Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis (/ˈlɪn/) is a 2013 French-American black comedy-drama film film written, directed, produced, and edited by Joel and Ethan Coen. Set in 1961, the film follows one week in the life of Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac in his breakthrough role, a folk singer struggling to achieve musical success while keeping his life in order. The supporting cast stars Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, and Justin Timberlake.

Inside Llewyn Davis
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced by
Written by
  • Joel Coen
  • Ethan Coen
CinematographyBruno Delbonnel
Edited by
  • Joel Coen
  • Ethan Coen
Distributed by
  • CBS Films (United States)
  • StudioCanal (France)
Release date
  • May 19, 2013 (2013-05-19) (Cannes)
  • November 6, 2013 (2013-11-06) (France)
  • December 6, 2013 (2013-12-06) (United States)
Running time
105 minutes
  • United States
  • France[1]
Budget$11 million[2]
Box office$32.9 million[3]

Although Davis is a fictional character, the story was partly inspired by the autobiography of folk singer Dave Van Ronk.[4] Most of the folk songs performed in the film are sung in full and recorded live. T Bone Burnett was the executive music producer. Principal photography took place in early 2012, primarily in New York City. The film was financed by StudioCanal before it would receive an American distributor.

Inside Llewyn Davis premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2013, where it won the Grand Prix. The film was theatrically released in France on November 6, 2013 by StudioCanal. It was given a limited release by CBS Films in the United States on December 6, 2013 before opening in a wide release on January 10, 2014. The film received critical acclaim and was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing) and three Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Isaac), and Best Original Song. Inside Llewyn Davis has been highly acclaimed, and was voted the eleventh best film released since 2000 by film critics in a 2016 BBC Culture poll.[5] It was also chosen the eleventh "Best Film of the 21st Century So Far" in 2017 by The New York Times.[6]


In February 1961, Llewyn Davis is a struggling folk singer in New York City's Greenwich Village. His recent solo album Inside Llewyn Davis is not selling; he has no money and is sleeping on the couches of friends and acquaintances. After playing the Gaslight Cafe one night he is beaten up in the alley behind the cafe, for reasons not immediately apparent, by a shadowy man in hat and suit, with a discernible southern accent.

Davis awakens in the apartment of two friends, the Gorfeins. Upon leaving, he manages to allow the cat to escape and to get himself locked out. After managing to chase down the cat, he takes him to the apartment of Jim and Jean Berkey, where Jean reluctantly agrees to allow Davis to stay the night, despite already having promised as much to another aspiring folk singer/songwriter, Troy Nelson, a young military man stationed at nearby Fort Dix. Jean informs Davis that she is pregnant, and that there is a possibility the child is Davis's. The following morning, Davis manages to allow the Gorfeins' cat to escape the Berkey's apartment. Later, Jean asks Davis to pay for an abortion, though she is upset it may be Jim's child she is losing.

Davis then pays his sister a visit, hoping to borrow money. What she gives him instead is a box of his belongings, which he promptly tells her to leave outside by the curb. She mentions that he could make money by returning to the Merchant Marine. On Jim's invitation, Davis records a space travel-themed novelty song with Jim and Al Cody. Needing money for the abortion, Davis agrees to an immediate $200 rather than royalties. With the proceeds Davis looks to set up the appointment for Jean to have her abortion, only to learn that payment will not be necessary, as he has credit with the gynecologist's office due to already having paid for the identical procedure two years prior on behalf of another woman who elected in the end neither to go through with the abortion nor to inform Davis of her decision to raise the child in home town of Akron, Ohio.

While talking to Jean at a café, Davis observes what he believes to be the Gorfeins' cat, captures it, and returns it to them that evening. Asked to perform a song after dinner, he reluctantly plays "Fare Thee Well", a song he had recorded with his old partner Mike. When Mrs. Gorfein starts to sing Mike's harmony, Davis becomes angry and yells at her. Mrs. Gorfein leaves the table crying, then returns with the cat, having realized it is the wrong gender and thus obviously not theirs. Davis leaves, taking the cat with him.

Davis rides with two musicians driving to Chicago: the laconic beat poet Johnny Five and the odious jazz musician Roland Turner. During the trip Davis discloses that his musical partner, Mike Timlin, died by suicide.

At a roadside restaurant, Roland collapses from a heroin overdose. The three stop on the side of the highway to rest. When a police officer tells them to move on, he suspects that Johnny is drunk and tells him to get out of the car. Johnny resists and is arrested. Without the keys, Davis abandons the car, leaving the cat and the unconscious Roland behind. In Chicago, Davis auditions for Bud Grossman, who says Davis is not suited as a solo performer but suggests he might incorporate him in a new trio he is forming. Davis rejects the offer and hitchhikes back to New York. Driving while the car owner sleeps, and distracted by the nighttime lights of nearby Akron, he hits what he fears may be the same cat; it slowly limps into the woods as Davis watches.

Back in New York, Davis uses his last $148 for back dues to rejoin the Merchant Marine union, and visits his ailing father. He searches for his seaman's license so he can ship out with the Merchant Marine, but it had been in the box he'd instructed his sister to trash. Davis returns to the Union Hall to replace it, but cannot afford the $85 fee. He visits Jean and she tells him she got him a gig at the Gaslight.

At the Gaslight, Davis learns that Pappi, the manager, also had sex with Jean. Enraged, Davis drunkenly heckles a woman as she performs on stage and is thrown out. He goes to the Gorfeins' apartment, where they graciously welcome him. There, he learns that the novelty song is likely to be a major hit, with massive royalties. He is amazed to see that their actual cat, Ulysses, has found his way home.

Returning to an expanded version of the film's opening scene, Davis performs at the Gaslight. Pappi teases Davis for his heckling the previous evening's singer and tells him that a friend of his is waiting in the alley. As he leaves, Davis watches a young Bob Dylan perform. Behind the Gaslight, Davis is beaten by the shadowy suited man for having cruelly heckled his wife, the previous night's performer. Davis watches as the man leaves in a taxi, bidding him "Au revoir".



Set in 1961, Inside Llewyn Davis was inspired by the cultural disconnection within a New York–based music scene, where the songs seemed to come from all parts of the United States except New York, but whose performers included Brooklyn-born Dave Van Ronk and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Well before writing the script, the Coens began with a single idea, of Van Ronk being beaten up outside of Gerde's Folk City in the Village. The filmmakers employed the image in the opening scenes, then periodically returned to the project over the next couple of years to expand the story using a fictional character.[7] One source for the film was Van Ronk's posthumously published (2005) memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. According to the book's co-author, Elijah Wald, the Coens mined the work "for local color and a few scenes".[8][9][10] The character is a composite of Van Ronk, Elliot, and other performers from the New York boroughs who performed in the Village at that time.[7] Joel Coen remarked that "the film doesn't really have a plot. That concerned us at one point; that's why we threw the cat in."[11]

Shooting was complicated by an early New York spring, which interfered with the bleak winter atmosphere that prevails throughout the film,[12] and by the difficulty of filming several cats, who, unlike dogs, ignore the desires of filmmakers. On the advice of an animal trainer, the Coens put out a casting call for an orange tabby cat, which is sufficiently common that several cats would be available to play one part. Individual cats were then selected for each scene based on what they were predisposed to do on their own.[7] After a chance run in with a taxi driver who lived at their old address, the brothers used the apartment they'd rented several decades prior as the main location for the titular character's home.[13]

Producer Scott Rudin, who worked with the Coens on No Country for Old Men and True Grit, collaborated on the project. StudioCanal helped finance it without an American distributor in place. "After shooting in New York City and elsewhere last year ... the brothers finished the movie at their own pace", wrote Michael Cieply in a January 2013 New York Times interview with Joel Coen ahead of a private, pre-Grammys screening in Los Angeles. "They could have rushed it into the Oscar season but didn't."[9] On February 19, CBS Films announced it had picked up the U.S. domestic distribution rights for about $4 million. StudioCanal has rights to international distribution and foreign sales.[14][15]


Dave Van Ronk's music served as a starting point for the Coens as they wrote the script, and many of the songs first designated for the film were those he had recorded. Van Ronk biographer Elijah Wald said that the character of Llewyn Davis "is not at all Dave, but the music is".[16] (The cover of Davis's solo album, Inside Llewyn Davis, resembles that of Inside Dave Van Ronk. Both feature the artist in a doorway, wearing a tweed jacket and smoking a cigarette.[17] One difference between the two covers is that there is a cat in the doorway on the cover of Inside Dave Van Ronk. Other songs emerged in conversations between the Coens and T Bone Burnett, who produced the music in association with Marcus Mumford.[9][12][18] Burnett had previously worked with the Coens on the music and soundtrack for The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the latter of which sold about 8 million copies in the United States.[19] The Coens viewed the music in Inside Llewyn Davis as a direct descendant of the music in O Brother.[7]

The humorous novelty song "Please Mr. Kennedy", a plea from a reluctant astronaut, appears to be a fourth generation derivative of the 1960 song "Mr. Custer", also known as "Please Mr. Custer", about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, sung by Larry Verne and written by Al De Lory, Fred Darian, and Joseph Van Winkle. A Tamla-Motown single followed in 1961: "Please Mr. Kennedy (I Don't Want to Go)", a plea from a reluctant Vietnam War draftee, sung by Mickey Woods and credited to Berry Gordy, Loucye Wakefield and Ronald Wakefield. In 1962 using a similar theme, The Goldcoast Singers recorded "Please Mr. Kennedy" on its Here They Are album, with writing credits to Ed Rush and George Cromarty. The Llewyn Davis version credits Rush, Cromarty, Burnett, Timberlake, and the Coens.[7][20][21]

Isaac, Timberlake, Mulligan, Driver and others performed the music live.[22][23] The exception was "The Auld Triangle", which was lip-synced, with Timberlake singing bass. (Timberlake's vocal range was on display in the film. Critic Janet Maslin, listening to a soundtrack recording, confused Timberlake's voice with Mulligan's, which she thought resembled that of Mary Travers.)[7]


Inside Llewyn Davis had its worldwide premiere on May 19 at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.[24][25] The film then screened at other film festivals, including the New York Film Festival in September, the AFI Film Festival, on its November 14 close, and the Torino Film Festival, also in November.[26][27]

The film began a limited release in the United States on December 6, 2013, where it played in Los Angeles and New York. It opened in 133 additional theaters on December 20 and wide on January 10, 2014.[28][29]

On January 19, 2016, The Criterion Collection released a DVD and Blu-ray of the film, featuring new audio commentary tracks, interviews and other special features, including a forty-three-minute documentary titled Inside "Inside Llewyn Davis".[30]


Critical response

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 92%, based on 273 reviews, with an average score of 8.53/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Smart, funny, and profoundly melancholy, Inside Llewyn Davis finds the Coen brothers in fine form."[31] Metacritic gives the film a score of 93 out of 100, based on reviews from 52 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[32] It was voted the 11th greatest film of the 21st century in a 2016 BBC Culture poll, after No Country for Old Men, another film by the Coen brothers.[5]

Writing for The Village Voice, Alan Scherstuhl praised the Coen brothers' film: "While often funny and alive with winning performances, Inside Llewyn Davis finds the brothers in a dark mood, exploring the near-inevitable disappointment that faces artists too sincere to compromise—disappointments that the Coens, to their credit, have made a career out of dodging. The result is their most affecting film since the masterful A Serious Man."[33] Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "an outstanding fictional take on the early 1960s folk music scene", praising the "fresh, resonant folk soundtrack", and Oscar Isaac's performance, that "deftly manages the task of making Llewyn compulsively watchable".[34] IGN reviewer Leigh Singer gave the film a 10 out of 10 'Masterpiece' score, saying "Don't be fooled by the seemingly minor key ... this is one of the finest works by – let's just call it – the most consistently innovative, versatile and thrilling American filmmakers of the last quarter-century."[35]

Folk singers, however, have criticized the film for misrepresenting the friendliness of the Village folk scene of the time. Terri Thal, Dave Van Ronk's ex-wife, said, "I didn't expect it to be almost unrecognizable as the folk-music world of the early 1960s."[36] Suzanne Vega said, "I feel they took a vibrant, crackling, competitive, romantic, communal, crazy, drunken, brawling scene and crumpled it into a slow brown sad movie."[37] The film was also criticized for the fact that, although it was to some extent based on the memoir of Dave Van Ronk, the film portrayed a character very much at odds with the real Van Ronk, usually described as a "nice guy".[37][38] However, at a press interview before the film premiered at Cannes, the Coens stated that the character itself was an original creation, and that the music was the major influence they had drawn from Van Ronk.[39]



  1. "Inside Llewyn Davis (2012)". British Film Institute. Retrieved July 30, 2014.
  2. Michael Phillips (October 24, 2013). "When movies make the most of their budgets, it shows". Chicago Tribune. Tribune Company. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  3. "Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  4. Wald, Elija. "Before the Flood: LLewyn Davis, David Van Ronk, and the Village Folk Scene of 1981". Inside Llewyn Davis (official site). Archived from the original on February 9, 2014. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  5. "The 21st Century's 100 greatest films". Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  6. Dargis, Manohla; Scott, A.O. "The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century...So Far". The New York Times. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  7. "The Coen Bros. On Writing, Lebowski And Literally Herding Cats". Fresh Air transcript. National Public Radio. December 17, 2013.
  8. Wald, Elija. "The World of Llewyn Davis". Inside Llewyn Davis official site. CBS Films. Archived from the original on October 21, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  9. Cieply, Michael (January 27, 2013). "Macdougal Street Homesick Blues". The New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
  10. Russ Fischer (June 25, 2011). "The Coen Bros. New Script is Based on the 60's NYC Folk Scene". /Film. Retrieved February 11, 2012.
  11. "The New Superstar at Cannes: A Ginger Tom Cat". The Telegraph. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
  12. "NYFF51: Inside Llewyn Davis Press Conference". YouTube. September 29, 2013.
  13. "When I Met The Coen Brothers And a Secret Behind the Filming of Inside Llewyn Davis". Select Software. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
  14. "CBS Films Pays $4 Million for Coen Bros.' Inside Llewyn Davis". Billboard. The Hollywood Reporter. February 19, 2013. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
  15. "CBS Films Acquires The Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis" (Press release). CBS Films. February 19, 2013. Archived from the original on February 23, 2013. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
  16. Haglund, David. "The People Who Inspired Inside Llewyn Davis". Slate. Retrieved January 4, 2014.
  17. Golden, Zara (December 5, 2013). "What's Real in Inside Llewyn Davis: Llewyn Davis' Album Cover Looks Very Familiar". Rolling Stone.
  18. Associated Press (May 19, 2013). "Coens' folk revival 'Llewyn' serenades Cannes". The Oklahoman.
  19. Jurgensen, John (November 21, 2013). "T Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers Move the Music Needle". Wall Street Journal.
  20. Myers, Mitch (December 3, 2013). "Inside Llewyn Davis: From General Custer to Mr. Kennedy, the Genesis of a Novelty Song". The Hollywood Reporter.
  21. "Inside Llewyn Davis". Nonesuch (track listing).
  22. Christgau, Robert (December 4, 2013). "The Lost World of Llewyn Davis: Christgau on the Coen Brothers". Rolling Stone.
  23. "Inside Llewyn Davis with Production Mixer Peter F. Kurkland". Sound & Picture. February 3, 2014.
  24. "2013 Official Selection". Cannes. April 18, 2013. Retrieved April 18, 2013.
  25. Knegt, Peter (May 9, 2013). "Here's The Screening Schedule For The 2013 Cannes Competition Lineup". The Playlist. Indiewire. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  26. "Inside Llewlyin Davis (program description)". The 51st New York Film Festival. Film Society of Lincoln Center.
  27. Friedlander, Whitney (November 15, 2013). "Inside Llewyn Davis Star Oscar Isaac Compares Coens to Chekhov at AFI Fest Closing". Variety.
  28. McNary, Dave (May 3, 2013). "Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis Dated For Dec. 6". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
  29. Brooks, Brian (December 22, 2013). "Specialty Box Office: Her Nabs $42K Per-Screen; Bollywood's Dhoom 3 Sizzles; The Past Coasts In Opening; Llewyn Davis Still Faring Well". Deadline Hollywood.
  30. "Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)". Criterion. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  31. "Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved August 27, 2019.
  32. "Inside Llewyn Davis Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  33. "Inside Llewyn Davis: The Coen Brothers' Most Moving Film Since A Serious Man". The Village Voice. September 27, 2013. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
  34. McCarthy, Todd (May 18, 2013). "Inside Llewyn Davis: Cannes Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved November 11, 2013.
  35. Leigh Singer (May 21, 2013). "Inside Llewyn Davis Review". IGN. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  36. Terri Thal (December 13, 2013). "Dave Van Ronk's Ex-Wife Takes Us Inside Inside Llewyn Davis". Village Voice. Archived from the original on February 25, 2015. Retrieved February 25, 2015.
  37. Aimee Levitt (January 17, 2014). "The folk-song army's attack on Inside Llewyn Davis". Chicago Reader. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
  38. David Browne (December 2, 2014). "Meet the Folk Singer Who Inspired Inside Llewyn Davis". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
  39. "Interview of Inside Llewyn Davis by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen". Cannes Film Festival. May 19, 2013. Retrieved February 24, 2014.
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