Coen Bros: Inside Llewyn Davis part 7













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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?



5 Responses to “Coen Bros: Inside Llewyn Davis part 7”
  1. Cameron says:

    How do you feel about the suggestion I’ve seen from several people that the Gorfeins are in fact Mike’s parents, which explains their indulgence of Llewyn?

    • Todd says:

      Well, they’re certainly not Mike’s literal parents, that’s pretty clear. However, the Gorfeins, being Upper West Siders, and academics at that, are childless liberals, hence the cat, and they do look upon Llewyn as a kind of stray. They indulge Llewyn as they would indulge any kind of rude savage (Mr. Gorfein is a professor of Pre-Columbian history, after all), as an object of interest. Also, Llewyn might be a creep, but he isn’t so far gone as to say “Fuck Mike’s part!” to Mike’s mother.

      • Shane F. says:

        I think the Gorfeins are Mike’s parents.

        After the blow-up regarding Mrs. Gorfein singing Mike’s part, she storms out of the scene and then yells “I’m staying in his room!” What other room could she possibly have been talking about?

        In my opinion, this line of dialogue is a big “reveal” that explains the relationship between Llewyn and the Gorfeins and lines up other pieces of the plot:
        -Mike’s choice of suicide locales (GW Bridge is at northern end of Manhattan)
        -Mrs. Gorfein knowing Mike’s part of the song (as a mother would)
        -Llewyn sleeping on the couch despite the upper-middle-class Gorfeins’ apartment undoubtedly having a second bedroom (he can’t bring himself to sleep in the room that belonged to Mike)
        -Mr. Gorfein’s super-somber line “We all miss Mike” (spoken as if Mr. Gorfein feels the loss as much or even more than Llewyn)
        -Jean’s line “I miss Mike” (spoken after Llewyn mentions the Gorfeins)
        -why the Gorfeins repeatedly forgive Llewyn’s bad behavior (he and the Gorfeins are bound together by the loss of Mike)

  2. After 5 viewings I still haven’t heard, “I’m staying in his room.” I’ll definitely be listening for it next time. That may sway me, but otherwise I think Mike as the Gorfein kid is a dead-end.

    I am fairly certain, on the other hand, that the Columbia thing that Todd mentions, is very real. Not only is there the confluence of Columbia Records, Columbia University, and Pre-Columbian Art, but Llewyn elects to journey to the city of the Columbian Exposition, and on that journey he passes through Ohio, which figures prominently for the significance of Cincinnati and Akron, a state who’s capitol is Columbus.

    Columbia is the feminine figure symbolizing the New World. (She was usurped by the Statue of Liberty on the advent of her erection in New York Harbor, but before that everyone understood Columbia as a female idol symbolizing the Americas.) Chicago, by the way, where the Columbian Exposition was held, is about as “inside” a place within North America as one can get, geographically while still being in a mythical “center,” such as a city. It is like the navel of the nation. The uterus of Columbia, where Llewyn goes with the aspiration to proverbially give birth. Perhaps to be Inside Llewyn Davis, is somehow to be Inside the United States or Inside America. It would stand to reason given the significance of American Folk Music, both in relation to the film and to the American Empire.

    It is revealing to add to this Columbia theme, the fact that the masculine figure of the New World, as it became an empire, goes by the name Washington. Hence Washington, the capitol city, is known as the District of Columbia. The masculine standard on the feminine soil.

    When we look for incidents of Washington in the film, there are at least two on the surface: the George Washington Bridge, leading west toward the interior, where Timlin (TimeLine?) chose his end, and Washington Square Park, where the woman who “spouts vitriol,” spits her worst venom, thus setting off the most significant distraction to Llewyn from his life goals and thereby explicates the major deviant motivating force to the film’s action. She does this as her head ‘wears’ the crown of the Washington Square Arch at an oblique angle.

    Arches are triumphal edifices signifying the winning of a historic war. In this case the Washington Square Arch was built on a military training ground to commemorate 100 years of Washington’s “reign,” as it was built to celebrate the day he ascended the thrown, so to speak, ie. the day he was inaugurated as the first president. And its design was based on the Parisian Arc de Triomphe, erected by Napoleon, upon effectively ‘winning Europe from the Austrian and Russian Empires.

    There is a theme within the Washington/Columbia polarity, here in Llewyn Davis, I believe that addresses the feminine aspect in the context of a militarized and consumable society, a society transfixed on the passing moment, devoid of universal meaning or timelessness, a society hellbent on death and imperial rule, a place where a living is what you do for money.

    As it relates to Llewyn, we’ll see. There’s much to be discovered through Ohio, I think. And I think when one searches there, Washington comes up again in such a way that there is a Roman and a Welsh significance, to say nothing of the Mythic cues pointing toward celestial undertones.

    PS. Todd, I’m looking at the “all rights reserved” tag just below this text window. Do I remain the author of my words here, or did I just give it all away without my ‘royalty?’ 😉