Joel Coen had a thought-provoking answer to an audience question at the press conference following the New York Film Festival Press & Industry screening. The question: Is failure more interesting than success? Snappy answer: no, but it’s less lucrative.
Joel’s answer: “The success movies have been done, haven’t they?”
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is a study of a character, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) — sometimes inspired, sometimes an asshole — striving to be authentic in an artistic culture, the turn of the sixties folk revival, when authenticity mattered. My inference: flip to the present — how much does it matter in contemporary cultural creation. Discuss. Insert “Iron Man 4” joke here.
One of the central themes “Inside Llewyn Davis” presents is the challenge to remain authentic on the razor’s edge between success and failure.
Joel had a right-brain response to the question about why their films are embedded in specific times and places: “It’s hard for us to imagine stories divorced from specific locales.” It’s notable that both brothers are Fifties babies who would have grown up in a household that idolized folkies like Joan Baez, Pete Seger and Peter, Paul and Mary, and later Bob Dylan nee Zimmerman.
Without getting all autobiographical (see “A Selfish Man”), Ethan went right brain while getting more specific about why the Sixties folk scene resonated for the brothers: “the tortured relationship to success, making new crap out of old crap; not wanting to sell out and wanting to perform. The authenticity they….” he petered out, apologizing for being vague, but he was circling the heartfelt nugget of truth.
The Coens strive to be authentic in a form that rewards recycling, and yet they have the same drive to perform and succeed as many other artists that have landed on either side of that razor’s edge of success and failure.