Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fr. Joe Saw "Inside Llewyn Davis"

This Christmas, I got 3 Malco Cinema gift cards worth about 3000 movies with popcorn. So, I've seen some flicks over the Ole Miss winter break.

Yesterday I went to Memphis (MLK Jr Day...seemed right), had some ribs and then went to see "Inside Llewyn Davis".

This is another one of the Coen Brothers projects. While the movie is supposedly based on a memoir of the early days in Greenwich Village's folk music scene, the Coen brothers pick up the theme from one of their earlier movies, "O Brother Where Art Thou?" and revisit Homer's Odyssey.

While "O Brother" was a retelling of the epic set in the rural south in the 30's (most of it filmed in Mississippi), "Inside Llewyn Davis" hides the theme and turns it on it's ear.

SPOILER ALERT (highlight): The theme of a long journey that is faced with adversity and obstacles as well as the interaction with friends and foes is told but instead of Llewyn portrayed by actor/singer Oscar Isaac, growing in self-awareness and wisdom, he remains a very isolated, selfish, barely likable main character.

However, the movie is full of opportunities for growth and change abandoned. Llewyn is unchanged from the beginning of the movie to the end (the beginning of the movie is also the ending). And although he sings songs that deal with love, pain, loss, care and compassion, he avoids those themes in his own life. Only two things are of interest to him: Getting a record deal and keeping up with an errant cat. The cat belongs to an academic couple who are folk enthusiasts and allow Llewyn to sleep in a guest room when he's in need.

SPOILER AGAIN: Llewyn doesn't get the big contract or heed any voice of reason, experience or virtue and ends up playing in his friend's clubhouse where Bob Dylan takes the stage after Llewyn ends his set.The cat is returned home after a long journey, heavy-handedly referred to by a Disney movie poster and the cat's name is revealed to be Ulysses.

Central to the movie is abortion. Folksinger Jean Berkey, portrayed by Carey Mulligan, hands Llewyn a note informing him of her pregnancy intimating that he's the father. The two take a walk in the park and discuss the next step. Jean has a husband Jim (Justin Timberlake) so Llewyn asks about that possibility. Jean coolly tells Llewyn that she is not sure and if the baby was Jim's she'd want the child. However, she responds that if the baby is Llewyn's she doesn't want it. She says that the uncertainty of paternity somehow ruins it all and it's better to abort than have Llewyn's child.

Llewyn then agrees to "take care of it" (amazing how "care" is always used as a term concerning abortion). He goes to an abortionist who remembers Llewyn from a couple of years back. He tells Llewyn that he'll perform the abortion at no cost since Llewyn paid for one during the last visit and the woman changed her mind and decided to have the child. Llewyn is disturbed to know that he may have a child unknown to him.

Llewyn's lack of introspection at Jean's desire for an abortion is also sobering. However, one scene in the movie has Llewyn passing an exit for Akron, the city where the child and his mother live, and toys a bit with the idea of Llewyn considering a reunion.

Abortion is part of the movie for a reason. It highlights that abortion is an act of aggression and erasure. It is a reaction to a loathing of humanity and it is personal. Jean's decision to have an abortion reveals that her sexual decisions can be mistakes but the mistake is not hers. As if Llewyn were not even human, she alternates between wistful affection in speaking of having a child with her husband and revulsion in the "it" that Llewyn sired inside her. She blames Llewyn for her bad choice even when he says "takes two to tango". She yells at him and tells him that he should wear two condoms with electrical tape around them next time he has sex.

For Llewyn, as with so much else in the movie, it's the hiding the tracks of his existence and showing that indeed he has nothing nor will have anything to bring forth for the future. He's a folksinger, indicating he's stuck in the past with no real investment in his present life nor interest in the future.

The Coens brilliantly focus on a very much adored period of time among baby-boomers (any gray ponytailed professor can belt out "If I had a hammer" as if they knew how to use one) that is memorialized as a innocent, altruistic and pacific time where freedom and love blossomed and populates it with characters who are selfish, hateful, spiteful, prideful and unkind.

Llewyn states, "If it's never new and it never gets old, it's a folk song". The Coens are saying that humanity is the same. Perhaps borrowing from the fateful words of Quoheleth, "there is nothing new under the sun" when it comes to the human race. And if we live with that fatalism, nothing is new. Nothing is fresh.

And nothing gets born.

To paraphrase one of the songs in the movie, "If you lose the flower, you lose the branch too."

Today, is the MARCH FOR LIFE in Washington, DC. Tomorrow the United States Catholics pray for the sanctity of life.