Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

Inside Leopold Bloom

The Coen Brothers are no strangers to mythical allusion. For instance, critics have noted similarities to Job in A Serious Man and to Homer’s Odyssey in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Therefore, it takes no stretch of the imagination to claim that the Coens’ latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, references another more modern, but still arguably classical text: James Joyce’s Ulysses. According to journalist Tim Wainwright, "James Joyce’s influence is recognizable throughout the movie," considering, for example, the fact that "Llewyn’s epic journey stays mostly within a few square miles, just like Leopold Bloom’s" (Wainwright). However, Mr. Wainwright (and his press peers) fail to explore the Bloomian potential of Inside Llewyn Davis, turning their backs on a turbulent yet rewarding literary voyage. Perhaps Wainwright and his contemporaries see themselves as provocateurs and would quote Stephen Daedalus, claiming that: "A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery" (U 9.228-29). Intentional or not, the omission of Joyce in recent analyses of Inside Llewyn Davis is a cinematic siren call, a promising portal of discovery that is difficult to ignore.

Granted, to say that the Coens intended their film to be an actual remake of Ulysses, with Joyce’s semi-hero Bloom recast as the struggling sixties folk artist Llewyn Davis, is an argument not possible for the confines of this work—such a proof would be a process akin to herding cats. But, a comparison of these two characters can yield evidence of the influence of one text upon another, suggesting that, if not a translation, Inside Llewyn Davis is at least a metempsychotic incorporation of Joyce’s earlier work. Additionally, this comparison is only one perspective: there are many other Ulyssean paths with which one could further explore the film’s relationship with the novel. For instance, tracking the thematic overlap in both works’ musical allusions, or rewriting the comparison with Davis as Stephen Daedalus instead of Bloom, might also be fruitful pursuits. In other words, there is more than one way to skin the cat. Rather than claim absolutes, the following analysis can be read as a cinematic conspiracy theory of sorts; a means by which interested individuals can engage with Joyce’s Ulysses through a cinematic lens. By tracing the cats in both Ulysses and Inside Llewyn Davis, one can see Joyce’s echoes in contemporary culture, highlighting the timeless relevance of Ulysses and allowing modern audiences to embark on an odyssey of overlaps that weaves through cats and names, fatherhood and folk songs; a literary game of cat and mouse.

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