Based on William Makepeace Thackery’s novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon, Barry Lyndon is the story of a how a common Irish man became an aristocrat through a series of misadventures where he rose high only to fall through misfortune. Written for the screen and directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film is an exploration into a man trying to his role into a world that is new to him as he tries to become a gentleman through any means as it’s told by an unreliable narrator played by Michael Hordern. Playing the role of the titular character is Ryan O’Neal as the film spans through nearly 40 years during the second half of the 18th Century. Also starring Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Gay Hamilton, Leon Vitali, Godfrey Quigley, and Steven Berkoff. Barry Lyndon is an exquisite and ravishing film from Stanley Kubrick.
A young man named Redmond Barry is trying to court his cousin Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton) in a small Irish village only to contend with a British captain named John Quin (Leonard Rossiter). Captain Quin represents everything Barry wants to be as he challenged him to a duel following a series of insults as Barry wins the duel but is forced to leave home and go to Dublin. After some trouble where he loses money during his journey, he decides to join the British army for money where he meets Quin’s friend Captain Grogan (Godfrey Quigley) who reveals about the true actions of his duel with Quin. Feeling trapped by his fate as the Seven Year’s War rages on, Barry gains some advice from Grogan about how to lead a different life where Barry deserts the army. Meeting with a Prussian captain named Potzdorf (Hardy Kruger), Barry is suddenly part of Prussian army where he saves Potzdorf’s life in a battle.
In return, Potzdorf offers Barry a chance to spy on a man known as the Chevalier de Balibari (Patrick Magee) where Barry meets the aristocratic man and confesses to him about what he’s doing. The Chevalier takes him in as a protégé before he flees Prussia where Barry gives a false report to Potzdorf. Barry’s work with the Chevalier has made the latter a successful gambler as Barry helps out in his gambling defeating the revered Lord Ludd (Steven Berkoff). At a lunch with the Chevalier at a palace, Barry is entranced by the presence of a woman named Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) whom he courts as her husband (Frank Middlemass) is dying. Barry manages to win over Lady Lyndon much to the dismay of her 10-year-old son Lord Bullingdon (Dominic Savage) as his father dies and Barry becomes Barry Lyndon. With the help of Barry’s mother and a man named Graham (Phillip Stone) to handle Barry’s new wealth, Belle suggests that Barry should gain a title in order to maintain this new lifestyle with the help of the influential Lord Wendover (Andre Morell).
Still, Barry would find ways to undo things as he gains the ire of Lord Bullingdon as Barry later gains a son in Bryan Patrick Lyndon (David Morley) while the 18-year-old Bullingdon (Leon Vitali) has become more attached towards his mother as his hatred for Barry grows. After years of tension that finally boils, Bullingdon is forced to leave where Barry puts his full attention towards his son. Yet, financial mismanagement and Barry’s awful deeds behind the scenes as tragedy happens leaving Lady Lyndon in a state of shock. When the Lyndon family’s longtime advisor Reverend Runt (Murray Melvin) is dismissed, Runt would return with the exiled Lord Bullingdon who challenges Barry to a duel. For all that Barry had gained and lost, Barry would do something that would change the fates for everyone involved including himself.
The film is about a man who is trying to find his way to conform into a world that he is entranced by as he tries to figure out how to behave in this world despite his lack of intelligence and understanding about the way the world works. It’s a film that explores the life of a man who comes from humble beginnings to stumble his way into various places in the world and then become a man of great wealth. Just as he rose high through years of sheer luck, he would fall in a big way through his own doing. Infidelity, neglect, mismanagement, and foolishness would play part into downfall that would be furthered by tragedy only to find himself in a similar situation where his adventure begin.
Told through Michael Hordern’s narration that would reveal lots of back story and the fates that is to come for Barry Lyndon, it’s to establish what this man is trying to do in his path to become an aristocrat. A lot of Hordern’s narration delves into the lives of Barry and the characters he encounters as it’s told in third-person where Hordern would spoil things to unveil how Barry would screw things up for himself in his bid to gain a title. It would also unveil a lot of the fallout that happens as it would play into the fates of this man and the people he encounters.
Stanley Kubrick’s screenplay plays to the traditional rise and fall formula but it is told in a grand narrative where it’s about this slow rise to fortune and prestige only to fall in an even bigger way where Barry Lyndon would go full circle into his journey. The film plays into many themes that is explored such as conformity, desire, and will as it reveals how a simple Irish villager like Redmond Barry would become the aristocratic Barry Lyndon through the series of misadventures where he would serve in two different armies, meet people who would change his outlook in the world, and find a way to be part of this world that is so foreign to him. Of course, he would face forces that would prevent him from trying to be part of this world.
Through this narration that often has an air of melancholia, Kubrick seems to want to try and root for this simple Irish villager who manages to succeed by sheer dumb luck and stumbling his way into certain things. Once he has attained this aristocratic lifestyle, Kubrick then wants to tear him apart by exploring the things where Barry would completely find ways to ruin himself. In a way, the film is a character study of how a man would try to define himself to become a gentleman. In the course of these accidental encounters, Barry would observe the way a gentleman behaves as he tries to figure out how to do this in a certain way or how to do that. Yet, being a gentleman isn’t something that can be taught but rather for one to discover in the course of time. That is something Barry was unable to figure out until the very end but it would come at a great price.
Kubrick’s direction is truly exotic in the way he recreates 18th Century life in grand detail from the costumes to the homes and places that is created as if he goes back in time. From the wide compositions he creates to display the large number of soldiers that Barry would be a part of to the shots of the town and the opening duel. There is never a moment wasted where Kubrick is all about the great detail as if he is trying to recreate some old painting of those times and bring it to life. In creating this period, Kubrick allows the film to play out and maintain a pace that is more leisured where it will frustrate audiences at first because it feels quite slow. Yet, that’s because time moved much slower back then.
The direction is also quite intimate and intoxicating for the way Kubrick captures many of the scenes inside these mansions where the camera is always looking afar to capture the rooms the characters walk into or where they’re eating. The close-ups that Kubrick creates has him showing some restraint just so he can observe what this character could be feeling without the use of the narration. Still, Kubrick is interested in the story of this simple man who rises from humble beginnings to fall in such a grand way. Notably in how he creates a unique parallel to the duels that Barry would face in the beginning of the film against Captain Quin and Lord Bullingdon towards the end. It’s all about the fates that is set for a character like Barry where the first duel was just a set-up for everything he is about to embark.
It’s the last duel where the film reaches a huge climax where Kubrick definitely creates a lot of tension and suspense where it’s all about Lord Bullingdon reclaiming the family’s tarnished reputation against a man who has just lost everything. It’s this scene where it’s the culmination of everything Barry had been through. This time around, there’s no luck to help him nor is there a way he can stumble through. It’s all about this duel yet Kubrick would find a way to create an element of surprise. This element of surprise in this duel is where for the first time ever, Barry finally takes control knowing what his fate will be. It leads to a very sad aftermath but one that is poignant. What Kubrick does overall is create a very engrossing but also touching portrait of a man trying to fit in to a new world only to have a much bigger understanding on who he is.
The cinematography of John Alcott is definitely among one of the film’s many highlights in its technical field. With help from Kubrick’s expertise in lighting and the creation of some specific lenses by the late Ed Di Guillo, Alcott’s photography has a lushness for many of the film’s interiors where the look is very ethereal in its beauty while maintaining a natural tone that is unlike anything. The exteriors for all of the scenes shot on location in Ireland is very beautiful for its look and scope in many of its daytime scenes. Still, it’s the stuff inside such as the first scene where Barry meets Lady Lyndon for the first time with all those candles providing the light is among some of the most beautifully photographed images on film.
Editor Tony Lawson does excellent work with the film‘s editing to create some wonderful montages to establish some of successes of Barry as well as his downfall while maintaining a leisured pace for the film. Production designer Ken Adams, with set decorator Vernon Dixon and art director Roy Walker, does exquisite work with the film‘s art direction by going into grand detail to create the halls and furniture to recreate a place in time that seemed long ago. Particularly in the way the rooms are filled with paintings and all sorts of things where Ken Adams and his team create some truly amazing work.
Costume designers Milena Canonero and Ulla-Brit Soderlund do magnificent work into the design of the costumes that really gives life to the film‘s beauty. From the lavish details into the dresses that many of the women including Lady Lyndon wears to the clothing the men wear it all plays to their personalities and who they are. Adding to the look of the costumes are the wigs provided by Leonard of London that plays up to the extravagance of the film‘s look as well as a lushness to those costumes. The sound work of Robin Gregory and Bill Rowe is superb for the way it captures the atmosphere of the scenes inside the mansions to display its intimacy as well as the tense sounds of cannons and gunfire in the film’s battle scenes.
The film’s music soundtrack includes a wide mix of classical music and traditional Irish folk pieces that is performed by the Chieftans on the latter. Notably in the first act where its arrangement of woodwinds and acoustic instruments play out Barry’s Irish roots. Some of the film’s orchestral pieces that features original work from Leonard Rosenman who plays out some of the film’s tension that involves conflict including the moments between Barry and Lord Bullingdon.
The rest of the film’s soundtrack includes a wide array of classical pieces from composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Schubert. A lot of its to help convey the melancholia of the film as well as some atmospheric scenes where Barry walks in sync to the melody of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-Flat, Op 100 (2nd Movement) just as he’s to kiss Lady Lyndon. It’s among the many wonderful usage of music to play things out as the overall music is another of the film’s technical highlights.
The casting by James Liggat is outstanding for the ensemble that is created as it features some memorable performances from Steven Berkoff as Lord Ludd, Diane Koerner as the German girl that Barry meets during his journey, Gay Hamilton as Barry’s cousin Nora, Leonard Rossiter as the dignified Captain Quin, Arthur O’Sullivan as the conniving Captain Feeney, Billy Boyle as Feeney’s son, Frank Middlemass as the ailing Charles Lyndon, Andre Morell as the revered Lord Wendover, and Patrick Magee in an exciting performance as the Chevalier de Balibari whom Barry idolizes. Other notable performances include Philip Stone as Barry’s financial advisor Graham, Marie Kean as Barry’s tough-minded mother, David Morley as Barry’s young son Bryan, Godfrey Quigley as the wise Captain Grogan, Murray Melvin as the sympathetic Reverend Runt, and Dominic Savage as the young Lord Bullingdon.
Hardy Krueger is great as the helpful Captain Potzdorf who teaches Barry the ways to become a gentleman as Barry sees him as a mentor. Leon Vitali is superb as the intense Lord Bullingdon who tries to deal with Barry whom he sees is ruining the family as he tries to confront him in many ways. Marisa Berenson is wonderful as the melancholic Lady Lyndon who is this exotic woman who doesn’t exhibit a lot of happiness as she seems trapped into the world that she lives in. Finally, there’s Ryan O’Neal in an incredible performance as the titular character where O’Neal displays a chilling restraint as a man who is naïve in his pursuit to find his role in the world where he is not part of. O’Neal displays a lot of great humility into his character as well as someone who is very flawed where it’s really the best performance of his career.
Barry Lyndon is a captivating and gorgeous film from Stanley Kubrick. Featuring a remarkable lead performance from Ryan O’Neal, it is a film that is a wonderful take on the rise-and-fall narrative that is told with great care and observation by Kubrick as the film is truly one of his most defining works of his career. Thanks to the great technical work made by Kubrick’s collaborators, the film is also a standard textbook on how a period film should look and feel like as a way to tell a story. In the end, Barry Lyndon is an enchanting yet evocative film from Stanley Kubrick.
Stanley Kubrick Films: Fear & Desire - Killer’s Kiss - The Killing - Paths of Glory - Spartacus - Lolita - Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - 2001: A Space Odyssey - A Clockwork Orange - The Shining - Full Metal Jacket - Eyes Wide Shut
© thevoid99 2012