Last night, I finally went to see Inside Llewyn Davis, the new Coen Brothers movie. I'd been waiting for this film to play near me ever since it came out. I was excited to see it, not only because of the brothers' astounding history of making exceptional films, but also because I'm a big fan of the 60's Greenwich Village folk scene. Also, the movie was partially inspired by the life of one of my favorite performers on the scene, Dave Van Ronk, whose failure to ever reach stardom is an identical tale of the film's title character.
The movie was brilliant in its honest portrayal of an artistic career. The sad truth is that most artists fail to ever achieve success or fame, a truth that I've come to realize personally and so the story resinated with me on a profound level. Llewyn struggles with the question of what exactly is an artist without an audience? Are you a performer, or just someone who fails to face the challenges of life? Is the pursuit a noble one or a foolish one? The answer is a little bit of both, but in the end, the pursuit is not always a choice, it's a calling.
The film reminded me of the kind of cinema made in the 70's in that it was a rather bleak look at life. But the honesty in which it shows the character's life is remarkable and touching. As a viewer, you root for Llewyn, even as it becomes clear that he is never going to succeed in the way others are succeeding around him. As you see lesser talents getting their big break, you are left wondering why it is that truly talented people are so often overlooked.
Perhaps it's because I understand the character's resentments and frustrations on a personal level that I really connected to this movie. Or perhaps it's simply because the Coen brothers are such skilled filmmakers. Either way, I loved this movie. It's told in subtleties and fits of emotion that give every scene a powerful impact.
Fun fact: The real boy who inspired Peter Pan was named Peter Llewelyn Davies...I somehow doubt the title character's name was coincidence. In some ways, all artists are Peter Pans in their refusal to grow up in the eyes of the majority of hardworking people.