Victoria Jelinek

Inside Llewyn Davis

Llewyn Davis poster1961, the West Village, New York. Singer-songwriter Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) skulks at the fringe of the folk-revival scene, bothered by the memory of his dead partner, and hoping for a big break to land in his lap. Meanwhile, the unwelcome pregnancy of a brief liaison with Jean (Carey Mulligan) and the accidental adoption of a cat, create a series of mishaps that lamentably fail to alter anything about Llewyn’s life.

Inspired by the memoir of real-life folk hero, Dave Van Ronk, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coen brothers’ serious films. While the film is quirky and darkly comic, primarily via Llewyn’s expressions to the absurd people and circumstances around him, the film is based upon an unsexy musical scene and infused with melancholy. Additionally, its hero is not likeable. For example, he tries to borrow money from a friend (played by Justin Timberlake) for an abortion when the friend is the boyfriend of the said girl. He laments the suicide of his partner in their flourishing musical duo, but he’s the one left suffering, right? He’s a man who doesn’t deign to connect with others, yet he can’t function alone. He takes responsibility for the ginger Tom, but he alienates everyone around him, even long time fans.

That said, Llewyn is captivating. His observation of the absurd injustices in the world around him, is as relevant today as is was then.


Professional Brandon (Michael Fassbender) lives in New York City and thinks he’s a normal guy with a robust sexual appetite. We see Brandon full of bravado at the beginning of the film, seeking out sexual encounters everywhere and with everyone. However, when his fragile and damaged sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) arrives unexpectedly for a long stay, he realizes he might have a problem and the façade of his life begins to fall away.

While it’s understood from reviews, taglines, and marketing copy that “Shame” is about the difficult subject of sex addiction, I felt as though I struggled to fill in the themes and a story: is it about the emotional cost (shame) of conforming or not conforming to ‘normalcy’? Certainly I left the cinema feeling sad, lonely and bleak, but did I look for hidden meaning and symbolism that wasn’t there? Other than hurt looks, some non-sequiteur conversations, and some sordid scenes, there was no real story or new insight. Brandon is uncomfortable, at moments tender, and sometimes seemingly remorseful with his sister, but why? She’s first introduced to us taking a shower, he walks in on her, and she continues to let him see her standing there naked – even seems to invite it; at another moment he’s wrestling with her with a towel around him that falls. Did she pin her hopes of sexual understanding, and he his, on each other? Is this the basis for his sexual proclivity? We’re meant to imagine the worst but other than a suggestion by Sissy that they ‘come from a bad place,’ this is never explored or explained – was there incest between them or within their family? Certainly in life story lines and characters aren’t always well-developed or resolved, but this is cinema, sure, cinema verging on an attempt at cinema verite, but it felt very much like a glossy student film, preoccupied with its own agenda rather than any desire to reach anyone else. Perhaps this is the point, that we wrestle with concepts introduced in this film, sans more information, going out feeling unsatisfied, and feeling the self-absorption and isolation that arguably reflects our modern world….

This is director Steve McQueen’s second film, and like his first, the IRA hunger strike drama about Bobby Sands aptly called “Hunger,” it is visually interesting, well-acted and promotes conversation. That said, I felt the same as a fellow filmgoer in front of me who said on his way out of the cinema to his friend “Well, I’ll never get that two hours back.”

Never Let Me Go
March 13, 2011, 3:44 pm
Filed under: Published film reviews | Tags: , , ,

Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is a woman looking back on her childhood days at Hailsham boarding school with best friends Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). Like the other Hailsham pupils, the three have a destiny that together, they grow to understand, and struggle to accept.

Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name, the story is, technically, science fiction, even as the film initially feels like a coming-of-age romance. Adapted from the book by Alex Garland, himself an author (28 Days Later, The Beach), we are told immediately of a medical breakthrough in the 1960’s which has dramatically extended human life expectancy, and we see the pupils of the school wearing a wrist band to enter/exit and that they keep through adulthood, so even as we know that we’re not in a ‘normal’ environment, the genre of the film is not revealed quickly.
These characters are entrapped, but they’re not searching for escape. There are deeper, more personal things at stake, which is why this story is so profoundly sad. This is beautifully realised adaptation of intelligent science fiction with very good direction and casting.