Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis
Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis

Thanks to Tom Reed for this brilliant analysis, available as a downloadable pdf after the introduction below.

The latest Coen Brothers movie has divided audiences and critics. Some call it a poetic and profound masterpiece; others find it dull, off-putting and depressing. Considering the paltry box office it’s clear mainstream moviegoers have ignored it. Along with the Academy. Why? What’s the explanation? Is this greater or lesser Coen Brothers?

When I found out that a cat figured prominently in the action, I was immediately intrigued by the prospect of applying the BS2. Given the narrative prominence of a feline (an orange tabby, no less), this was a must-do. Not that I ever thought the Coens consciously applied it themselves – they’re too iconoclastic for that. They go their own way. On the other hand, they are master craftsmen at the height of their powers, which is why I was irresistibly drawn to see where and how the worlds of Blake Snyder and Joel and Ethan Coen intersected, if at all, and if that exploration could shed light on the movie and its performance. I think it can.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a small, somber film, especially by mainstream standards. It feels like a character study, as Oscar Isaac, the actor portraying Llewyn, occupies virtually every frame, and doesn’t do much more than bounce around NYC looking for a place to sleep and a few bucks, playing some tunes along the way while alienating family and friends wherever he goes. Though unmistakably character-driven, it is far more than a mere character study. Its genre, from an STC perspective, is straight up Golden Fleece, a classic example of the “Solo Fleece” where the heart of the story is a journey the Hero takes alone, and a lesson he can only learn (or fail to learn) by himself. Despite its modest scale, this story (like Llewyn himself) has sizable thematic ambition.

Download the Inside Llewyn Davis Beat Sheet Analysis.