Movie Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

I have been wrestling for quite some time now with whether to pursue music as a career or keep it as a hobby, and then after seeing The Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis just now, I have all these other questions coming up in my mind about having a career in music. I heard that this movie got a lot of awards and even some Oscar nominations, so I went ahead and gave it a go. The Coen Brothers’ other film A Serious Man was, well, okay, but I actually liked Inside Llewyn Davis.

Inside Llewyn Davis takes place in Greenwich Village, NYC in the 1960s. The title character, Llewyn Davis, is trying to cope not only with the death of his music partner, Mike, but also not having money to pay his rent and struggling to make it as a folk musician. He gets frustrated many times when his friends and acquaintances ask him to perform for them because his last album Inside Llewyn Davis was a flop and he sees this as a complete failure. Even when he gets a gig playing a novelty song with Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Al (Adam Driver) he at first thinks the song is silly, but can’t afford to not take the gig because he doesn’t have any money.

Throughout this movie, I asked myself a lot of questions. Even as a classical musician, this movie really struck a cord with me because like Llewyn, I had a narrow idea of what success entailed. In one scene, when Llewyn visits his sister, Joy, she digs up his old records and he tells her he doesn’t want anything to do with them. When she suggest he give them away to people, he tells her that in the music business you’re not supposed to release music if it’s not perfectly packaged. In other words, according to Llewyn, practicing music shouldn’t sell and if you want to be a serious musician, you can’t do anything with your old records if they don’t fit your expectations. In another scene, the Gorsteins invite Llewyn over to dinner and Professor Gorstein has Llewyn perform for them and their family friends at dinner. When Mrs. Gorstein joins in with Llewyn, he blows up at her and says that he doesn’t play free gigs like this one because he is a serious musician who performs to make money, not to entertain other people. However, when Llewyn ends up meeting an actual music producer, the music producer isn’t enthused with Llewyn’s performance because he doesn’t connect with him on a deep level with the music. Llewyn waited a long time because he thought that getting signed to a record label would automatically make his life less miserable, but in fact, the guy he ended up obsessing over could care less about his performance.

The question of whether professional musicians should accept free gigs or only do paid ones is a complicated matter, because on the one hand, if it’s for a good cause, you should offer your services. However, playing free gigs isn’t in fact sustainable if you plan on making music your main source of income. But this idea that I must wait for the perfect paid gig, from my personal experience, has stifled me somewhat. Although I do want to get paid for my musical performances someday, I know that I have a day job so that I can perform for free if I wanted to because I would be making a salary that would allow me to get instrument repairs or instrument insurance. I have thought about playing for K-12 students at some point, or for animals since studies show animals enjoy classical music. It’s not because I want to make money; I do it because I love animals and younger kids. However, Llewyn can’t afford to play for free because he has to pay his rent.

I am getting a little sleepy, so I’m going to nod off to Dreamland, but just some final thoughts:

-the cat in the film is adorable.

-I really like how the film doesn’t give all these statistics about the music industry but instead, with its moments of silence and bleak but beautiful cinematography, time to reflect on the philosophy of music and what success truly means for artists.

-The same club, The Gaslight, that Llewyn performs at is in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and it’s where Midge, a comedian during the 1950s, performs her stand-up routine.

-John Goodman is an excellent actor.

-Oscar Isaac is not only good looking (did you see The Last Jedi?) but also an incredible guitarist and singer.

-Carey Mulligan is a great actress. And a great singer as well.

-Adam Driver and Justin Timberlake are awesome. And also great singers.

-What does it take to communicate with one’s audience?

-How do musicians challenge their own arrogance? In one scene, Llewyn (dare I say it?) pulls a Kanye West on a female performer and heckles her during her performance, causing him to get kicked out of the Gaslight.

-the starving artist stereotype: does one have to “starve” to be considered a true artist?

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