Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

Inside Leopold Bloom

Just as the cat in Inside Llewyn Davis returns home and is named Ulysses, so too does the Ulyssean Leopold Bloom return. Where the cat once acted out his desire to be with Molly, in "Ithaca" (U 17) Bloom is finally able to curl up next to his wife, "he lying oddly with his head at the bed-foot, in foetal posture" (Blamires 232). Likewise, the return of the cat is also representative of significant changes in Davis. In some ways, Jean’s brutal observation about Davis ("You don’t want to go anywhere. And that’s why all the same shit is going to keep happening to you, because you want it to") has some truth: Davis, like the Gorfeins’ cat, does go somewhere; but like Bloom, his adventures lead him back to where he started (ILD). However, just as the returning Ulysses is not the same cat Davis found and traveled with, so too has Davis changed: "When Llewyn leaves the Gorfeins’ for the ‘second’ time in the final scenes of the film, he keeps the cat inside," preventing the previous day’s misadventures from recurring (Wainwright). Although he is still not famous, Davis is able to learn from his past mistakes and take charge of his life. In this way, both Bloom and Davis are Ulysses, the cat and the hero.

Yet the end of Davis’s story is not without a dose of melancholy characteristic of Coens. In a restaging of the opening scene, Davis is called out of the Gaslight—where a young Bob Dylan (or Bob Dyl-lig-an, "Usurper" (U 1.744), harbinger of Davis’s artistic irrelevance) has taken the stage—and into an alley, where he is beaten by the husband of a woman he catcalled the previous night. The last scene echoes the first, providing new perspectives that make it just different enough to prevent the film’s bookends from being identical.

This final stage of Davis’s misadventure is reminiscent of another of Joyce’s works: Finnegans Wake. Famous for the tie between the opening and closing lines (the last "sentence" is the first half of the first "sentence"), Finnegans Wake parallels the structure of Inside Llewyn Davis: the opening and closing scenes are simultaneously identical and complimentary to one another. In this way, John Gordon’s analysis of the first lines of Finnegan’s Wake can be rewritten for Inside Llewyn Davis, a work "which famously begins as a double take, whose first [scene] takes us ‘back’ . . . a rearriving encore. [Watching] it is always a business of trying, with another and yet another look, to refine and fill out our perception of something that piqued and perplexed us the last time around" (Gordon 37).

One such perspective, absent in the first scene, is the last shot, where Davis crawls out of the alley and good-naturedly mumbles "Au revoir" to his assailant (ILD). Just as Bloom’s life hasn’t completely changed—while Molly’s hopes to rekindle their relationship in "Penelope" (U 18), there is also the threat of nothing changing—Davis is unable to prevent the events of the first scene from happening at the end. Despite this, Davis and Bloom are still able to roll with the punches and escape a life of perpetual self-pity, accepting life’s cyclical nature and solidifying their heroism in the face of a fate that is never quite in their favor. In this way, the last shot serves as the black dot at the end of "Ithaca" (U 17): the end of a long day for Bloom, a black eye for Davis, and a way of punctuating the infinite cycle of mythic imagination for Joyce and the Coens.

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