This post will contain spoilers for the film Inside Llewyn Davis.
But then again, no one will read this post and so the ending for the movie won’t be spoiled.
That’s kind of the point, I suppose.
I just came from seeing Inside Llewyn Davis and walked home in the cold all full of piss and vinegar.
The film is about a struggling folk singer trying to make a life out of his music.
The film begins and ends the same way. Llewyn is playing his music, finishes his set, apologizes to the club owner for heckling a performer the night before, is told there’s a friend waiting for him outside, goes outside, gets punched in the face and beaten for heckling the night before.
On my way out of the theatre, I overheard some guys mulling over the ending and one of them confidently assuming it was a flashback. I held my tongue, crossed the street, swore at the cold, got to my apartment, cracked a beer and now here I am.
Allow me to rebut.
The ending is the same as the beginning because it’s about the futility of life.
Llewyn pours himself into his music. He loves it and he hates it. He doesn’t get a break, he doesn’t get ahead, he doesn’t win. This isn’t a happy Disney story, this is life. The story of being punched in the face, literally. That’s his agreement with the world, that’s his deal with the universe.
It’s not even Groundhog Day, it’s his life. Some people win, some lose. As Llewyn goes outside to be beaten again at the end of the film, a young Bob Dylan takes the stage and his story is already immediately known: he does the same thing that Llewyn does, but he finds success. Life is unfair.
During the film, Llewyn makes his way to Chicago to play for a producer who says he doesn’t have it. There is no happy ending here. There is no big break. But he keeps at it. Every day, a hard scrabble life, the same kind of living that he’s rejecting by not following his father’s path into the merchant marines, but in a completely different direction.
Everything is a nod to that futility of life. The last words we hear from Llewyn as he lays against the alley wall, beaten and bloody are “au revoir”, directed at the man who beat him. Directly translated to mean “until I see you again”, a complete acknowledgement of the repetition he lives in.
One of the other themes repeated throughout this film is shit. It’s possibly the most used curse word and Llewyn’s father shits himself while his son plays him a song. More memorably, his friend’s girlfriend who might be pregnant with his child accuses him of being King Midas’ horrible brother because everything he touches turns to shit. Llewyn lives a shitty existence and despite all his efforts to pull himself out of the shit doesn’t work.
Oddly enough this theme of a world of shit makes me think of South Park and the episode where Kyle gets old, sees the whole world as actual shit and is diagnosed as being a cynical asshole.
In related news, I was accused of being a cynic over the Christmas break and replied in the only way I know how: “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” That whole idea does make me feel sad and make me feel old.
Which brings us back to Llewyn Davis.
I liked this film a lot and it hit me, because I get his sacrifice and I get his inevitable punches to the face.
I’ve also been accused of embracing the tired idea of a tortured writer a bit too willingly and I don’t shrink away from that. Sure, it’s likely completely futile and it may never progress farther than where things are now. But I feel this ache in it to keep going. Whether that’s covering the Anaheim Ducks prospects, going to Mooseheads game, sarcastic outlets to politicians that I share with my Dad or writing navel-gazing drivel here. I need to keep doing it.
Even if I’m a fuck up and get punched in the face, I’ll be there again, walking those same steps, because I need to and I don’t know how else to go about my life.