Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a loser. Though a talented musician, he just can’t seem to catch a break, drifting through the 1960s New York folk scene and missing every opportunity by inches. He sleeps on a different sofa every night, relying on favours and luck to get by. But Llewyn seems to deflect luck almost intentionally.
Now winter is closing in, he’s got no money in his pocket, and a fling with Jean (Carey Mulligan) – wife of his friend Jim (Justin Timberlake) – may have resulted in a pregnancy. The singer’s shambling odyssey is punctuated by sporadic encounters with a ginger cat, which seems to know something he doesn’t.
- Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? If you have seen any of the Coen brothers’ previous films, how did Inside Llewyn Davis compare? What are some of the common threads which tie their work together
- What did you make of the film’s music, and how were the songs incorporated into the story? Was there anything unusual about the way the music was presented? What mood does folk music create?
- Is Inside Llewyn Davis a comedy, a tragedy, or both? What are the distinctions between the two genres, and what are the similarities? How would you describe the film’s sense of humour?
- Could you sympathise with Llewyn in his misfortunes, and why or why not? How has he been affected by the loss of his musical partner, Mike? Do film protagonists need to be likeable, and what makes us care about a character’s fate?
- Many reviews described Inside Llewyn Davis as ‘melancholy’. How would you describe your emotional journey throughout the film? How did you feel at the end? What might be the benefits of engaging with stories which evoke negative or difficult emotions, or which don’t provide simple resolutions?
- Has Llewyn grown emotionally by the end of the story, and if so, how? Does he mean it when he tells Jean that he loves her, and why might this be a significant moment for him? Has anything changed in his relationship with his friends, his family and his music?
‘It’s a little careerist, a little square.’ – Jean
- How do the different musicians we meet in the film – including Llewyn, Jim, Jean, Al (Adam Driver) and Troy (Stark Sands) – approach their careers? Who enjoys commercial success, and why? What might the film be saying about the kind of art society values, and the compromises artists are faced with?
- Why does Llewyn get upset when the Gorfeins (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett) ask him to play at their dinner party? What does he mean when he emphasises that his music is ‘not a parlour trick’? Should the creation of art be recompensed like any other profession, or should artists be expected to create ‘just for the joy of it’?
- Jean calls Llewyn ‘King Midas’s idiot brother.’ How many of Llewyn’s failings would you say are his own fault, and how many happen because of circumstances beyond his control? Is the film forgiving of his failures, and are you?
- Are talent, hard work and perseverance always rewarded with eventual success – and why might it be important for us to believe that this is the case? Is the universe of the film ultimately just, malicious, or indifferent when it comes to such efforts? How about our own reality?
‘Exist? Is that what we do outside of showbusiness?’ – Joy
- What story does our culture tell us about success – especially in showbusiness – and how it validates us as human beings? In light of this, why might Inside Llewyn Davis be a subversive narrative? What makes life worth living if our dreams and ambitions have failed, or been compromised?
- To what extent is Llewyn naïve or foolish to keep pursuing his music – and to what extent does this demonstrate an admirable kind of ‘purity’? What lies behind the human urge to make art? How might art, in its ‘purest’ form, bring us closer to God or to our own spiritual nature?