of a folk singer, and the reviews seemed very good too — the movie had won two Academy Awards and three Golden Globes, and so I decided to watch it.
The movie starts off with the main character Llewyn playing the song ‘Hang me, oh hang me’ at a bar. In the beginning, this song doesn’t seem too strong, but it grows on you by the end of the movie and you start to enjoy it.
And then the movie itself starts. It opens up a lot of seeming-plots, all in a vague and dreamy fashion. Llewyn is an impoverished folk singer who couch-surfs at friends’ places and barely makes it through everyday with small gigs he does at the local bar. His singing partner had commited suicide long ago, and Llewyn is grieving that. He slept with one of his friends, and she is pregnant and needs an abortion, which he needs to arrange money for. Somewhere in the movie he learns that he has a son from an ex-lover. Somewhere in the movie he’s travelling to another place with two other musicians where he thinks he has a shot at a playing opportunity and one of them dies (supposedly of heroin overdose, according to Wikipedia). His bad temper is seen throughout the movie. Somewhere, there’s a street cat he carries with him for a while, and you think maybe this is going to be one constant thing in the movie — the man and his cat — but he leaves it somewhere else.
There are a dozen other seemingly important-for-the-rest of the movie scenes that the film never comes back to again, and when it does come back to a scene, it does so in a literal sense — the first and the last scene of the movie are very similar, and there is huge debate on whether they are the same scene or not, and attempt to squeeze meaning out of this.
I thought maybe some of the plot or Llewyn’s feelings were hidden in the music. For instance, this line from ‘Hang me’ definitely seems like it contains something:
Hang me, oh hang me
I’ll be dead and gone
Wouldn’t mind the hanging
But the layin’ in a grave so long, poor boy
But nothing that fits all the lyrics comes to mind. Similarly, Death of Queen Jane and Fare Thee Well, the other two songs I really liked from the movie, are capable of rousing a lot of emotion with the music and Oscar Isaac’s beautiful voice, but there’s not much to do by tearing apart the lyrics to help understand what Llewyn thinks and feels, which, because the title is called — Inside Llewyn Davis, I thought there would be more of.
Having watched the movie expecting a normal story, or atleast some sort of attempt to close the doors that it had opened, I was left unsatisfied and scouring the internet for interpretations of this and that, and found writings from people who either seemed just as confused or had dug out too much meaning where there was clearly none.
The end of the movie is definitely sadder than the beginning. Llewyn had left a job at the military to become a folk singer, and refused to go back because he was uncompromising about his art. But towards the end, he did want to go back but couldn’t because he had lost the paperwork to go back, so now he is still a folk singer, but not entirely out of choice.
If watched with an expectation of a logical sequence of events, the movie will seem so vague that it is pretentious, perhaps trying to add a lot of unnecesary layers in order to artistically convey a deeper meaning, or trying to be over-realistic in the sense that it is literally a scene from someone’s life — you see and experience a lot of things that don’t inspire anything or provoke thought or all come together for the final end in any way — they just are.
But if watched like a giant music video, letting yourself laugh out loud at the tragically funny moments, which the movie offers quite a few of, and enjoying the soulful music, without thinking too much about where it is going, it will be a very enjoyable experience. Although I did mention several events that make up the skeleton of the movie, the movie hasn’t been spoilt in anyway, because it is not about the plot at all. There is very little structure, but what is — that I haven’t mentioned — is easily understandable and will be enjoyed on watching the movie.
I don’t know about it being the eleventh best movie of the twenty first century and all that, but it is definitely good for watching once, and great for listening to for a lifetime.
Music referred to:
https://youtu.be/ZTzH4he7hP8 Hang me, oh hang me
https://youtu.be/pqvYRbv5hEs The Death of Queen Jane
https://youtu.be/vJxsTq4brTM Fare Thee Well