To all the screenwriting doctors who say the protagonist of your movie has to be likable I present to you the new Coen brothers classic Inside Llewyn Davis as Exhibit A of why this does not always have to be the case. The folk singing Llewyn Davis is a deadbeat, a bad drunk, a foulmouthed sailor, and those are his positive qualities.
Set in the early 1960’s folk music world of New York, Llewyn Davis can’t seem to catch a break. One character calls him King Midas’s idiot brother where everything he touches turns to shit. Part of it is Llewyn’s own doing, he’s self-involved, ungrateful, and uncompromising, but he also goes all out in trying to make a living as a musician while also struggling with doing the right thing as a human being. He fails miserably in both of these pursuits. Anyone with creative ambitions at one point or another can relate to the constant rejection to the point that you question what you are revolving your life around.
Inside Llewen Davis fits comfortably in the Coen brothers wheelhouse of The Big Lebowski, A Serious Man, O Brother Where Art Thou and Barton Fink where the main character keeps getting beat up and dragged down while trying to find meaning in life. Their worldview seems Godless and cruel, but there are always hints that there must be more to the universe than the nincompoops and random misfortunes that surround us.
The brothers Coen have found a different formula from the ones that film schools and story gurus like the recently departed Syd Field preach. The Coen rules include make sure humor is always present no matter how big the tragedy and give them an ending that doesn’t provide closure. But even while following a formula, just about every one of their movies still feels fresh and different compared to what everyone else is doing. Maybe that’s why I’m already planning to see this one again.