Kubrick’s Underrated Masterpiece: Barry Lyndon

One of the most underrated films of cinematic legend Stanley Kubrick is the film that followed A Clockwork Orange and preceded The Shining: 1975’s brilliant Barry Lyndon. Full of a delightful mixture of humour, thrills, and striking imagery, it is one of Kubrick’s more personal films, and a manifestation of sorts of his burning desire to create a Napoleon biopic.

The epic is also his longest film, at a full 184 minutes. It tells of Irish rogue Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), who flees toward Dublin and gets caught up in a battle of war and aristocracy. He takes the path from a nobody to a king as he usurps the position of the royal Lady Lyndon’s husband, thus becoming Barry Lyndon. The second half of the film settles down into a stony tale of married life and unhappiness. Tension rises between Barry and his stepson, Lord Bullington, resulting in a full-out assault in front of many people in a memorable scene. It all leads up to a brilliant anti-climax: an extremely slow-paced, strangely funny duel between father and stepson.

The film looks beautiful and is framed in a lovely manner, as we would expect from Kubrick. Every shot is a delight, and it seems the cinematography and ingenious lighting is the star of the film. This is a movie Kubrick was born to make, with all the trademarks and styles that made the man a genius.

Every image is immaculate, in a manner that both borrowed from Ingmar Bergman (how much you wanna bet Kubrick saw Cries and Whispers while he was making Barry Lyndon) and possibly influenced Bergman (some shots in Fanny and Alexander are reminiscent of this film). We see into a rich world of 18th century royalty, whether it be the thrilling shots of war battle, the sweeping camera, the rotating camera, the zooming camera, Kubrick captures each scene absolutely 100% perfect, in a painstaking manner that put him at the top of his game.

And O’Neal, himself, as an actor manages to carry the movie away with a brilliant performance that more than makes up for the sappy, lifeless garbage that was Love Story. The performance is at times chilling, but always mesmerising.

I can’t understand why so few people remember this when they remember Kubrick. It’s one of his greatest, it’s one of his more emotional and it’s a truly beautiful, stunningly attractive painting, that the magic man that is SK breathed life into.

My Rating:

5/5 Kubricks

Is It Worth Adding To Your Netflix Queue?

Seen Barry Lyndon? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below.

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About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on July 1, 2011, in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Saw Barry Lyndon when I was in my early teens and loved it ! Would love to watch it again to compare !

    • I saw it at an early age as well. I took an interest in Kubrick from early on. When he died in 1999, I was twelve years old and my Dad showed me 2001: A Space Odyssey. I loved it, but at that age there weren’t many other Kubrick films I could watch.

  2. great film. nice piece. shot totally with natural light. also, check this out – may be of interest http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2011/06/test.html

    Ash
    http://permanentplastichelmet.com

    • Ah, that was very interesting. It doesn’t surprise me, though. Kubrick is a perfectionist of the highest order so he probably sent letters to projectionists on numerous occasions.

  3. Personally my favourite Kubrick film and the only one that truly ‘clicked’ the first time around for me. This may well be because it is a little talked about film, so expectations are not built up. It is certainly a Kubrick film that many overlook but is certainly not an underrated film because everyone I know who has seen it, has most certainly appreciated it.

    As brilliant as Kubrick was I do wish he made more films like this. It’s his magnum opus in my eyes.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s a brilliant work of art. I actually bought the DVD for $6 without ever having seen it, just because I had absolute faith in Kubrick.

  4. I’m delighted to see this tribute to one of Kubrick’s greatest films, and certainly one of the most misunderstood films ever made. I don’t think a director has ever captured the spirit and atmosphere of the eighteenth century so accurately (to my sensibility, at least) and beautifully–which was, for me, the whole point of the film’s much-criticized pacing. I found it meditative and langorous rather than slow, and, of course, Kubrick’s virtuosic use of natural light and candlelight in that one film was as influential in its own way as the innovative techniques used in Citizen Kane. It’s very easy to see the influence of Barry Lyndon generally on Terrence Malick, David Gordon Green, and Paul Thomas Anderson, and very directly on, say, Amadeus and Dangerous Liaisons. One brilliant stroke of Barry Lyndon that’s also overlooked is the performance that Kubrick wrung out of Ryan O’Neal. Let’s face it–while O’Neal was then at the height of his popularity as a pretty-boy movie star, and had a certain deftness at light comedy, he was hardly an acting powerhouse, and certainly wasn’t known for his dramatic chops. Apart from O’Neal’s box-office appeal, It was an unusually perceptive, non-obvious casting choice on Kubrick’s part; he really got the most out of O’Neal’s natural boyish charm and a certain air of simplicity and naivete, yet was able to get O’Neal to round out the character with depth and complexity like no other director ever did. It’s certainly the performance of O’Neal’s career, and Kubrick deserves a lot of the credit.

    • I never saw much of O’Neal, but I was surprised at the downward fall in his career in the later years. He seemed so excellent and full of character in Barry Lyndon, with so much potential. Then again, he had Kubrick’s brilliant screenplay and his direction which probably helped him substantially achieve the performance he did.

  5. found the review tyler, very nice. i would definitely be interested in seeing this. but finding 3 hours to watch it may be tough these days.

    what are your thoughts on stopping half way through and finishing it the next day? ordinarily the thought horrifies me but needs must sometimes.

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