After seeing Inside Llewyn Davis last night, a friend and I immediately started speculating about the significance of the cats. Here’s what we came up with:
The cat reveals that Llewyn had a heart
When Llewyn seems to be a heartless person, the cat reveals otherwise. Llewyn passionately chases the cat through the village and grieves over getting it back to his friends. That said, it’s usually easier to care for animals than it is to care for people. Possibly, the cat represents how far Llewyn has to go: Llewyn shows care for the cat, but is unwilling to take the exit to Akron to find and care for his 2-year-old child, which leads me to the next point.
The cat reveals that Llewyn is careless
Llewyn is careless with his actions and words, hurting those closest to him. The cat scenes are clearly descriptive of his carelessness. Whether intentional of not, Llewyn lets the cat escape; he picks up the wrong cat; he deserts the cat in the car, and so on. Remember when the professor’s wife discovered that Llewyn returned the wrong cat? She screams at him, “Where’s his scrotum, Llewyn?! Where’s his scrotum!” This same question can be asked of Llewyn who is acting like an irresponsible kid, not a man.
Similarly, Llewyn is bothered whenever he is asked if he is Hugh Davis’ son, the reason being that he should have grown up by now into a man in his own right; he is a father himself, yet has not earn the title.
The cat represents hope
According to folklore, cats have nine lines, symbolic of Llewyn’s experience as a folk singer. Llewyn’s hope is killed, then it rises, if just a little, then it is killed again. The cat’s eventual return to his friends’ home (also a home of sorts for Llewyn) represents another round of hope for Llewyn.
The cat reveals that Llewyn has a soul
When others doubt it, the cat seems to look deeply into his soul. Most significantly, a cat seems to sacrifice himself for Llewyn in the snowy car scene. Llewyn was falling asleep at the wheel, but hitting the cat brought forth his full attention, not to mention his capacity to feel emotion again. The cat is like an angel: when Llewyn wakes up in his friends’ home, the cat is there, looking down on him with acceptance, representing love that is unmerited, undeserved.
If the cat gives grace, the man in the suit in the alley gives Llewyn what he deserves. Having received experiences of both mercy and justice, we can only hope that Llewyn is ready to grow up.