In a way, Inside Llewyn Davis completes an unofficial trilogy by the Coen brothers: A series of extremely dark comedies about aloof idealists who find themselves woefully underprepared to deal with the absurd and random cruelty of the real world. The other two masterpieces in the "trilogy", Barton Fink and A Serious Man, used surreal imagery to imply a sense of divine intervention, a hint of karma as payback for the wanton cluelessness of the main character in each film, coupled with the undeniable admittance of the power of random luck leading a majority of their fates.
Inside Llewyn Davis tones down the surreal touches of the previous two films, while still assigning equal blame to the protagonist's dickish and self-destructive self-importance AND his lack of pure luck, which, in this case, refers to him losing out on fame and fortune as a folk star simply because he missed getting on the scene at the right place and time by a tiny margin. If Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), the uptight folk singer who's struggling to make a name for himself within the folk scene of Grenwich Village in 1961 began his efforts only about a year later, or at least kept his head up against admittedly harsh conflict, he might have turned into as big of a folk star as Bob Dylan or Joan Baez. For proof, take a close look at who takes the stage right after Llewyn at the end of the film.
Of course this doesn't mean that the Coens put the entire fault of the character's failure on pure luck. Llewyn is portrayed as an ungrateful jerk who sees himself as the second coming of Christ as far as the folk scene is concerned, and is constantly astonished when people don't immediately bow down to his genius upon his very presence. He's mean and callous to pretty much everyone around him, and has a profound disdain for the common workingman, the kind of people his music is supposed to be about. In that way, he's almost a twin for Barton Fink, the snobby playwright who pretended to be all about the common man, while ignoring every opportunity to capture the true plight of the very people he was supposed to represent.
Perfectly driven by the star-making performance by Oscar Isaac (Who also has a mesmerizing singing voice), Inside Llewyn Davis is yet another masterpiece by the Coens. It's not a film about convenient story or character arcs, but a refreshing take on how people, especially struggling artists, can get stuck on a loop of minor accomplishments, followed by major setbacks and loss of hope.
But here's the real question I'm sure the fans are asking: Is it worth double dipping with the Criterion Blu-ray? The answer is an unequivocal "Yes!" The Sony Blu-ray release's A/V presentation was almost perfect, and did an amazing job capturing Bruno Delbonnel's gorgeous cinematography. The new HD transfer improves very slightly on the previous release, giving the film a slightly grainier film-like look.
But it's the extras that make this release deserving of a re-purchase of the same film. Inside "Inside Llewyn Davis" was a short doc that was already on the previous release, but a loose and passionate talk between the Coens and Guillermo Del Toro about their cinematic influences, extensive interviews with folk legends about the film and Dave Van Ronk, who was a real-life influence on the film, as well as newsreel footage of a protest in Grenwich Village in 1961, makes this a must-buy for fans of the Coens and the folk genre.
The main reason to buy this Blu-ray, however, lies in the existence of a second feature, an engrossing 100-minute concert film that gathers music legends like Joan Baez and Patti Smith, who perform many classic folk tunes as tribute to Inside Llewyn Davis. Intercutting between concert footage, rehearsals, and interviews with the performers, this documentary is a real treat.
Inside Llewyn Davis will be available on DVD and Blu-ray by Criterion January 19, 2016.