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But the Coens, ever tricksters, invert the mythos and give us a new one, one that's undeniably true even if rooted in fiction: that of the artist whose genius needs to take a back seat to his squashed humanity. In a few great moments, Llewyn encounters writing on the wall (once literally) that asks him to consider his life's path. The junkie jazz has-been is a laughable, pitiable mess. Jean fairly spits at Llewyn for never thinking about the future. "What you do," the mysterious assailant mutters as he stalks off, leaving Llewyn writhing with pain on a cold, wet sidewalk.

In the end, we don't really know where Llewyn will land. Significantly, though, the version of the folk classic "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)" on the soundtrack, which Llewyn also recorded with his partner, differs a bit from the version recorded by people like Bob Dylan and Jeff Buckley; it includes a verse with the lyric, "Life ain't worth livin' without the one you love."

Llewyn's just starting to figure that out.

Caveat Spectator

Inside Llewyn Davis is rated R for "language including some sexual references," and that's exactly correct. Those sensitive to those matters should take a pass on this one, though it doesn't reach Lebowski heights of profanity, by a long shot. There are a lot of f-bombs and other four-letter words, often as epithets or expressions of exasperation, occasionally as crude references to sex, and once as a reference to excrement. Two characters briefly discuss male genitalia. One character is considering an abortion. A character passes out from drug overdose. And Llewyn gets beat up by a stranger in a dark alley.

Alissa Wilkinson is chief film critic at Christianity Today and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College. She tweets at @alissamarie.

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Inside Llewyn Davis