Friday, December 16, 2022

#2,880. Barry Lyndon (1975) - The Films of Stanley Kubrick


Define Kubrick? Ummm… gives new meaning to the word meticulous”.

The above quote has been attributed to Jack Nicholson, the star of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining. But Nicholson could have just as easily been referring to the great director’s 1975 opus Barry Lyndon.

Time and again, Kubrick frames his shots in Barry Lyndon like they were a work of art, as if his audience was walking through a vast gallery of history’s finest paintings. He starts in extreme close-up, with the one image that would undoubtedly catch our eye were it framed and hanging on a wall: his lead character chopping wood, or a British regiment on parade. Then, his camera slowly pulls back, revealing the spectacle, the grandeur of the surrounding landscape.

His framing of each and every scene in Barry Lyndon is measured. It is deliberate. It is… meticulous.

Based on the 1844 book The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray, Barry Lyndon relates, in two distinct sections, the rise and fall of notorious opportunist Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), a common Irishman who, in the 1700’s, would rise to the rank of an English aristocrat.

Following a duel with British army captain John Quin (Leonard Rossiter), the fiancé of his cousin and first love Nora (Gay Hamilton), a young Redmond Barry flees to Dublin, where he joins the army of King George. When his close friend Grogan (Godfrey Quigley) is killed in a skirmish during the Seven Years War, Redmond deserts his post, only to be apprehended by Captain Potzdorf (Hardy Krüger) of the Prussian military.

Thus begins a series of events that, over time, will see Redmond Barry hook up with notorious gambler the Chevalier du Baribari (Patrick Magee), and marry Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), widow of Sir Charles Reginald Lyndon (Frank Middlemass).

Having achieved an air of respectability, Redmond Barry behaves like a brute, cheating on his new wife while at the same time spending her entire fortune. This causes a rift between Redmond and his stepson Lord Bullington (played as an adult by Leon Vitali), one that grows larger, and more venomous, with each passing year.

Barry Lyndon is, without question, a beautiful motion picture. There are scenes as gorgeous as any ever captured on film. This polished presentation has been attacked by the movie’s detractors, who claim the film is all style and no substance, with little or no story. But I cannot agree. There was never a moment in the movie where I wasn’t engaged by the tale of lead character Redmond Barry, whose antics fall more in line with those of an anti-hero than a hero.

Barry aligns himself with the Chevalier du Baribari, who, in reality, is an Irishman much like himself, posing as a European aristocrat. Aided by Barry, the Chevalier cheats at cards and other games of chance to gain the upper hand on his wealthy opponents. Barry’s motivations become even more suspect later in the film, after he marries Lady Lyndon. At this point in the movie, Barry isn’t even an anti-hero; he is a straight-up villain, ignoring his wife and mistreating Lord Bullington, her son from her previous marriage. And yet we, the audience, are still somehow drawn to Barry. We find ourselves siding with him against his stepson, who, though in the right, is never as magnetic a personality as his unscrupulous stepdad.

It is difficult to pinpoint a single moment in Barry Lyndon when Redmond Barry is entirely likable. Even in the early scenes with his cousin Nora, Barry comes across as course and naïve. But we are engaged by his exploits all the same.

While it is unjust to categorize Barry Lyndon as a totally stylistic affair, it is, admittedly, Kubrick’s visuals that draw you in, the gorgeous shots littered throughout the film that make it a masterpiece. Kubrick may, indeed, have been a perfectionist, but he put that particular skillset to good use throughout this movie.

Barry Lyndon is a measured, deliberate, meticulous tour de force.
Rating: 10 out of 10

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