Movie Review: Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon (1975) is an historical epic directed by Stanley Kubrick famed for painstakingly recreating historical details and using innovative lenses to film in natural light. Barry Lyndon – née Redmond Barry – is also the film’s protagonist and he’s kind of dick. Ryan O’Neal (whatever happened to him?) portrays Barry well as a brooding brat who stops at nothing to climb the social ladder. As a young man in Ireland,Barry is in love with his cousin and challenges her suitor to a duel. Thinking he’s killed the man he flees to Dublin, gets robbed along the way, and joins the army to earn money. Fighting in Germany Barry decides the military life is not for him and deserts, but is caught and impressed into the Prussian army where he fights valiantly and earns the trust of his captain. Leaving the military he joins up with a gambler swindling people across Europe. Then he weds a noble woman, abuses his step-son, dotes on his own son, and runs up massive debts. All the chickens come home to roost when his step-son challenges him to the longest duel ever put on film. Barry loses his son, his legs, his wife and his fortune.

Barry Lyndon is certainly pretty to look at, but a lot of the scenery seems to be filler. Certainly no establishing shot was left on the cutting room floor. The story just doesn’t seem to be worth all the cinematography and three hours of film. The film is based on a novel by William Makepeace Thackery and Barry Lyndon is much like another Thackery adaptation I saw a few years ago, Vanity Fair (2004). Barry Lyndon and Becky Sharp are basically the same character – bratty, unlikable people from the lower sorts muscling their way into high society. Without ever having read anything by Thackery, I would have to guess that he really thought people should stay in their place and thus makes his novel’s protagonists so unpleasant as lesson.