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.”
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?