Inside Llewyn Davis

July 15, 2014


Inside Llewyn Davis is a brief story, circling the life of a folk singer. I pause to avoid claiming Lleywn Davis is an ambitious folk singer, as he seems content to wallow in his lack of commercial success. Contrast that with other’s he surrounds himself with, who are trying their hands at becoming commercial products.


Yes. Products. One such compatriot is legally changing his name to make its ring sound catchier on the radio. Another records, with the help of Mr. Davis, a piece of rock and roll that exhausts its value the moment man’s excitement about space becomes turns to boredom. Llewyn does not want to find success that way. He doesn’t want to change.


He doesn’t want to adapt to reality in other words. This is not to say he is a narcissist, demanding the world validate himself. He is much too agonizing to be deemed so callously, as the infantile are afraid to go through winter without a winter coat. What he wants above all is to create art in his image, and if the hands that move the strings of musical production circa 1960 like it, then he has punched his golden ticket.


The problem is that they don’t. At least not his own act, which is frankly moribund, possibly reflecting a traumatic ending to his once partner. But then again, it is not as if his duo performance moved records either.


Folk singers achieved some level of success, but were always and will always be under the table of popularity. The extremely heightened intimacy between the listener’s ear and the singer’s soul is at time unnerving. It doesn’t give an immediate gratification that popular music draws. The pick-me-up is not there; the poetry of the lyricist is more dominant than the accompanied musical cadences. Such music requires a heightened appreciation of the abstract, something closer to appreciating classical music than the powerfully exciting feel goodness of rhythm and blues or rock and roll and their variations. The former variety paints a story with the rationalizing of sound, carefully crafting the drama and emotional tension gently. The latter is a capacitor, releasing the stored energy of the mind in a passionate, almost chaotic manner. Truly Dionysian we can say of the latter, whereas the former would be denounced by Nietzsche as too much of a rationalization of the emotional, something he clearly saw as the mark of the degeneration of Ancient Greek culture and hence possibly one component of his displeasure with the Christian religion which finds instinct as sin.


Folk music is poetry. We can see as strong a similarity as can be with Dylan’s Rolling Stone and the symmetrical rhyming pattern of the verses. This is what makes it too abstract for the masses to savor. It requires effort on their part to contemplate and to think about what is being said. The pleasure arrived at appreciating such a philosophical form of beauty escapes the needy who need instant-gratification. Nonetheless, Dylan was so famous because of his brilliant ability to achieve the aesthetic pleasure of rationalizing passion, with the mental pleasure of poetry.


Teasingly, Inside Llewyn Davis showcases Dylan opposite to Davis. Why did one succeed and one fail? Because one was a better perfectionist than the other. Having to perfect your art does not necessarily make you a sellout.


Grade: B+



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