Stanley Kubrick Classics — Barry Lyndon

Posted: August 1, 2010 in Danny Moltrasi, Film, Reviews
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[Reviewed by: Danny Moltrasi]

“Gentlemen may talk of the age of chivalry, but remember the ploughmen, poachers and pickpockets whom they lead. It is with these sad instruments that your great warriors and kings have been doing their murderous work in the world.”

Barry Lyndon was the 10th feature-length film of Stanley Kubrick, released in 1975 and the most immediately successful film of his in the awards world. It could have been just a simple tale of the rise and fall of a young Irish man who becomes part of the English nobility, and falls out of it. But, in the hands of cinema legend Kubrick, it is otherworldly. It gives us mixes of emotion, some of the best cinematography you’ll ever see, and a story so detailed and interesting, that even at three hours long, it’ll speed past you.

Barry Lyndon is has two parts to it, which is signified with on-screen title-cards, the rise, then the fall. The first half, simply called ‘By What Means Redmon Barry Acquired the Style and Title of Barry Lyndon” see’s Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) have to leave his mother in Ireland after a duel with the man who is in love with his cousin, who Barry is also in love with. We follow him through the English, then Prussian army, and then the woman he would marry, Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), thus becoming Barry Lyndon. The second half, titled “Containing an Account of the Misfortune and Disasters Which Befall Barry Lyndon” takes a considerable turn. . Things are looking good, after they have a son. However Lady Lyndon’s first marriage also provided her with an older son, who is not impressed with Barry Lyndon to say the least. Lyndon becomes less attached to Lady Lyndon, but is completely devoted to their son. However tragedy befalls them, and he is killed after falling off a horse, and both parents struggle to cope with the aftermath of this. As their debts build up, and the older son is kicked out of the Lyndon household, he soon returns to challenge Lyndon to a final duel in order to claim his estate back. Lyndon is shot in the leg, and requires it to be amputated, and the final narration tells us of Lyndon’s return to Ireland. The final title-card leaves us with a poignant message, ‘It was in the reign of King George III that the aforementioned personages lived and quarrelled; good or bad , handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.’

Kubrick shows us the hypocrisy of the English nobility for what it is. Throughout the film, any quarrels are settled with duels, or fights, the pompous men returning to its animal instincts. One duel is a boxing fight between Redmond Barry and a man in the army fight, which Barry easily beats. However, this segment of brutality, the most violent in the film, is during his rise into nobility, as he becomes to be accepted into it. It provides a stunning contrast to the stereotypical view to England at the time. There is an undertone of violence throughout the film, as the men duel to increase their social standing, which makes the final title-cards message even more of an affecting message.

The narration keeps the audience rooted into the action, and provides many observations they remind us of the stupidity of the whole nobility. “It is well to dream of glorious war in a snug armchair at home, but it is a very different thing to see it firsthand” or “Five years in the army, and some considerable experience of the world, had by now dispelled any romantic notions regarding love” keep us knowing how Barry is feeling, and is delivered perfectly, and is never out-of-place in the flow of the film.

Kubrick was apparently inspired by the paintings and artwork of the time, and it is clear to see this influence, as many instances of the film provide picturesque images. This is not just with the beautiful landscapes, which were mostly filmed in Ireland, but also seeing the nobility sitting around in their lavish houses is at times just like walking around an art gallery. It is a truly inspiring thing to be able to do, to constantly paint pictures in the fashion that Kubrick does here, and is an impressive feat. Kubrick used as much natural light as he could, and watching people gathered around a candle makes the whole experience more real for the audience, and allows this images to become real. It must have been a difficult decision to make, but it makes for some striking images. These are given another dimension with the use of music, and war marches that are nearly a constant throughout.

A moment that provides an unusual use of the music is when Lyndon saves a senior officer from a building while there is fire, cannon balls and gunfire around him, however the marching music continues. It is just one example of how, despite what goes on around, there was a need to maintain image for these men. Again this is shown when the English are marching into battle, they play their war drums and slowly march into battle, while the enemy shoots dozens of men down. But they don’t return fire, they continue marching closer, as that would not be the proper thing to do, these are English gentlemen after all!

Barry Lyndon is a master director at his peak, and there is so much in it, that it will require multiply viewings to take it all in. Personally, someone who is not a fan of costume-dramas, to be constantly captivated for three hours goes some way to say how impressed I was by this film, a total masterpiece. Towards the films ending we are told exactly what year the film ends, 1789. The start of the French Revolution, the end of the European nobilities.

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  1. Miss Nikki says:

    I did not even know this film existed until about two weeks ago when I saw it on Netflix. I’m a Kubrick fan and a period film fan so this one was right up my alley.

    It was so well done!! I recommend it to anyone that likes period films!

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