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Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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Initial random thoughts:
 

I saw this film two days ago and it's stuck with me in a way that very few films do these days. And not just because of the music, which I had already heard, and which is excellent.

I'll see after a couple days, but I suspect I will strongly agree with this. 
 

I was quite surprised last night to discover just how quiet, understated, melancholy, and bleak this movie is. It feels to me like the most "realistic" or "lifelike" (for lack of better words) of their films. The laughs come more from bitterly ironic turns in the story than from the usual, idiosyncratic Coen humor.

Absolutely, which is one reason that on a first viewing I liked it more than at least half of their films.

 

The comparisons with O Brother Where Art Thou are very inaccurate.  Tonally and thematically, those two films are completely different.  I was definitely reminded of The Man Who Wasn't There (which I heretically rank among the Coens' top three films).

 

And Llewyn, while very selfish, is not the least likeable Coen protagonist.  Even though he deserved that opening beating, I still felt some sympathy for him as he repeatedly made foolish choice after foolish choice.  I was irritated with him as well, but I never really wanted to punch him in the face, as I have with other Coen protagonists.  There's also something about all the scenes of Isaac singing, which seem as if Llewyn is baring his soul and searching for something from which he is cutting himself off.  That makes it impossible for me not to feel some sympathy for him.

 

For the record, Llewelyn Moss, Barton Fink, and Larry Gopnik grate on my nerves *far* more than Llewyn ever did.

 

While the entire cast is excellent, Carey Mulligan, as well as Isaac, really stands out IMO.

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For the record, Llewelyn Moss, Barton Fink, and Larry Gopnik grate on my nerves *far* more than Llewyn ever did.

 

 

Llewyn's apparently habitual practice of urging girlfriends toward the abortions of his own children give him the edge for me. Llewelyn Moss is an idiot; Barton Fink is a pretentious, self-righteous jerk; and Larry Gopnik is a weakling. Llewyn is downright mean when he's drunk, and incredibly wretched in his relationships. I can't think of a Coen Brothers leading character I would more like to see repeatedly punched in the nose.

Edited by Overstreet

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Llewyn's apparently habitual practice of urging girlfriends toward the abortions of his own children give him the edge for me. Llewelyn Moss is an idiot; Barton Fink is a pretentious, self-righteous jerk; and Larry Gopnik is a weakling. Llewyn is downright mean when he's drunk, and incredibly wretched in his relationships. I can't think of a Coen Brothers leading character I would more like to see repeatedly punched in the nose.

I think that was slightly mitigated for me, because the film opens with him getting punched in the nose (and kicked as well).  So throughout all of Llewyn's terrible behavior, we know a comeuppance is coming.  And throughout the film, all of his stupid, selfish choices do have some fairly quick repercussions, even if Llewyn prefers to pity himself rather than take any responsibility.

 

Moss' arrogance in believing he can actually outwit Chigurh despite the many examples of Chigurh's ruthlessness and efficiency that he witnesses makes me lose almost all sympathy for him.

 

Barton's self-righteousness causes him to make so many stupid decisions, during which everyone continues to pamper him, that I get overly eager for him to receive some sort of humiliation.

 

And throughout most of A Serious Man, I wanted Marlon Brando to slap Larry across the face, shake him by the shoulders, and yell, "You can act like a man!"  Completely different films, I know, but someone telling Larry to grow up and take some responsibility would have solved over half of his problems.

Edited by Evan C

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There's also something about all the scenes of Isaac singing, which seem as if Llewyn is baring his soul and searching for something from which he is cutting himself off.  That makes it impossible for me not to feel some sympathy for him.

I said something similar in my Letterboxd review:

 

Oscar Isaac, singing in the same dusky colors that the cinematography displays, is fascinating and utterly soulful. His voice kept my sympathy even when nothing else about him could.

It occurs to me that this is an interesting contrast to Barton Fink. Here the protagonist's art humanizes him, while there it did the opposite.

 

I think that was slightly mitigated for me, because the film opens with him getting punched in the nose (and kicked as well).  So throughout all of Llewyn's terrible behavior, we know a comeuppance is coming.

Wait a minute. You mean you knew from the start that the opening scene was a flash-forward? Now I feel like an idiot, because I didn't pick up on that at all. I didn't realize until the scene was repeated at the end that the events of the film were leading up to Llewyn getting his ass kicked in the alley, not following from it.

Edited by Rushmore

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Wait a minute. You mean you knew from the start that the opening scene was a flash-forward? Now I feel like an idiot, because I didn't pick up on that at all. I didn't realize until the scene was repeated at the end that the events of the film were leading up to Llewyn getting his ass kicked in the alley, not following from it.

Well, I think I remember hearing a critic give that away, (it's not that much of a spoiler) so it may have been floating in the back of my mind.  But the big tip off for me was the editing.

As soon as the beating ends, the film cuts to Llewyn waking up the next morning in his friends' apartment.  It's a very disjointed edit, because he clearly did not crash directly from the back alley; he would have had to have struggled somewhere to get some help, which suggests a non-sequential time jump.  And in that next scene, Llewyn does not look like someone who got his ass kicked the night before.

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And in that next scene, Llewyn does not look like someone who got his ass kicked the night before.

I seem to remember that he had a bruise on his face, but I could be wrong about that.

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Craig Detweiler is not pleased.

I have been a fan of the Coen Brothers since their debut feature, Blood Simple.   I chortled through Raising Arizona, reveled in The Big Lebowski (in its original theatrical run!), and marveled at Fargo.   I laughed a lot at Intolerable Cruelty while others scoffed.   They deserved the Oscar for No Country for Old Men, for demonstrating where unmitigated greed will get you.   It was the perfect film to arrive before the Wall Street crash/housing loan debacle.   Yet I also recognize that they are fallible.   Anyone who suffered through The Hudsucker Proxy realizes this.   And while some thought Barton Fink worthy of winning the Cannes Film Festival, I found it to be a cruel joke on the audience.  In my application to the University of Southern California’s film school, I skewered that “Barton Sinking Feeling.”  While it was a risk to diverge from critical opinion, I couldn’t give the bleak nihilism in Barton Fink a pass.   They didn’t give the audience much in exchange for our time and money (although I’m sure they enjoyed creating Barton Fink and found it satisfying to their own tastes/desires).  

 

I admired A Serious Man because they took the story of Job to its logical conclusions. They updated what that twisted tale would look like played out with a college professor.   It felt rooted in their own experience of the 60s as children of an academic. I understand that some people suffer more than their fair share.   Or at least that life can be unfair.   But I don’t feel like the Coen Brothers have told the whole truth inLlewyn Davis, or maybe they’re too content with a half-truth.    Why haven’t they celebrated their own success in getting their stories onscreen?   Does Llewyn’s story mirror their experience?  I guess it takes courage after several Oscars and millions in moviemaking fees to still say, “The people who run the entertainment business are awful, greedy people with no taste.”  

 

Edited by Overstreet

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And in that next scene, Llewyn does not look like someone who got his ass kicked the night before.

 

I seem to remember that he had a bruise on his face, but I could be wrong about that.

 

I'm pretty sure he doesn't. It was my first clue to the film's structure. 

Edited by SDG

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Wait a minute. You mean you knew from the start that the opening scene was a flash-forward? Now I feel like an idiot, because I didn't pick up on that at all. I didn't realize until the scene was repeated at the end that the events of the film were leading up to Llewyn getting his ass kicked in the alley, not following from it.

Well, I think I remember hearing a critic give that away, (it's not that much of a spoiler) so it may have been floating in the back of my mind.  But the big tip off for me was the editing.

As soon as the beating ends, the film cuts to Llewyn waking up the next morning in his friends' apartment.  It's a very disjointed edit, because he clearly did not crash directly from the back alley; he would have had to have struggled somewhere to get some help, which suggests a non-sequential time jump.  And in that next scene, Llewyn does not look like someone who got his ass kicked the night before.

Are we sure that there is even a single flashback here? Sure, a number of scenes repeat themselves, but if you're basing the flashback theory on the fact that he doesn't noticeably have bruises on his face from the beating, that doesn't work, because he clearly stops the cat from escaping the apartment the second time. Everything seems the same, but the cat escapes one morning and the cat doesn't escape the next. Did I miss something else? Because of that fact, I was thinking that the repeated scenes were just showing how much Llewyn is stuck in a rut and how nothing is changing for him. If they are not flashbacks, then how very similar they are (while being just slightly different) gives them a ... let's say a cosmic weight.

And sure, this film is bleak and Llewyn is not a heroic character. But I am currently in love with this film. Melancholy can be enchanting at times, and because of the music that these misfits produce, this is one of those times. Also, it may be because of some musical friends I know, but the Coen brothers didn't just show how bad Llewyn's life was for kicks. This is just like how the lives of many musicians feel. Remember the real and historical setting, this is before folk music paid and before Bob Dylan was noticed. But he's just about to get noticed, and Llewyn is a fictionalized part of a whole collection of ragtag historical characters at the very beginning of something magical that, in 1961, is about to happen to the music scene.

Despite the repetitiveness at the end, the last person performing on that stage at the end is a sign for any of us who know our music history.

Also, Jeffrey mentioned that, because of a significant prior role, it wasn't a coincidence that F. Murray Abraham was cast in the role he was cast in. Well I bet that neither is it a coincidence that Garrett Hedlund was cast as the driver/poet for the road trip part of the film.

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I bear this film no ill will, but I've never felt so completely disconnected from a Coen brothers film (my interest in the film briefly perked up around the midsection, when it seemed that this film might spiral out into the Coens' version of After Hours, but diminished soon thereafter).

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That was my experience, too, Ryan.

 

Twice.

 

But I do love the soundtrack. Album of the Year. (Take it from a guy who heard, like, three albums from last year!) Give it ALL the GRAMMYS.

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But I do love the soundtrack. Album of the Year. (Take it from a guy who heard, like, three albums from last year!) Give it ALL the GRAMMYS.

I'm kinda with Vadim Rizov on this one:

 

O Brother, Where Art Thou? claimed to be “based upon The Odyssey, by Homer," a link explicitly picked up here when the missing cat Llewyn Davis has been looking for most of the movie returns home — and his name is Ulysses! But the continuity's also musical, Joel Coen told Robert Christgau: “If you trace it back far enough it's all Americana, the same kind of music, the same family tree [...] We felt the folk music revival of the ’50s was in part a revival of the traditional American folk musical forms we'd always been aware of and loved." I wrote a little bit about the Coens' T-Bone Burnett collaborations here, but the bottom line is I think the music in O Brother and The Ladykillers is pretty excellent, while the music in Llewyn Davis is mostly exactly the kind of mediocre garbage you'd expect with a Mumford in the studio. (Sorry to be reflexively hateful about one of the more consistently derided easy targets out there, but that's how it goes.) At PopMatters, Kevin Korber is onto something when he observes "it’s not difficult to see the connections between [the O Brother soundtrack's] cultural moment and the current Mumford-ization of the Top 40" — the bad kind of continuity and influence. It's frictionlessly competent adult contemporary-ish and not very compelling to listen to.

Edited by Ryan H.

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I've got a review of the film on deck, the film which I liked a great deal. But I will say this: I thought the music in this film achieves something rare where the reactions of the characters in the story to the strikes me as accurate, excepting Bud Grossman's claim that "I don't see a lot of money in it," which the Rizov quote above accurately notes is the opposite our present reality and the "Mumford-ization of the Top 40". That is, no one needs to pretend the music is good, since I think it's actually pretty good. Always a danger in films about musicians when it's not based on a real artist. Anyway, the music struck me as "real," perhaps because I knew all the actors did their own singing. But it nicely reflects the film's interest in the fact that being "real" is not a substitute for making a connection.

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Ryan: Ya know, I just wrote a very pointed retort, but what's the point? I've been ornery here at A&F for several weeks now, and I'd rather not prolong that. I don't think you were trying to tick me off, and my comments are certainly open to debate. But I'm afraid it's best for me to just not discuss Rizov's thoughts here.

Edited by Christian

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My review of the film at Three Brothers Film.

 

I don't think Ryan's disconnect is at all at odds with what the Coen's were trying to do. As I see:

 

This is one of the Coen’s least farcical films and it plays the premise straight enough that I think it actually wants its audience to care about the characters as much as Llewyn cares about folk music. And the film cares about folk music too. The soundtrack, featuring the actual actors’ singing and curated by T. Bone Burnett is stand out, one of those rare moments when the songs are actually as good as the characters in the film think they are, and maybe better in some cases.

In the end, it asks tough questions about whether caring and success go hand in hand. You may care enough, and you may even have enough talent, but you may not be the person who is going to have success. That requires breaking through to other people, cynically or honestly, and Llewyn’s bitterness keeps people at a distance.

 

 

So, the idea that it would become as wild as AFTER HOURS doesn't seem to have been in the cards, so to speak.

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Ryan: Ya know, I just wrote a very pointed retort, but what's the point? I've been ornery here at A&F for several weeks now, and I'd rather not prolong that. I don't think you were trying to tick me off, and my comments are certainly open to debate. But I'm afraid it's best for me to just not discuss Rizov's thoughts here.

I certainly didn't mean to tick you off and I apologize if I came across as antagonistic.

For the record, I wouldn't be as harsh regarding the Llewyn Davis soundtrack as Rizov is, though I do think he's right that it's a step down from the music of O, Brother and The Ladykillers.

 

My review of the film at Three Brothers Film.

 

I don't think Ryan's disconnect is at all at odds with what the Coen's were trying to do. As I see:

 

This is one of the Coen’s least farcical films and it plays the premise straight enough that I think it actually wants its audience to care about the characters as much as Llewyn cares about folk music. And the film cares about folk music too. The soundtrack, featuring the actual actors’ singing and curated by T. Bone Burnett is stand out, one of those rare moments when the songs are actually as good as the characters in the film think they are, and maybe better in some cases.

In the end, it asks tough questions about whether caring and success go hand in hand. You may care enough, and you may even have enough talent, but you may not be the person who is going to have success. That requires breaking through to other people, cynically or honestly, and Llewyn’s bitterness keeps people at a distance.

 

So, the idea that it would become as wild as AFTER HOURS doesn't seem to have been in the cards, so to speak.

 

Yes, I think you're right. I mentioned After Hours not as an example of what it should have been, per se, but just as an example of what I thought the film might become at one stage in its progression.

 

On a different note, I think I would have enjoyed the characters played by Timberlake and Mulligan more had they been played by lesser-knowns.

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It was just released on DVD today.

 

In the meantime, I have yet to see any response to some questions I asked earlier which could significantly alter the entire way that I view this film. I am very interested in the answers.

 

Wait a minute. You mean you knew from the start that the opening scene was a flash-forward? Now I feel like an idiot, because I didn't pick up on that at all. I didn't realize until the scene was repeated at the end that the events of the film were leading up to Llewyn getting his ass kicked in the alley, not following from it.

Well, I think I remember hearing a critic give that away, (it's not that much of a spoiler) so it may have been floating in the back of my mind.  But the big tip off for me was the editing.

As soon as the beating ends, the film cuts to Llewyn waking up the next morning in his friends' apartment.  It's a very disjointed edit, because he clearly did not crash directly from the back alley; he would have had to have struggled somewhere to get some help, which suggests a non-sequential time jump.  And in that next scene, Llewyn does not look like someone who got his ass kicked the night before.

Are we sure that there is even a single flashback here? Sure, a number of scenes repeat themselves, but if you're basing the flashback theory on the fact that he doesn't noticeably have bruises on his face from the beating, that doesn't work, because he clearly stops the cat from escaping the apartment the second time. Everything seems the same, but the cat escapes one morning and the cat doesn't escape the next. Did I miss something else? Because of that fact, I was thinking that the repeated scenes were just showing how much Llewyn is stuck in a rut with how he lives and how nothing is changing for him. If they are not flashbacks, then how very similar they are (while being just slightly different) gives them a ... let's say a cosmic weight.

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Jeremy,

 

The scenes with the cat escaping are very clearly two different scene, not versions of the same scene, which is made clear by the sequence of events. The  "flash-forward" sequence does not include anything with the cat; it's just the stretch from Llewyn's performance to his beatdown. Cat scene #1 is back near the beginning of events, kicking off his misadventures, and cat scene #2, where he stops it from escaping, is shortly before that ill-fated performance.

The scenes with the cat are there to give the story a cyclical sense, but also to show that Llewyn (wrongfully) thinks he has a better handle on his life than he did at the beginning of his misadventures.

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Jeremy,

 

The scenes with the cat escaping are very clearly two different scene, not versions of the same scene, which is made clear by the sequence of events. The  "flash-forward" sequence does not include anything with the cat; it's just the stretch from Llewyn's performance to his beatdown. Cat scene #1 is back near the beginning of events, kicking off his misadventures, and cat scene #2, where he stops it from escaping, is shortly before that ill-fated performance.

The scenes with the cat are there to give the story a cyclical sense, but also to show that Llewyn (wrongfully) thinks he has a better handle on his life than he did at the beginning of his misadventures.

Whoa ...

See, that just almost makes sense. But tell me if I got the below order wrong, because if I understand you correctly, you are saying that 1-3 is exactly identical (in space and time) with 8-10.  But then why 11?

1 - He performs at the café.

2 - He is told that a friend is waiting outside.

3 - He goes outside and is beaten up (for heckling a woman singer the night before).

4 - He sleeps at the Gorfiens and the cat escapes that morning.

5 - The rest of the film.

6 - Then he heckles a woman singer at the café.

7 - He goes and sleeps at the Gorfiens and is surprised to see the cat made it home.

8 - He performs at the café the next day.

9 - He is told that a friend is waiting outside.

10 - He goes outside and is beaten up (for hecking the woman singer the night before).

11 - He sleeps at the Gorfiens and the cat tries to escape but doesn’t.

 

What does 11 mean?  Is it a sign of hope?

I just finally did a little research on this and found the following so far:

 

Slate:

... The repetition of this scene—with a few crucial additions the second time around—lends the movie that comes in between an unsettling Möbius-strip quality. Is the first scene a flash-forward, or the last scene a flashback? Of these two versions of Llewyn’s set at the Gaslight and its unpleasant aftermath, which, if either, actually took place? (Or are we simply witnessing the same event from two different points of view? If so, whose points of view are they?) And if both versions of the evening at the Gaslight are somehow “real,” are we to conclude that Llewyn is stuck in a nightmare version of Nietzsche’s eternal return, doomed to live the same crappy, broke, cold week over and over for the rest of his life? ...

CriticWire:

... Inside Llewyn Davis is not-quite-bookended by two versions of "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)," the first from the Timlin & Davis record Llewyn plays in the Gorfeins' apartment, the latter at the Gaslight show that both opens and closes the movie. (That will make sense if you've seen it.) ... The movie's circular structure suggests a Sisyphean loop, a depressive Groundhog Day in which Llewyn is damned (a word whose connotations the movie bears out) to repeat himself over and over, playing gig after gig but never breaking through ...

NewStatesman:

... The first time I saw the movie, I thought it might be a long flashback that begins the morning after the assault and brings us back to the present. But the first time, Llewyn closes his set with “Hang Me Oh Hang Me” and the second time it’s “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”. They’re different shows with exactly the same violent coda.  It’s the most important scene because this almost Lynchian loop reveals at the last minute that the apparent naturalism of most of the movie (which only breaks down during the surreal and haunting road trip) is a hoax. This is a fable, a nightmare, a week in purgatory, a very dark Groundhog Day. And Llewyn realises that too in the very last scene, when he says a sardonic “au revoir” to his assailant. He knows it’s going to happen again. The details may change but he’s still going to end up in that alley with a bloody lip because that’s his fate. I’m just relieved the Coens are too subtle to stoop to showing a turntable needle stuck in a groove ...

 

Arrghh.  I'm going to have to rewatch it now.  Ryan, if you're right, then that's clever of them.  But I can't remember if the song order is different like the New Statesman review says it is.

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See, that just almost makes sense. But tell me if I got the below order wrong, because if I understand you correctly, you are saying that 1-3 is exactly identical (in space and time) with 8-10. But then why 11?

1 - He performs at the café.

2 - He is told that a friend is waiting outside.

3 - He goes outside and is beaten up (for heckling a woman singer the night before).

4 - He sleeps at the Gorfiens and the cat escapes that morning.

5 - The rest of the film.

6 - Then he heckles a woman singer at the café.

7 - He goes and sleeps at the Gorfiens and is surprised to see the cat made it home.

8 - He performs at the café the next day.

9 - He is told that a friend is waiting outside.

10 - He goes outside and is beaten up (for hecking the woman singer the night before).

11 - He sleeps at the Gorfiens and the cat tries to escape but doesn’t.

What does 11 mean? Is it a sign of hope?

Your chronology is wrong. Event #11 occurs before event #8. The film ends right after event #10. Edited by Ryan H.

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Your chronology is wrong. Event #11 occurs before event #8. The film ends right after event #10.

1 - He performs at the café.

2 - He is told that a friend is waiting outside.

3 - He goes outside and is beaten up (for heckling a woman singer the night before).

4 - He sleeps at the Gorfiens and the cat escapes that morning.

5 - The rest of the film.

6 - Then he heckles a woman singer at the café.

7 - He goes and sleeps at the Gorfiens and is surprised to see the cat made it home.

11 - 8 - He sleeps at the Gorfiens and the cat tries to escape but doesn’t.

8 - 9 - He performs at the café the next day.

9 - 10 - He is told that a friend is waiting outside.

10 - 11 - He goes outside and is beaten up (for hecking the woman singer the night before).

 

Alright, I'll reference this when I watch it again.

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NewStatesman:

... The first time I saw the movie, I thought it might be a long flashback that begins the morning after the assault and brings us back to the present. But the first time, Llewyn closes his set with “Hang Me Oh Hang Me” and the second time it’s “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”. They’re different shows with exactly the same violent coda.  It’s the most important scene because this almost Lynchian loop reveals at the last minute that the apparent naturalism of most of the movie (which only breaks down during the surreal and haunting road trip) is a hoax. This is a fable, a nightmare, a week in purgatory, a very dark Groundhog Day. And Llewyn realises that too in the very last scene, when he says a sardonic “au revoir” to his assailant. He knows it’s going to happen again. The details may change but he’s still going to end up in that alley with a bloody lip because that’s his fate. I’m just relieved the Coens are too subtle to stoop to showing a turntable needle stuck in a groove ...

 

Arrghh for me, too. I like this interpretation the best of any I've seen so far, and I just put it in the mail to go back already.

Also, I put it in the mail with a three out of five Netflix stars (as I've said so many times, it would have been a three-and-a-half but Netflix doesn't do halves). Should we decide that this is the correct interpretation, I would definitely bump the entire film up to four out of five.

I, too, am going to need to see this again soon. Something I say about quite a few films I end up liking, and something I've said about quite a few Coen brother films.

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NewStatesman:

... The first time I saw the movie, I thought it might be a long flashback that begins the morning after the assault and brings us back to the present. But the first time, Llewyn closes his set with “Hang Me Oh Hang Me” and the second time it’s “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”. They’re different shows with exactly the same violent coda.  It’s the most important scene because this almost Lynchian loop reveals at the last minute that the apparent naturalism of most of the movie (which only breaks down during the surreal and haunting road trip) is a hoax. This is a fable, a nightmare, a week in purgatory, a very dark Groundhog Day. And Llewyn realises that too in the very last scene, when he says a sardonic “au revoir” to his assailant. He knows it’s going to happen again. The details may change but he’s still going to end up in that alley with a bloody lip because that’s his fate. I’m just relieved the Coens are too subtle to stoop to showing a turntable needle stuck in a groove ...

 

Arrghh for me, too. I like this interpretation the best of any I've seen so far, and I just put it in the mail to go back already.

Also, I put it in the mail with a three out of five Netflix stars (as I've said so many times, it would have been a three-and-a-half but Netflix doesn't do halves). Should we decide that this is the correct interpretation, I would definitely bump the entire film up to four out of five.

I, too, am going to need to see this again soon. Something I say about quite a few films I end up liking, and something I've said about quite a few Coen brother films.

This was my first impression as well, but my wife convinced me that actually the first scene was just a flash-forward to the end.

 

Also, I had a similar impression of the road-trip. The whole way through I kept thinking to myself that it was going to play out as some kind of hell or purgatory. His rejection from the club in Chicago nixed the purgatory notion (because a true purgatory analogy should end with some kind of redemption), but the image of the movie as an interpretation of the image of Sisyphus makes a lot of sense. There's also the cat named Ulysses (who in the Odyssey passes through Hades much as the cat passes through Llewyn's life).

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I just rewatched this film with my wife, and I have to say that Kylo Ren and Poe Dameron singing a song asking not to be shot into outer space is somehow ... very funny.

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