INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, the new Coen brothers film, is the mournful tale of a folk musician too dedicated to his art to make money or to accept love when it’s offered him. It has gorgeous music, performances that are like watching characters step off the pages of a Joseph Mitchell New Yorker story, and language that is exquisite, but not so much that we don’t believe it. A common response to Inside Llewyn Davis is that it’s a pessimistic film, with characters so self-centered and worn down by money and the lack thereof that they cumulatively produce a world of no hope.
Many assert that the Coen brothers have pitched their tent as the anchor tenants of cinematic melancholia—Fargo’s bleak focus is a family utterly destroyed by financial pressures and the inability to know where or how to ask for help; Barton Fink’s eponymous protagonist finds his dream writing contract ends up a descent into hell; and The Man Who Wasn’t There is finally executed because he doesn’t see the point in defending himself. Llewyn Davis is an impetuous man in a fickle industry, too out of touch with his own humanity to want to see his own child, and he is beaten up for heckling a fellow musician. And so people come out of this film depressed. To which my minority response is simple: Look closer. Inside Llewyn Davis is full of life and second chances and, yes, hope for artists. Davis has friends who care, and there are people who get what he does. Who cares if the world isn’t listening? That was never a measure of great art anyway.