The Corner

Llewyn Davis and the Human Condition

I just saw Inside Llewyn Davis and I recommend it strongly. It is a sad movie, to be sure, but a very beautiful one, and never boring. Its sadness is reflected in the film’s title: The main character, a folk musician trying to make it in 1961 Greenwich Village, is a thoroughly unlikeable jerk who is trapped within himself. The tragedy of Llewyn Davis is that he simply cannot escape being “inside Llewyn Davis.”

One of the reasons many people (me included) despise Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence is that it feels like a trap; it sounds like the clanging of prison doors on existence. This particular set of things that are is the same particular set of things that always will be, and there’s no exit. Inside Llewyn Davis makes this feeling powerful and explicit. But what makes the movie so poignantly beautiful is that the audience sees what Llewyn does not: the opportunities for transcendence all around. The film’s palette of colors is muted — blacks, whites, and grays — but the people are radiant with personal color: a lovely young folkie ingénue; a soldier from Fort Dix; an obese, heroin-addicted jazzman; Llewyn’s silent, gravely ill father.

But the human person is not designed to be closed: He/she is designed to be open, at the very least, horizontally, to other people. I — along with anyone who shares with me any sort of religious sense — would also contend that the person is open vertically as well, to the radiance of being itself, conventionally known as God.

The beauty that surrounds Llewyn comes through clearly, not just in the other characters, but also in the terrific soundtrack, which has garnered praise even from those critics who enjoyed the movie less than I did: That’s why, finally, the movie was sad, but not depressing. Man has a desire to break out of his circumstances and reach a state that he knows is, deep down, more natural to him: a place he genuinely belongs and is at home. I don’t want to give away what would be a spoiler; suffice it to say that when, very close to the end of the film, a cat’s name is finally revealed, it is a crucial clue to the meaning of this excellent movie.