Tim Tan Huynh

Reprising Inside Llewyn Davis

24 Dec 2020 — The journey resonates now as it had with my first viewing, six years ago, but I tend to focus more on the production and performance aspects when I re-watch this movie.

I re-watched Inside Llewyn Davis and came to appreciate a few things that I’d overlooked after not having watched it, or listed to its soundtrack, for a few years. I still, and will always, identify with Llewyn because of his uncompromising practice of his art. For better or worse, I get easily irritated and avoid societal expectations, too. These days, however, I view the movie as a movie and not so much as a tale of inspiration or caution.

Firstly, I like the look and feel of the Gorfeins’ apartment where Llewyn takes refuge at different points in the movie. It’s warm and cozy because of the interior design and the Gorfeins’ personalities. The apartment is like the Home Alone mansion: it gives the clear impression that its residents are well-to-do, but their decorating style is motivated more by comfort than vanity. I would want to live there, if I could afford it.

The Gorfeins' apartment
Llewyn visits Mitch Gorfein, a Columbia professor, and his wife Lillian (not shown). Their Upper West Side apartment has a homey decor that might be considered “vintage” these days, but I consider it to be timeless. It’s filled with books and records.

Secondly, the road trip to Chicago is more prominent than I’d remembered. The movie is mostly set in Greenwich Village of the 60s, but the part that’s set outside of New York is important. The turning point of the story is Llewyn’s audition at the Gate of Horn, which has such an imposing facade. The owner is imposing, too, because of his position and because of F Murray Abraham’s similarly powerful role in Homeland.

The Gate of Horn exterior
The Gate of Horn has a vault-like appearance despite its multi-colored front. It was a real venue during the 1960s, but its exterior was digitally created for the movie.

Thirdly, I like the road trip itself. The scene at the gas station in particular, even though it happens in the winter and en route to the midwest, reminds me of On The Road, which I’ve read earlier this year. I haven’t seen the movie adaptation that stars Garrett Hedlund, but he plays a beatnik writer in this movie, too. The truck stop, where his character finally strings a few sentences together and a waitress briefly eye-bangs Llewyn, looks surprisingly modern.

Roadside gas station
Llewyn and Johnny Five wait while Roland Turner (not shown), a jazz musician and heroin addict, uses the restroom of a roadside gas station. The open Midwest landscape is a contrast to the rest of the movie.

Fourthly, I enjoy the scene at Columbia Records. Specifically, I like the interaction that Llewyn has with the studio man who is credited as such. He’s professional and even helpful when he suggests that Llewyn sign as an independent contractor to immediately get paid, but he twice notes that Llewyn is forgoing royalties in the process. This information is for the audience’s benefit, but it’s fair for the studio man to remind Llewyn.

Llewyn discusses a session contract
Llewyn gets practical advice from a studio man about the particulars of a session contract.

Overall, the movie isn’t as totally depressing. Llewyn is a struggling musician who needs to couch surf, but at least he has family, friends, and peers with whom he can couch surf (when they’re not mad at him). His life’s work might go mostly unappreciated, but he could be a Merchant Marine again if he re-acquires the necessary credentials that his sister has accidentally on-purpose discarded. He seems to be in good health, although his smoking might catch up with him.

The main thing that I take from this movie is to embrace the ups and downs of following your passion. The latter make life interesting and, ultimately, they make you interesting. (Like Llewyn, I feel like I’ve already had this experience). However, being pragmatic, like recording a novelty song as a replacement musician because you need the cash, doesn’t necessarily force to you to abandon your passion.

Tagline for The Incredible Journey
Llewyn reads a poster for the The Incredible Journey when he passes a movie theater. The tagline, “A fantastic true-life drama” fits Inside Llewyn Davis because it’s based upon, or at least inspired by, the experiences of Dave Von Ronk.