I loved Inside Llewyn Davis, which at once satirizes and celebrates a smoky, scrappy New York I have never known. One of my favorite scenes is just a series of cuts to different subway stops whirring by as Llewyn travels from the academic Upper West Side to his haunts in the Village. Nowadays, a jaunt on the 1 train from, say, 110th Street to Christopher Street is not particularly notable, thanks to downtown’s yuppie-fication. But in the movie, that subway trip represents an odyssey in itself, as Llewyn travels between neighborhoods that essentially operate as different worlds.
Oscar Isaac’s musical numbers are so stirring because his voice is full with loss—in the film’s narrative, the suicide of Llewyn’s partner is the source of that sorrow. This overwhelming sense of loss creates a space for the audience to mourn, or at least pine for, a bygone era, but as soon as we indulge in that nostalgia, the Coens make us the butt of the joke by making the world much too cruel to romanticize. Like Llewyn’s music, the film’s world is at once forlorn and enchanting.