There’s a lot that ties Joel and Ethan Coen’s O Brother to their current Inside Llewyn Davis. Both have folk music scores curated by T Bone Burnett, as both films take the music very seriously even if they don’t treat the characters with nearly as much respect. And both have a character named Ulysses. In Llewyn Davis, it’s a cat, wandering Manhattan until it eventually finds its way home, alternately taunting and comforting Llewyn Davis throughout his own quest. In O Brother, it’s George Clooney’s chain-gang escapee, who, along with two fellow fugitives, finds surprising fame as part of a vocal trio dubbed the Soggy Bottom Boys.
Of course, O Brother takes its Ulysses metaphor a lot further, with the convicts encountering many obstacles and adversaries echoing those that Homer described in The Odyssey. Also, its tone is consistently comic and absurd, even amid its reverential treatment of the old-school, rural Americana whose early field and commercial recordings would provide the wellsprings for the folk revival of the 1960s as depicted in Llewyn Davis. Even more astonishing, Burnett’s carefully chosen tunes, as recorded by both traditionalists and modern masters, resulted in a soundtrack album that sold eight million copies, won a Grammy for Album of the Year, and single-handedly sparked the Americana revival of the past decade.