In the Eighteenth Century, in a small village in Ireland, Redmond Barry is a young farm boy in love with his cousin Nora Brady. When Nora gets engaged to the British Captain John Quin, Barry challenges him to a duel of pistols. He wins and escapes to Dublin but is robbed on the road. Without an alternative, Barry joins the British Army to fight in the Seven Years War. He deserts and is forced to join the Prussian Army where he saves the life of his captain and becomes his protégé and spy of the Irish gambler Chevalier de Balibari. He helps Chevalier and becomes his associate until he decides to marry the wealthy Lady Lyndon. They move to England and Barry, in his obsession of nobility, dissipates her fortune and makes a dangerous and revengeful enemy.
After the 1959 trainwreck Ben Hur the art of filmmaking seems to have evolved quite a bit in 1975, the year of Barry Lyndon. A wonderfully shot film, every frame like a painting, another masterwork by famed Stanley Kubrick. Or is it? Let’s find out.
I was really looking forward to this one, as it’s the last Kubrick movie I’ve never watched before. I had my reasons for it: I’m just not interested in the period of history BL is set in. I hate all those silly wigs and even sillier make-ups and fashion of the era. And mostly I hate the mostly arrogant figures with their artificial behaviour. And of all that BL gives us more than enough.
What I hated even more was the mostly unjudging way in which BL was told to us, turning Barry into a quasi hero, a protagonist we’re supposed to feel for in a positive way. In my eyes the young Mr. Lyndon is a confidence trickster, a coward, an icecold liar, an impostor and a greedy opportunist. Maybe his behaviour was apropriate back in the days but observing it leaves me with a more than bad taste in my mouth.
Fortunately we will not only see our antihero’s rise through society but also his (applaudable) downfall. Not that any of the other players in this game is any more just or nice or integer than Barry, it’s just that we’re witnessing his character and trickery so closely and directly, we have no other choice than to wish him only the worst.
Well, showing a questionable character on screen doesn’t necessarily make a bad movie. And I’m not saying that BL is a bad movie. But what the fuck did I see there? Where are the usual questions of morality and the nature of humanity in this little period piece. For me the movie in its shallowness was closer to a penny dreadful than a masterpiece.
That we’d watch a couple of jerks was clear right from the start, that there was nothing to learn from this movie was even clearer. So why did the great Kubrick even bother making it? Showing us human nature in its worst? It’s a fruitless attempt.
Ok, that apart let’s have a look at the cast: Apart from Ryan O’Neal, Patrick Magee and Hardy Krüger I didn’t recognize any famous faces. O’Neal and Krüger, and mostly all cast members, did decent jobs I guess.
Playing any of those artificial pompous, theatralic vile characters of the time doesn’t need a lot of good acting anyway. It would be wasted in an era in which everybody was always overacting as normal behaviour.
In so far Barry was just another asshole among assholes. Every single one of the characters onscreen could have his or hers own movie being made about them. With the same non-effect.
How Kubrick set the scenes for BL was indeed nothing short of a masterpiece tho. The very natural lighting gives many scenes indeed the aura of classical paintings. And his world looks lived in, not like theatrical stages but very believable. Kudos to the production designer, Kubrick’s camera and lighting people.
Hmm, just read on the IMDb page, in forum someone asked the question “If you like most of Kubrick’s films, would you probably like this one?“. Without reading the forum I must admit that I kinda like Kubricks work and wouldn’t BL be placed in this uaargs time period I’d have nothing bad to say about it.
Because what BL is giving us is more or less perfect entertainment. Something every movie should be doing in the first place, isn’t it? The 184 minutes of its runtime go by pretty fast since the pacing is slow but just right and there is always enough stuff going on to not get bored. So while I asked for the necessity of this movie, the mastership of its direction is indisputable.
So while Barry Lyndon’s life turned out to be a slow-rolling trainwreck, the movie is definately not! It’s too damn well made.
Did I mention the 184 minutes of runtime already? That’s a damn long time, over 3 fukn hours of silly people doing abrasive things. Could Kubrick have edited BL, and compressed it into a tighter version of, say, under 2 hours?
Oh … I couldn’t honestly say where I would put the scissors to the film. Every scene felt necessary and it woud be a shame to edit anything out. There weren’t any wasteful scenes in BL.
Let’s just say it all boiled down to a simple question of taste. BL just wasn’t the movie for me. In my weak defense I could say I wasn’t the only one who felt that BL wasn’t one of Kubrick’s better movies. But … well, fuck it. It was a Kubrick film ffs! In 1975 he had nothing to prove anymore … so he didn’t.
CONCLUSION: My personal animosity towards the character Barry Lyndon and the time of his fictional life, there is not much to say against the movie in itself. Barry Lyndon is another lesson in filmmaking, taught by a true master.
WATCH IT? Oh errr, as always with these “classics” the experience of watching might turn out to be quite a plight. So don’t watch Barry Lyndon for the cheap thrills of a Transformers movie or such but get at it with the necessary earnesty.
WHAT DOES THE PANEL OF EXPERTS SAY?
Let’s start with the inevitable Mr. Kermode:
Naaaw, didn’t work for me.
This reviewer errs in one point: Barry doesn’t join the Dutch but the Prussian army. Prussians are Deutsch (German) not Dutch (Nederlands), a common misunderstanding.
And a nice analysis.