“I’m tired. I thought I just needed a night’s sleep but it’s more than that.”
Upon first glance Inside Llewyn Davis is a pretty bleak movie. The 2014 film from writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen is about Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a struggling folk singer living in Greenwich Village in the 60s. To say Llewyn is living in The Village is to use the term liberally; he spends the whole film couch surfing as he tries to catch a break in his music career. Said career has come to a standstill since his musical partner’s suicide. Even that classic Coen Brother’s humor can’t fully bring this tale out the darkness.
Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel shot Inside Llewyn Davis on 35mm film, and digital colorist Peter Doyle altered the film in post-production through color grading to evoke the coldness of a bitter New York winter. The movie provokes in you Llewyn’s specific brand of ennui by using a color palette composed solely of washed out blues and greys.
However, Inside Llewyn Davis is much more than just a sob story. As Ryan Hollinger explains in the video essay below, Inside Llewyn Davis provides a certain catharsis. Something about seeing someone like Llewyn, who is incredibly cynical and fed up with the hand he’s been dealt, never give up is pretty reassuring. No matter how temperamental he gets, he doesn’t abandon his passion. For Llewyn, the passion is music, but any viewer can relate to that intense struggle to succeed at what you love. Even if, like Llewyn, you almost seem like you’re growing to hate that passion.
Instead of like in your classic inspirational films, which are often cheesy and borderline obnoxious, Llewyn experiences genuine failure in a way that rings true to real life. His failures are crippling. They don’t simply serve as a pre-fame backstory or as neat little hurdles for him to overcome. Every time Llewyn gets back on that metaphorical horse it’s only to be viciously beaten in an alley behind a bar in the next scene. In other words, he’s failing in the most human way possible.
By the end of the film, Llewyn doesn’t find success or a conventional happy ending. In fact, the final scene is simply an extended version of the film’s first scene. But isn’t there something kind of comforting about that? According to Hollinger, there is a case to be made to that end. Watch the video essay below to learn how Inside Llewyn Davis helped him cope with depression: