Monday, January 20, 2014

Loss & Llewyn Davis

Dh & I went to see the movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” on my recent birthday. It was getting rave reviews, it was about folk musicians (we both have some liking for some folk music) in Greenwich Village (which I drove through on a tour bus during my trip to New York this fall), & it was set in 1961, which seemed appropriate (cough cough) for my birthday. 
It was a good movie -- although neither of us felt it was quite as amazing as we had hoped it would be. (I think I liked it better than dh did.) 
I got thinking about the movie again today after reading this article from The Daily Beast, which laments how the movie was mostly shut out of the recently announced Oscar nominations, despite all the critical acclaim – and then hazards a guess at why:    
“This is a film about loss and grief, and not making it—themes that without a looping back narrative of success and transcendence do not resound with Academy members…
"Davis is not only rootless, he is lonely, without hope. Typically in films you root for the hero to overcome staggering odds, to pilot a plane to safety or endure cruelty on a horrific scale. During Inside Llewyn Davis you just wish Davis had a warm coat and that someone would answer when he rings on their doorbell…
"This isn't a film about conquering demons or surmounting impossible odds, it is a film about losing and losing more, the chipping away of character and of hope. It is about losing your dreams, not achieving them, life shrinking, hope diminishing, aspiration dissolving… Inside Llewyn Davis [is] a film of ghosts and disappointment; of a man not meeting the challenge of life.”
The movie WAS a bit of a downer -- a slice of life/week in the life of a would-be folksinger who is down on his luck, at least in part because of his own bad choices. He HAS had some very bad luck, though, including some sad losses we eventually learn about. (There was a point in the movie where I feared that Llewyn was about to follow in the footsteps of his former singing partner.) There's also an element of "Groundhog Day" here -- it seems like Llewyn is destined to keep repeating the same mistakes over & over again -- maybe until (like Bill Murray's weatherman) he learns his lesson?

At the same time, though, no matter how nasty and unlikeable he can sometimes be, Llewyn somehow manages to hang in there. Amazingly, the people he wrongs seem willing to forgive and forget. The couple he insulted at a dinner party he crashed (!) welcome him back to their apartment with hugs and even apologies (!!) and let him sleep on their couch for the umpteenth time. Fellow folksinger Jean, who despises him, nevertheless tips him off to a gig -- at a café where the owner welcomes him back, despite the fact that Llewyn punched him the last time they saw each other. Even the cat who is his companion for a good part of the film tries to follow him out of the apartment (again).  
Heck, I'll admit I have a soft spot for Llewyn myself.  And it's not hard to understand why, when you think about it. OK, maybe I'm stretching things a bit here -- but when I read that part of the article about loss & grief, about losing your dreams & not achieving them, the idea that the absence of “a narrative of success and transcendence” lacks resonance -- well, it all sounded pretty familiar to a childless-not-by choice woman. 
(There are even a few ALI angles in the movie. I'll share one:  At a critical point in the movie, Llewyn auditions for an important music businessman. His choice of material? A mournful ballad about "The Death of Queen Jane" -- King Henry VIII's Wife #3 of 6 -- who gives Henry the male heir he so desperately wants, but then dies from complications shortly afterward.)  
I know a little something about loss & grief, about not achieving your dreams. I know that my story doesn't exactly shout success and hope, at least in conventional story terms and triumph-over-infertility narratives. 
But that doesn't mean that I consider myself a loser, someone whose life is "shrinking, hope diminishing, aspiration dissolving… ghosts and disappointment... not meeting the challenge of life.” Maybe I might have used some of those words a dozen years ago, when I first abandoned infertility treatment. But things change -- or maybe I've changed -- maybe a bit of both. Time heals a lot of wounds and lends an entirely different perspective on things. My life may not be entirely conventional or successful in some people's eyes -- and I may never stop missing my daughter or wishing things had turned out differently. But all in all, I like my life today. I am far happier now than I was back then.  

Personally, I’d like to check back in with Llewyn Davis 10 years later & find out what happened to him, too.  Maybe he never got rich & famous, at folk singing or anything else. (Or, who knows? -- maybe the nasal-voiced guy who takes to the stage in half-shadows at the very end of the movie provides Llewyn with new musical inspiration, as he did for so many others.) But I like to think that, eventually, Llewyn managed to find his way in life.   
Have you seen the movie? What did you think?


  1. This is the problem with society, and - dare I say it - US-dominated Western societies, where we are only supposed to talk about success, the American dream, about "achieving anything if you want it/work hard enough."

    Yet I think that your story does shout success and hope. It has a wonderful narrative, about someone in a great relationship, someone who has endured grief but still welcomes children (ie The Princess) into her life, someone who keeps her look on life positive, someone who can still laugh, and someone who uses her experience to help others. A survivor. And that is to be celebrated.

    (And no, I haven't seen the movie yet so can't comment otherwise).

  2. I love this post. I heard a critic describe the movie as "too bitter" but I think you and Mali are right: there is so little room in the US dominated cultural perspective for what happens when the tried and true storyline doesn't work. You've made me want to see the movie.

  3. I was curious about this movie when I saw the trailer - it 'looks' interesting (which is what draws me to a film these days - the feeling or atmosphere from the film thanks to the set design and the era, etc.... anyway). But now that I've read your very interesting thoughts on it, I really do want to see it!

    I love a hero is not really a hero - there's a little bit of reality in there that we can relate to, for sure. There's nothing more boring these days than the superhero/fairy tale story redone over and over again, which Hollywood builds it's reputation on (shame they are not able to move on). So it's good to see a film that leaves me thinking, and maybe doesn't wrap everything up in a happy ending.

    Reminds me too of a tweet I read (and retweeted) just this morning about the demographics of the Awards voters - some massive percentage were elderly white males, with little of the voting crowd that I could relate to. That they are deciding what films deserve credit speaks a lot about the Hollywood film industry.

    And that is why I love the independent films! :)

    PS - Thanks for being the first person to stop and say Hi in my new blog home - most appreciated!

  4. This film wasn't on my radar, but with your thoughts on it, it is now.