I have a long-standing fondness for folk music such that I would have been happy to watch a feature-length version of the Greenwich Village section of I’m Not There, so I’m curious to see how the Joel and Ethan Coen’s movie about the same period, Inside Llewyn Davis, tracking the career of fictional folksinger of the same name, looks in its entirety:
Watching this trailer, I was particularly struck by Carey Mulligan’s character, who maybe is Davis’ girlfriend, current or former, but at minimum is a frustrated truth-teller who is acutely aware of Davis’s weaknesses. This clip reminded me of something Emily Nussbaum wrote earlier this year about “a time when the legendary wildness of male New York intellectuals and artists was made possible by middle-class girlfriends who paid the rent and absorbed hipness from the kitchen. As Joyce Johnson, Jack Kerouac’s onetime girlfriend, observed in her scathing memoir Minor Characters, an account of kohl-eyed Barnard coeds fleeing to Greenwich Village, ‘Even a very young woman can achieve old-ladyhood, become the mainstay of someone else’s self-destructive genius.’”
Elizabeth Olsen is playing another character like this in Kill Your Darlings, the account of Allen Ginsberg’s friendship with Lucien Carr at Columbia, leading up to the period when Carr killed David Kammerer. She’s Edie Parker, who eventually married Jack Kerouac, also a character in the movie, for a brief period while he was imprisoned. And while she’s less angry than Mulligan’s character appears to be, she embodies the awfulness of standing by while people who think they’re geniuses self-indulge and self-destruct. It’s irritating to constantly put women in the position of having to be the in-text reminders to the audience that what male characters think is badass is not necessarily so. But better that, I suppose, than a straight-forward lionization of self-absorption. And at least Mulligan’s character gets to be an artist, too.