In someways this doesn’t seem like such an excepional Coen Brothers film, especially after the critical and commercial success of hits such as Fargo, No Country For Old Men, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Man Who Wasn’t There and The Big Lebowski, but it’s arguably their most oddly sentimental and ‘personal’ effort, purely because it seems to have a ‘happy ending’ that rings true and shows the Coens’ deep love of Bob Dylan and nostalgic folk music.
I rewatched this yesterday and felt like I could appreciate the clouded visual style of the film alot more, along with the Coens’ research into popular underground rock and pop of the 60s, and the mystical NY Greenwich village beatnic scene.
It’s a depressing, idiosyncratic story about a down-on-his-luck aspiring musician who makes a last ditch attempt to sign a record deal and fulfil his dream shortly before Bob Dylan appeared and changed pop music and history forever; an era that arguably gave birth and defined celebrity icons, fashion, civil unrest and political turmoil for the next fifty odd years.
The Coens don’t pay too much attention to the historic events, and in typical oblique fashion simply show the character floundering in a series of random, dissappointing encounters and suffering the consequences of his poor choices, similar to Jeff Bridges in Big Lebowski, or more appropriately, John Turturro in Barton Fink; the starving artist desperately trying to survive the indignaties and demands of an oppressive populist culture.
I think, like the somewhat poorly received Burn After Reading, I love this film for its pointless, psuedo-intellectual and offbeat humour. Like Oh Brother Whereart Thou, the Coens explore paradixical themes and philosophy, but you get the impression that they’re not really taking it any of it that seriously, and it’s more about creating funny moments and ending scenes with characters being humiliated and saying ‘fuck’ alot.
On a personal level, I’d watched this film shortly after the break-up with my partner following the birth of our son, then getting fired over something that seems as funny and worse as anything the Coens could have conjured, and then finding myself unemployed but trying to get work as a writer makes the scenes where Llewyn suffers similar experiences of failure and rejection seem especially poignant to me.