Coen Bros: Inside Llewyn Davis part 7
Llewyn, having worn out his welcome at Jim and Jean’s place, is now without abode. He meets Jean at the Cafe Reggio for a kiss-off date. Spoiler alert!
“Do you ever think about the future at all?” despairs Jean, after making sure Llewyn has lined up an abortion doctor for her. Llewyn sighs and looks at the ceiling. “You mean, flying cars?” he asks. What Llewyn is trying to say is that “the future,” for him, isn’t something you plan for, that to plan for the future is “careerist.” He thinks of himself as above that. He disowns his past (while trying to mooch off his family) he doesn’t consider the future, he lives “in the now,” which would be admirable if it didn’t take a whole (Greenwich) village to support his artistic freedom.
In the middle of rejecting Jean’s vision of life, Llewyn sees what he thinks is the Gorfein’s cat walking down the street and dashes after it. Like Tom chasing his hat in Miller’s Crossing, Llewyn chases a cat. Tom’s hat was a key part of his identity, but Llewyn’s cat is something else, a symbol of the one shred of responsibility he carries.
Llewyn heads over to Al Cody’s house with the cat, only to learn that he must vacate Al’s apartment, because Al’s girlfriend is coming to visit. Glancing at Al’s Mail, he finds that Al’s given name is Arthur Milgrum. (Not to be confused with Stanley Milgram.) Al, with his cowboy hat, goatee and blue jeans, is no more authentic than Llewyn is. (Al Cody was inspired by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, another Greenwich Village folkie, who styled himself as a cowboy and was born Elliott Charles Adnopoz in the wild-west town of Brooklyn.)
Llewyn goes to see “his guy,” the doctor who will perform Jean’s abortion. Llewyn’s done business with him before, with Diane, the other girl he got pregnant. He’s surprised to learn that the Diane didn’t go through with the abortion, that she had his child and moved to Akron. That means that Llewyn, the singer of songs about lost love and farewells and separations, has a child out there somewhere in the heart of America. The doctor has not been able to get Llewyn’s money back to him, since “I never see you at the hoots anymore.” He’s referring to “Hootenannies,” which were folk-music open-mic nights at Folk City. Llewyn’s dirty look at the word “hoots” suggests that Llewyn considers himself above such a gathering, that perhaps he’s graduated from such an amateur-hour show or else considers Hootenannies too joyous and free-spirited for such a serious-minded man as himself. Or, perhaps “the hoots” was where he performed with his dead partner Mike, and feels a need to distance himself from that part of himself.
Llewyn takes the cat to the Gorfeins’, and gets invited in for dinner. In the Gorfein’s apartment are some dinner guests, “early music” folks from the Columbia faculty. I’m guessing that the Coens picked Columiba University for its geographical distance from the Village, and not for sharing a name with Columbia Records, although I could be wrong: as the record company appears to be a mausoleum, the university folk appear to be quite humorless about their niche and utterly baffled by Llewyn’s understanding of music. Folk music is about tradition, but the university folk are about “serious music,” the whole idea of music conveying joy is alien to them. (Adding to the Columbian aspect of the scene, Llewyn mentions later that Mr. Gorfein lectures in Pre-Columbian history, a term that cuts at least three ways here.)
And yet, in the very next scene, when the Gorfeins ask Llewyn to play a song at the dinner table, he refuses, in spite of Mrs Gorfein mentioning that “music is a joyous expression of the soul.” Llewyn reluctantly begins singing “Dink’s Song,” self-conscious both because he’s being made to literally sing for his supper, and also because he’s embarrassed to be singing a folk song in front of the snooty-nosed early-music academics. When Mrs. Gorfein begins singing “Mike’s part” of “Dink’s Song,” Llewyn loses it. Mike’s death is apparently still a huge sore spot with him, but he covers his pain by lashing out at the Gorfeins for treating him as an amateur. “I’m a professional!” he yells, “I do this to pay the bills!” Of course, Llewyn hasn’t paid the rent, or the bills, in years – he doesn’t even have an address. So his bellowing about professionalism is mere puffery.
To put an exclamation point on the evening, Mrs Gorfein announces that Llewyn has, in fact, brought to their house the wrong cat. “Where’s its scrotum?!” she wails. A question we might also put to Lllewyn. When will Llewyn grow a pair, so to speak, and face up to his responsibilities?