Barry Lyndon (1975)

Barry Lyndon (1975)
  • Time: 184 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Drama | History
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee


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.

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  • This is one film that many will not even think of attempting. It is three hours in length, it is based on a novel written in 1844 documenting the rise and fall of an Irishman who becomes part of 18th century English nobility, and it stars no one popular. But there is one compelling reason that dwarves all excuses not to watch the film – it is directed by the late Stanley Kubrick. The director of influential film masterpieces such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Dr. Strangelove (1964), and A Clockwork Orange (1971), Kubrick is easily one of the greatest filmmakers of our time.

    Barry Lyndon is probably Kubrick’s most underrated film, an extraordinary picture that so vividly evokes the time and mood of a distant past that one might have been inclined to believe that Kubrick had actually taken the hassle to travel back in time to film this. Shot by cinematographer John Alcott, who won one of the film’s four Oscars, Barry Lyndon is as beautiful as films get. Picturesque views of medieval England are captured with a wide lens that frequently zooms away from a focal point, giving ‘eye-opening’ visuals of classy architecture and elegiac costumes lived in and worn respectively by the noble people.

    Tremendous effort is made to film most of the interior scenes in natural light and in the ‘enchanting hour’ when everything radiates with misty perfection. Yet the most technically impressive aspect of Barry Lyndon remains to be the filming of interiors at night with the creative use of strategically-positioned candlelights that lend an almost warm, surreal touch to the film’s already organic quality. Kubrick’s eye for detail and his quest for the perfect shot will reward patient viewers because Barry Lyndon is simply innovative filmmaking in an old-fashioned setting.

    Ryan O’Neal plays the titular character Barry Lyndon opposite Marisa Berenson who is remarkable in her role as the widowed Lady Lyndon. Adapted from William Makepeace Thackeray’s picaresque novel and written for the screen by Kubrick himself, the film is smartly split into two major acts – the unexpected rise of Redmond Barry who later becomes Barry Lyndon, and the decline of the latter whose acrimonious relationship with his stepson Lord Bullingdon primarily leads to his inevitable downfall.

    Despite the subject matter, Barry Lyndon is more engaging than one might have expected. Kubrick’s use of classical music is a major reason and it could not have been more apt here with great selections like Handel’s Sarabande. Another factor is the inclusion of several sequences of farcical duels between Barry and his ‘nemesis’ and war battles which feature brilliant tracking shots.

    Kubrick’s films are mostly devoid of real emotions; they are mechanical, cold observations of society that are seldom optimistic. Barry Lyndon is no exception. Its frozen characters seem unable to dictate their lives; they feel trapped in Kubrick’s masterful manipulation of a medium that so rarely embraces such a genre. Highly recommended, Barry Lyndon is cinema at its purest, and is without a doubt one of its great achievements.

    GRADE: A+ (9.5/10 or 5 stars)
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