Old 09-10-2009, 05:38 PM
Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon

In honor of "Barry Lyndon" being added to Ebert's "Great Movie" series, here's a review of the film I wrote on December 5, 2008.

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Barry Lyndon is the kind of character that makes the argument of man being naturally neutral, and that it is society that determines what kind of person he or she will be. The movie asks that we follow along with Barry on his journey of becoming a man in order to experience what he experiences and to see what influences make him into the character that we find at the end of the film.

Based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, Barry Lyndon tells the story of young Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal), starting out as a young man in love with his cousin Nora (Gay Hamilton). In order to stop another man from marrying her, Barry enters into a duel and shoots the man. This starts Barry on his adventures as he flees home to escape the consequences. These adventures include getting robbed, joining the army, going into the police, and working with a professional gambler/possible spy. While in the company of the professional gambler, he falls in love with Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), marries her, and moves in with her and her son from her previous marriage, but things don't go exactly as Barry planned.

Again I come back to the late, great Stanley Kubrick. Here, he has assembled an epic down to the smallest detail making it easy to get swept away in the story. That is exactly the kind of story this is. One that simply asks that you be an outside observer of Barry's life through the many obstacles he must face on his journey to becoming a man. In this way, it is very similar to Kubrick's final film, "Eyes Wide Shut," which asks you to follow along on a doctor's sexually odyssey through New York City.

Kubrick's attention to detail certainly doesn't go unnoticed, in fact, he wants us to notice it. The length of his shots may actually drive the impatient movie-goer mad, but if you stick through it, you will be thoroughly rewarded with a rich, beautiful film. The beauty of this film is such that you could take almost any frame of it and it would be a work of art. Kubrick uses lavish interiors decorated with works of art for his characters, who are elegantly dressed in very elaborate fashions of the time period. He also filmed on many outdoor locations in the UK, Ireland, and Germany, amazingly being able to find architecture to fit the period.

I always find Ryan O'Neal's performance as the titular character to be a fascinating one. He plays the character as innocent and childlike, but also with a subtle amount of power. That makes the character not come off as overdone, but rather as having just the right emotional depth that it would seem that Barry would have during his adventures. As a character, the innocence and childlike factors of the performance were certainly called for, seeing as how he grew up in a small village in Ireland. This led to his character being easily influenced, as he did not know much of the outside world until he was able to go experience it for himself. Surprisingly, O'Neal was not even nominated for the Best Actor Oscar of 1975, but it was not the only mistake that Oscar would make that year.

This film was nominated for seven Oscars but only received four for its cinematography, costumes, music, and art direction-set decoration. This comes as no surprise as it is very beautiful in all these aspects. There were three that it did not receive: Best Adapted Screenplay (Stanley Kubrick), Best Director (Stanley Kubrick), and Best Picture (Stanley Kubrick). Notice any commonalities?

It seems the Academy always had something against Kubrick. They ignored him for all three of these, plus, this was the fourth consecutive time that he was nominated for Best Director and lost. The three previous nominations had been for Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange. The only honor the Academy ever bestowed on Kubrick was an Oscar for Best Visual Effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was highly deserved, then again, he also deserved the four directing Oscars he was nominated for, but apparently the Academy didn't see it that way. The Academy and I rarely do agree however, so it's no surprise when they go in a completely different direction.

Barry Lyndon truly is an epic, not only in its scope, but also in its length. It runs for about three hours, and yet, is not even the longest film that Kubrick ever made. The three hours pass quite quickly though as Barry is always getting into one situation or another and taking us right along for the ride. When I say we "follow" the characters around in this film, with Kubrick that is usually meant quite literally, as he is quite well-known for using tracking shots throughout his movies, and this one is no exception. This, coupled with brilliantly composed shots with a camera that flows along as if it's the eye of an outsider, make this an incredibly delightful viewing experience.

By the end of "Barry Lyndon", we are able to see what has made him such a detestable character and it allows us to question the decisions we make in our own lives. Is the choice that seems opportune at the moment always the best one to take? For Barry, many of his past choices helped him, but only for the moment. They would lead to various repercussions for him later. We watch, we follow, and we learn, as it seems Kubrick wants us to, how not to become like Barry Lyndon. 4/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 04-26-2011 at 04:53 PM..
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