Llewyn Davis, it seems to me, thinks that there’s a purity to music and he’s trying to harness it. As I lie here reading an interview with the Coens, I continue to think about what they meant to say about the age-old uneasy relationship between art and commerce. There’s also a subtext of death and abortion in the movie that I think must be significant somehow, though I’m not sure I’ve quite figured it out. Is it reaching, I wonder, to think that Llewyn might view his desired career path as his child?
In what I think is the best scene, Llewyn apparently aces an important audition, giving what seems to me to be a perfect performance of a song that happens to be about a woman who asks repeatedly for an abortion in order to save her life.
When he’s finished with this poignant, heartfelt performance, there’s a long pause before the callous verdict comes in: “I don’t see a lot of money here.”
Llewyn seems to realize at around this point that, like Queen Jane of the song he’s just sung, it’s him or the music.
It’s difficult for me not to think of a musician I like a great deal named Ron Sexsmith. He’s led a long career, writing many excellent songs, the best of which only a handful of people will ever hear. Of course. He’s got no real gimmick (unless naked sincerity is a gimmick), he’s not especially handsome, and he doesn’t growl out vapid love songs.
Anyway, he’s got a song that seems fitting here called “This Song”: “Brought a song into this world / Just a melody with words / It trembles here before my eyes / How can this song survive? / I brought it to the tower of gold / In my coat of many holes / I came unarmed; they’ve all got knives / How can this song survive? …”