Llewyn, George and Me: A Weekend of Artistic Angst

453975.1020.ARight from the start, this blog has been meant to help me rediscover my artistic enthusiasm. I needed to figure out exactly what stories I wanted to tell and how, and I figured a more in-depth exploration of the films I like could help me get there. But while the blog has been pretty successful in and of itself, and I do feel a little more clear about what stories I want to tell, I still haven’t figured out a way to actually get myself writing scripts again. It’s a subject that I’ve repeatedly discussed with my girlfriend, and every time she gives me the same advice: just write.

It’s good advice but very difficult to follow, and the more I don’t follow it, the more depressed I usually get. But after our most recent talk, something changed: there was a brief spark of inspiration, right around Thanksgiving, that not only made me feel I could follow Shiran’s advice but could directly address what had been holding me back this whole time. And then of course my life got thrown into chaos for a few weeks, and I haven’t had time to even work on this blog, much less a new script. But with some time to myself over this past weekend, I found my way to two long-awaited pieces of storytelling that spoke both to where I am now and what I hope to say about it: Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George and the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis.

I’ll start with Sunday, as I assume fewer of you are familiar with it. The story follows two artists named George: Georges Seurat, the French painter, and his fictional great-grandson, also named George, who is a modern artist in 1984. Both parts of the story show how each George handles his creativity, and the personal difficulties that accompany their artistic endeavours. For Seurat, he is too wrapped up in his art to be emotionally available enough for his lover Dot, while for modern-day George, he feels too wrapped up in the expectations of others to feel confident in his own art. It’s a very bittersweet story (like a lot of Sondheim) that pulls no punches about how contradictory our emotions can be. For Seurat, it is clear that he loves Dot, and yet the fulfillment of his art is far greater; for Dot, it’s that very commitment to his art that makes her love him, and yet it also makes it impossible for her to be with him. Meanwhile, for ‘80s George, he’s so worried about what people have said and what people will say that he cannot focus on what he is doing in the here and now.

inside-llewyn-davis-oscar-isaacMeanwhile, Inside Llewyn Davis is an exploration of unfulfilled artistic ambition, depicting the eponymous musician as a man adrift, unable or unwilling to fight for his chance at being a big-time performer. Llewyn, much like Seurat, is a man of contradictions: on the one hand, he clearly hopes to make it big as a musician, and has foregone a more stable and traditional life in favor of a Quixote-like pursuit of success. But on the other hand, he is completely unwilling to really try at his art, possibly out of an unrealistic hope of artistic integrity, or even more possibly out of fear of failure. Llewyn wants success, but he doesn’t want to change who he is in order to get it. The harsh turning point of the film is when he meets a big-name agent and plays him a song, only to be immediately told “I don’t see a lot of money here.” While the Georges are stuck at the intersection of art and emotion, Llewyn is caught between integrity and success. In both cases, they will have to choose one over the other.

All of this speaks to where I am in my life now, in one way or another. In Seurat, I see the me that allows his creativity impact his relationships (though in my case, it’s more how my lack of creativity impacts my mood, which people then have to deal with). In George, I see my struggle to get out of my own head and focus on my ideas, rather than how they might be perceived. And in Llewyn, I see both my fear to commit to my dreams, and my (yet to be challenged) hope that I could be a working artist without sacrificing my integrity. Indeed, a conversation between Llewyn and his one-time lover Jean felt eerily similar to the sorts of discussions I’ve had with Shiran, about how I let myself become detached from my own dreams. Of course, considering how bittersweet-to-downright-depressing these stories are, I would certainly hope to learn from them and avoid the fates suggested here. Ultimately, the solution comes from a song from Sunday titled “Move On”.

Shiran once had me listen to “Move On” awhile back on its own, when I was having one of these creative crises. As beautiful as I thought the song was then, it was even more impactful as part of the whole musical (go figure). In the song, Dot appears as a vision to ‘80s George and implores him to not let the baggage and anxiety around him distract from his art. Indeed, her point is that when it comes to anything in life, it is better to move forward and focus on what’s directly in front of you. It’s a simple but powerfully-delivered message, and the kind that I need to keep in mind as I work towards my greater goals.

But even as I carry that lesson with me, I keep going back to another song from Sunday, “Color and Light”, where we glimpse the relationship between Seurat and Dot and we see the inherent flaw in their dynamic: that Seurat is too wrapped up in himself (via his art) to fully let Dot in, while Dot can’t help but love him because of it. As much as I hope to get out of my own head for the sake of my potential art, I hope even more that I can get out of my head for the sake of the loved ones that have supported me through all of this. If I can’t do that, then what does the rest matter?

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