Inside Llewyn Davis Has Triggered My Existential Crisis. Oh, and it’s a great film.

by robinhardwick

[ those of you that get nitpicky about it, there are spoilers below for the film Inside Llewyn Davis. If you could even call it spoilers]

A few weeks ago I talked about the notion of “embracing failure”, especially when it comes to the creative and entrepreneurial world. The people that preach that failure is good are the people who have ultimately succeeded and in hindsight, of course their failure is good, because they got past it! A lot of our narratives take on the “American Dream” approach, where we hear stories about someone who overcame obstacles, and tried hard enough to make it. For everyone that makes it, there are hundreds, thousands, even millions that fail. Where are their stories? What has become of those who had to give up their dreams? Because that, my friends, is more real, and more likely.

Well, Joel and Ethan Coen must have heard my wishes because Inside Llewyn Davis really struck a chord with me (get it? A chord?). My interpretation of the film was very clear. Llewyn is an artist who has failed. Sure, you’ve got to pay your dues in the music world, but at some point, it’s just not going to happen. He has gained some local popularity playing at the Gaslight, but he’s never moved past that. After his one last chance that maybe, maybe the manager in Chicago would give him a chance, he gives up the dream. He signs up for the merchant marines, doing something he never wanted to do “simply exist”. [I think this was a quote in the movie, to tell you the truth I may have missed it while trying to hold back my tears.] In a more commercial film, his last performance at the Gaslight, where he sings his damn best, would be a breakthrough and at the last minute, well, wouldn’t ya know, there’s a record producer in the crowd who makes him a star. But nope, he plays to the same audience he always has, the same reaction. He gets nothing out of it, except beaten in an alley by someone taking revenge for his heckling. He is literally right back to where he started in the film, beat down and failed. [Many an angry film buff on a message board would say that there are two alternate timelines in the film, but I think it’s just a non-linear narrative where the last scene was shown first. I’d like to think the Coen brothers aren’t into parallel universe shit.]

Well, I guess I got what I asked for, so…great? I didn’t expect the film to hit me so hard. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I don’t usually like folk music or Coen brothers films, but I felt the wind knocked out of me as I watched it. It was likely because the scenes with the cat really upset me, so I was already primed and a little choked up from that. Really, what is the point of trying to make your creative desires happen? Why do we kid ourselves that it will really happen? What is simply existing even mean?

As many of you know, I would like to get paid to write for a living. And I mean this in the broadest sense, I don’t mean publish my own novels, I mean write for a website or for a company, but just to write. Am I just kidding myself? I may as well tell my parents, “sorry mom and dad, but I’m headed off to Hollywood to try and make it as an actor!” because the chances are just the same. Okay, I’ll give myself credit, I’m pretty grounded and I am not risking everything right now, I have a steady day job and a mortgage that I am not about to drop everything for. But I am doing it all in the spirit that it is only until it “happens”. It’s not my purpose, to just do that for the rest of my life would be “just existing.” Til what happens? I don’t even know. Is the creative process in itself just enough? What is it that will make me think I’ve “succeeded”? A bestseller? A million twitter followers? I’ve published a goddamn book earlier this year, with decent sales for a self-published book, but that doesn’t seem enough. Is the end goal to make a decent salary from writing? And then what? Will it ever feel like success [and, as you know, I don’t even know how to handle success when it comes.]

The real point here is that this movie better win a GODDAMN OSCAR because it’s made me question my very existence.