The Five Stars: Inside Llewyn Davis

The Five Stars is an article series in which we chronicle films that have a lasting influence on us and that we feel are essential for any film lover. This series is dedicated to the late Roger Ebert

“If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.”

Inside Llewyn Davis
is a stunning portrait of self-obsession about a folk singer who is unwilling to accept his own failures.

In recent times, his success is fading away and the portrait of self-destruction we’re left with is perhaps the film’s highest point.

It drives what could already be a straightforward story into one of the most complex portraits of one’s search for meaning in their own life.


Only the Coen brothers could have made such a film like this as successful as it stands now and it’s absolutely stunning what they manage to pull off.

The qualities that characterize The Coen Brothers’ usual films, such as oddball and random characters, are placed under a different light and we have a more sombre result than expected.

Even with a distinctive contrast from their usual Americana tone, what is left behind here is one of the finest offerings from the duo and perhaps it might also be their most heartfelt, even with its own cynicisms within the context.

It’s drenched in melancholy, but that’s only a small factor in contributing to why it works so well as a whole, in one of this decade’s landmark achievements.


The cinematography gives the very feeling of appearing dry, as a means of representing both the season of which it takes place and the emptiness of a soul like Llewyn Davis.

He’s a man who is searching for more inside of a place that does not want him around, no matter how good his efforts may be.

The cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel evokes that very mood and results in one of the most beautiful efforts by the Coen brothers, if not, their most beautiful film in terms of the visual aesthetic.

It does look noticeably different from their usual film as it was not shot by their regular Roger Deakins, but it still evokes the time and mood astoundingly well.

Amongst the melancholic cinematography and mood, what aids a piece like this more is the beauty in the soundtrack.

It consists mainly of tunes that evoke the 1960’s so perfectly, in a more depressed state.


From the moment the film starts with Oscar Isaac’s beautiful performance of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me“, it sets the tone for the rest of the film, just the emotional resonance it creates is wonderful.

This seamlessly blends with the melancholic tone for the film and it also takes the viewers back into the setting and creates a reflection of the psychology of our troubled protagonist.

Oscar Isaac is a fantastic to watch, not only in terms of his singing but seeing what he leaves inside of this performance too.

This is a nuanced role that only the Coen brothers could have written.

We soon forget Isaac is playing a character, because the Coen Brothers are insistent through the soundtrack and appearance of Inside Llewyn Davis that we are to picture what this sort of self-obsession leads to: the destruction of one’s soul.


Even after repeat viewings, I still watch this film in awe.

It’s inspiring to see what the Coen’s do with Inside Llewyn Davis, whether it be the folk music scene of the 1960’s or the self-destruction amongst the famed artists who are fading away.

Inside Llewyn Davis is essential viewing. Even in the simplest of scenes, there’s always something deeper brimming underneath the surface. This is what Five Stars films are made of.

Currently on Criterion DVD & BluRay

All images via CBS Films

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