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December 15, 2013


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Tony Dayoub

Jesus, who the fuck got that from the film? Talk about unnecessary (and unwanted) layers of subtext.

Andrew Wyatt

I got into a bit of heated Facebook discussion recently---I know, I know---about GRAVITY, and specifically about whether or not the back half of the film was a death bed hallucination or perhaps even a post-death, afterlife experience. As far as I could discern, the evidence that the "pro-dream" / "pro-heaven" side was able to marshall was that A) Ryan' survival of her ordeal seemed really, really, really improbable, B) Her hallucination / fantasy about Matt's reappearance establishes that nothing presented in the film can be assumed to be "real", and C) There's no convincing reason one *shouldn't* believe Everything Is a Dream. What frustrated me most is that no one could explain how such a reading of the film changes much of anything about either its visceral thrills or its themes. It's almost incidental. I was ready to throw in the towel with, "Okay, fine, you win: Ryan was dreaming the whole thing. AND?"

I don't even know where to begin with these discussions. I'm not sure what originated this impulse to mistrust everything that we are shown on screen and assume every narrator is unreliable---FIGHT CLUB? TOTAL RECALL? BRAZIL? GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET? (Kidding. Kind of.)---but it needs to stop. Viewers are no longer interfacing with what is on the screen and are just making up their own films in their brains.

Is it a cute thought experiment to imagine that Ferris Bueller is not an actual person but a manifestation of Cameron Frye's id? Sure. It's diverting to think about. But for Christ's sake, I would hope no one would try to defend it as the "obvious" and "only correct" interpretation of the film.


See also: the possibly-posthumous epilogue to 'Taxi Driver', as well as the idea that the 1960s portions of 'Once Upon a Time in America' might just be Noodles' opium delirium.


This theory seems to stem from the idea that Llewyn and the Gorfeins are so diametrically different that there must be an extraordinary backstory to explain their friendship. Also, I suspect some people are attracted to the idea of a single "ah ha" moment that would "explain" why Llewyn was so touchy at dinner, or why it was so important for him to find Ulysses. "Because it was Mikey's cat! And because he lost the Gorfeins' son so he didn't want to lose their cat too!" or something like that. I'll stop now, because I'm irritating myself; it'll suffice to say that Mikey being the Gorfeins' son is a narrative dead end, and even the Coens' most ardent detractors couldn't accuse them of this kind of sappy, silly plot twist.

Don R. Lewis

Just wanna add...I agree Mike's clearly not a Gorfein, but it was an *intriguing* idea put forth on twitter. At least until I watched the film again and it became clear this reading was wrong. And LLewyn IS kiiiiinda an unforgivable asshole (the scene where he asks Jim for money for something bears me out) but yeah, not a Gorfein.

The whole conversation reminded me of this which also made my day:

Glenn Kenny

All I'm going to say re "intriguing" is "I'm not sure if I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work."

And again, if Llewyn is a truly unforgivable asshole than I am loving the wrong movie. That's MY interpretation.

Don R. Lewis

I don't wanna delve into spoiler turf here....but like I said. The thing he asks of Jim is one of the lousiest, crummiest and lowest things I've seen a character do in a while. And I love the way it's played off too...in like, a sentence. Never comes up again between them.

As far as "intriguing," I just meant it was fun to see the chatter and re-examine it. I don't get much of that these days.


This baffled me too. I think this impulse may arise among people habituated to video games, where the discovery of "Easter eggs" is so prized.

James Keepnews

And the virality of this misapprehension continues to spread into an august corner, in this case a passage from the otherwise unimpeachable Luc Sante's otherwise unimpeachable socio-historical reflection on ILD for the New York Review of Books blog. To wit.: "(Llewyn) had a partner with whom he recorded an album, but who jumped off the George Washington Bridge (“It’s traditional to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge,” another character observes). The partner’s bereft parents try to be parents to Llewyn, but he exploits this, joylessly, only when he is desperate for a meal and a doss."

It's a mystery to me how this clearly (all the clearer for Glenn's fine post here) inaccurate presumption of parentage came to take hold. It was pretty evident in the film that Llewyn served as a surrogate child for the Gorfeins but any sense that they were the actual parents of "Mikey" has to be a projection unsupported by the narrative. I wonder how it was so many people came to the same wrong conclusion.

Mark Newstetter

Saw the film last night. Having been a denizen of the Village singer songwriter coffee house scene some dozen years later in the mid '70s, I'm always interested to see skilled filmmakers' take on the subject. I'm also Dave Van Ronk fan.

But more to the point: To me, the Gorfeins were nothing more or less than liberal Jewish anthropologists who would have befriended LLewyn Davis at some earlier point in his career simply as lovers of folk music and folk cultures in general. Let's not forget that none other than Pete Seeger was the son of an ethnomusicologist. The world of academia was never far from Folk Music in New York during the '50s and '60s.

So there really is no dissonance in LLewyn having the Gordeins as patrons. They would have come to him in their study of American folk music of the mid 20th century and been only too glad to open their home to him as patrons of the arts.

Mikes parents? .... ???? No.

Maybe it's a bit of a failure on the Coens' part that this detail of the film is being misread. There is a kind of shorthand going on here that some might not get. The conversation between LLewin and the "Early Music" scholar reveals the real dissonance in the relationship between the Academic world and the Folk Scene. LLewyn has to know what is meant by "Early Music" but choses to joke about his piano teacher playing Harry James. He's comes off as an anti intellectual, but the deeper truth is that what he does IS- in a strong sense - early music.

The folk singers of the '60s saw themselves as part of the legacy of folk music going back to the medieval troubadours and jongleurs. Llewyn was willing to be observed by the Gorfeins as an anthropological curiosity - or a vicarious lifeline to the world of real living breathing folk music, but only to a point. The line is crossed when Lillian G. starts singing. He launches into a tirade that pretty much says it all. He's not there to be poked and prodded like a lab experiment for their amusement - and he's not there to lead a private sing-along. He was reluctant to sing in the first place and just wanted to get it over with. But he also had a chip on his shoulder which was all about being taken seriously as a professional artist.

There's so much implicit in the scenes with LLewyn and the Gorfeins, et al, which speaks to the reality of the New York early '60s folk music scene - why get distracted making up silly plot devices?

Glenn Kenny

Mark, it's these damn kids, I tell ya—no one under the age of 45 has much trouble understanding the nature of the relationship and what it implies.


Don R. Lewis, you said, "And LLewyn IS kiiiiinda an unforgivable asshole (the scene where he asks Jim for money for something bears me out) but yeah, not a Gorfein."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression was that he was asking Jim for money to fund Jean's abortion. How does that make him "kiiiiinda an unforgivable asshole"? Jean wants the abortion because she doesn't know if the baby is Llewyn's or Jim's - which, to me, makes her more of an asshole at that moment. Llewyn wants to do the right thing by paying for it and so he goes to his "friend" Jim, as he did once in the past. Neither accidentally knocking someone up (especially if you wore a condom, as Llewyn did) nor asking someone for money because you're poor are the same as being "kiiiiinda an unforgivable asshole."

On the other hand, abandoning that cat? VERY assholish!

Don R. Lewis

You don't think it's poor taste and pretty shitty to ask the boyfriend of the girl you knocked up for money for HER abortion? I did kinda miss the point that it could be Jim's so he's partially "responsible" but even still....going halvsies on it maybe? Just seems low to knock up a guys girl then hit him up for cash to get rid of it AND to not tell the girl you loaned it to him.

Since you're already spoiling the movie for those who haven't seen it, I'll add: there's the cat, as you mentioned, the other girl he knocked up, sent to get an abortion and never talked to again, leaving John Goodman alone on the highway in the middle of nowhere, blowing up at the Gorfeins....I love the character but jeez, what a jerk.


Glenn! Seeing as you have a copy of the script, can you settle a bet between me and my mother? I was talking to her about the film yesterday (we both loved it), but she insists that the man at the end who beats Llewyn up is the husband of the previous night's performer. I'm pretty sure that his relationship to her, or anyone for that matter, is never specified. Who's right? Thanks!

Glenn Kenny

(I imagine that anybody reading this thread is already aware it's gonna be full of spoilers, as the post itself already was, but...)

In the last scene, the fellow giving Llewyn a beating exclaims: "Yellin' that crap while my wife is up there trying to sing!" So, EJW, your mother is always right! (I didn't need the script to confirm that; I heard it loudly when I saw it. I wonder if your theater was playing the soundtrack through a large body of water or something!)


Damn it! Looks like my mother never has to sit through another Altman film again (though whenever I force her to watch one, she always begrudgingly enjoys it). The main reason I fought so hard against her was that thematically, I thought it would make more sense if the man was just some nameless, faceless force of nature that delivers Llewyn's cosmic punishment, and then disappears in a taxi cab until the next week. I guess it can still work that way in a sense, but somehow giving him the label of husband takes away some of the mystery.


The only thing missing to prove that Mike is the Gorfein child is the actual exposition.

Exhibits A - J

Roland Turner's long rant about the George Washington Bridge as being a ridiculous place to kill oneself. Ridiculous except for those that grew up on the upper West Side where that is the bridge that dominates the imagination - and it is FAR more imposing a presence there than the Brooklyn Bridge is to lower Manhattan. The only reason that Llewyn could sit through that rant without taking a shot would be that Roland is entirely missing the point and he, Llewyn, knows why.

Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett are playing parents grieving for a lost child. They do it to perfection. If you take a shot of Ethan Phillips face when he opens the door and ask total strangers what that man is feeling they would almost certainly answer - profound grief.
And no, not everyone survivor of suicide keeps pictures everywhere - more common is to leave the child's room as a shrine - hence the fact that he is sleeping in a den.

Count the doors in the Gorfein's enormous apartment. There are more rooms than a one-bedroom apartment. Llewyn is sleeping in the den because he can't or won't sleep in the extra bedroom.

You are also wrong that Jean would ask how the Gorfeins are doing with the grieving. That kind of dialogue takes place only when the writers feel like they need to establish the back story. Jean is obviously wrapped up in her pregnancy and her total devotion to Llewyn. To me, they sufficiently gave the back story in showing how Llewyn is grieving the loss of his partner as well as struggling to find an identity without him.

It would make no sense for the character to care so much about the cat UNLESS there was a powerful reason. There is no other powerful reason than that he feels guilty for not saving their son and does not want to be responsible for also taking down their cat..

Singing Mike's part would be a comfort to Lillian. The ONLY reason she has for apologizing to Llewyn is that she realized that it was too painful for Llewyn to hear the part come in. Yes, he is an asshole. We do know that. He is self-absorbed...but he may have been willing to sing the song for them but not be able to tolerate hearing the Mike part.

There is some misdirection on the cliche of the Jewish folksinger who changes his name. Many of us, myself included, assumed that Llewyn was a stage name. In fact, Llewyn is the genuine article: he can sing seafaring songs from his own and his father's experiene. Mike is the cliche Jewish guy that changes his name...

Timlin is a diminutive form of Thomas. Dylan Thomas being a powerful figure in the village in his day and whose death would have been fresh during that era.

Look at the rigid smiles of the house guests when the Gorfeins introduce Llewyn as their folksinger friend. They would rather be anywhere else on earth than in the room during that awkward moment. Why else would it be in the dialogue? Nothing the Coen brothers write is without a point (okay they are not above a red herring, but not in a movie about the suicide of, essentially, a brother and co-creator.)

It is obvious to me that Mike was the one that could connect with the audience VERBALLY. There is no question that Llewyn can connnect with an audience when he sings: he has no clue how to bring them inside. He can't open up to Jean or his sister either - and that is also why we don't have the full back story.)


By the way, Stan Carp's short performance deserves all possible awards and accolades. With no dialogue he explains to the audience why Llewyn can't open up. If Llewyn could simply articulate his pain and the reasons for it he would evoke the kind of sympathy and connection that would get him a warm place (or coat) for the winter. He can't tell us how painful it is to sleep at Mike's parent's home, he can't tell Jean how he really feels about her, and he can't talk about the suicide and the loss of his partner...


Parents, shmarents: why is nobody talking about this movie's beautifully sly Kubrick allusion? Llewyn is a member (just barely) of The Seafarers' Union, for which Kubrick made a promotional film in 1953. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYRhqry1d7Y Check the logo on the wall behind the guy hassling Llewyn for his dues. And the Communist joke: gold.


Well that refutes my points succinctly and poignantly.

Don R. Lewis

Sweet Christ! Can't wait for the ROOM 237 version of INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS...

Asher Steinberg

"Jean is obviously wrapped up in her pregnancy and her total devotion to Llewyn."

Jean's what??


I think the Kubruck allusion is more specific. Llewyn goes to the SIU hall because, as a struggling artist, he is surrendering to the only bright and shiny commercial option he has before him. Kubrick made "The Seafarers" for SIU because, like Llewyn, he needed the money...but Kubrick's film was an industrial puff piece that didn't really have much to do with his ultimate artistic aspirations.

At least that's what I thought after seeing the film today..l.that the SIU visit was an arcane cinematic joke.

Jack Laughing

@Don R Lewis: "Since you're already spoiling the movie for those who haven't seen it, I'll add: there's the cat, as you mentioned, the other girl he knocked up, sent to get an abortion and never talked to again, leaving John Goodman alone on the highway in the middle of nowhere, blowing up at the Gorfeins....I love the character but jeez, what a jerk."

Man, this sorta chaps my hide so I'm going to respond even though none of this really has much to do with Glenn's post.

I gotta agree that Llewyn seeking some funds from Jim really isn't that big of a deal. It may be Jim's kid. Llewyn has no money. An abortion back then was both illegal, dangerous, and time-sensitive. He likely wasn't going to come up with this cash overnight, so asking Jim wasn't a bad option. Jean having sex with Llewyn, getting pregnant, and then refusing to tell her husband is really more Jean's problem than Llewyn's in the first place. She's a real ass for putting this on him.

But as for the other things you mention, it's all a matter of perspective I guess. The other girl he knocked up had the kid in secret on her own. She agreed to an abortion and then backed out. That's not Llewyn's fault (he paid for it, don't forget), and ignoring the opportunity to drop in on her in the middle of a random night in some stranger's car was a good decision. The detour would have been selfish and self-serving.

Leaving Goodman was fine by me. That insufferable, hectoring junkie would have been a nightmare to deal with. It's not Llewyn's fault his "valet" got arrested and took the keys, and it's not Llewyn's job to care for a snotty old coot who does nothing but sleep or break balls. Obviously this wasn't the first time he'd shot up or passed out, so let him take care of himself for once.

I can't fault him for the cat. What was he supposed to do? Chase it through the woods and take it to a vet? In a stranger's car? In the middle of the night? In the middle of nowhere? It's 1960, so please and come on.

The only thing that was dickish was his behavior towards the Gorfeins but really, expecting him to play on demand was rude. He's their house guest. I wouldn't ask such a favor of a close friend, let alone a casual acquaintance.


you make good points, Jack. Llewyn isn't the most pleasant guy, but I think the only real instance of total abject cruelty on his part in the whole film is when he heckles the dulcimer player.

as for the Mike Gorfein conspiracy - it never once occurred to me while watching the film, but a few of Exhibits A-J listed above are making me think perhaps it's not too crazy an idea!


Yesterday I saw the movie (in its dubbed German version) and when I saw this blog post I thought "how the hell did anyone think that the Gorfeins were Mike's parents?".
To make the situation clear for everyone: When Lillian utters the seemingly not so unmistakable line "We let you sleep in his room."/"I don't want to be in this room.", in the German version she says what in translation would be "I don't want to be in this room." or rather "I cannot be in this room."
Mystery solved.

Martin Joyce

best evidence that mike is a gorfein. art cody. uses a stage name, real name is art umbrage (mail). additionally, we have the whole "greenfung" conversation, and the constant presence of house guests in the gorfein apartment whenever llewyn visits. and, everyone makes nice over lillian and llewyn's blowup, signifying a relationship that consists of more than just a "folk singer friend."

"gorfein and davis" < "timlin and davis."

counterarguments: the artistic integrity of davis, why would he be a part of a duo that used a fake name?

as for the gorfein's making him play at the table, they probably just wanted a part of their son back...

p.s. anyone who heard "We... His Room" needs a lasek for the ears.

(Not sure what I want the answer to be)

Martin Joyce

Al* Cody. Al* Umbrage. Sorry.


Late to the game here. There are two possibilities - either the Gorfein's are Mike's parents, or they are a cultured married couple who like to surround themselves with artists (a third possibility is that both of these could be true).

Here is what I'm confident about - there is an air of grief for Mike in this scene. Whether that is biological parental grief, or surrogate parent grief, or just really close friend grief, is not as clear. But here is a clip of the scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gz2BJRYKzA.

At the 0:47 mark, Lillian Gorfein is not just feeling the music, as her husband appears to be in the next shot. There is an emotion of sadness welling up in her as Llewyn begins this song.

I'm not sure it matters all that much what level of grief we're talking about. Perhaps it makes Llewyn a bit more of an insensitive prick if he is refusing to indulge or participate in the grief of a biological parent, but I think we're talking pretty small degrees there.

Dell Cousins

Interesting discussion. It never occurred to me that the Gorfeins could be Mike's parents. I didn't notice enough evidence for supposing about it either way.

If the Gorfeins regard Llewyn as a surrogate son (plausible, regardless of whether Mike was their son), then they could also have regarded Mike as a surrogate son, and that about settles it for me.

By the way, am I mistaken, or does the title of the film appear onscreen only when the album cover of "Inside Llewyn Davis" is shown? I kept my eyes peeled on my second viewing, and if the title appears at either the beginning or end, I missed it.

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