Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), the latest masterpiece from the Coen Brothers, opens inside the now famous Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village in 1961, upon the arrival of Bob Dylan, then an unknown folk singer, and on the verge of the folk boom that partly defines the 1960s.
In the cafe, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) commands the stage with a simple, traditional folk song, “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” about a poor man wishing to be hanged, which turns out to be a rather revealing song.
Llewyn is self-destructive and something of a masochist. He is a reincarnation of Odysseus (a staple in the Coen canon). Both men are conceited, hypocritical, philandering, paradoxical, and treacherous. They sabotage their own successes. For instance, in the film, Jean (Carey Mulligan), angered by Llewyn’s philandering, tells him, “Everything you touch turns to shit! Like King Midas’s idiot brother… You don’t want to get anywhere, and that’s why the same shit is going to keep happening to you, because you want it to… and also because you’re an asshole!”
Like The Odyssey, which the Coens previously adapted into O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2001), Inside Llewyn Davis is a chronicle of one man’s self-defeating failure to control himself. It’s a period piece, but it’s also a character study the delves deep inside Llewyn Davis.