Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975)

I finally watched Barry Lyndon thanks to a comment on  Guy Savage‘s review of one of Thackeray’s novels and after seeing Kubrick mentioned again the very same day on Tuulenhaiven’s blog.

Watching Barry Lyndon is like seeing a Rococo  painting come to life. It reminded me of Fragonard and Watteau. It’s visually astonishing with a sorrowful and beautiful soundtrack (click the second YouTube link if you’d like to listen to it while reading), sumptuous costumes and a lush decor. It is a picaresque story, at least all through the first half. Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neil), an Irishman who is neither rich nor noble, falls in love with a girl whose family is in need of some substantial financial assistance. Easy to understand that they don’t think that Redmond is a good match. Unluckily he is young and stubborn and thus provokes a duel with the future husband of the girl he loves.

File:Fragonard, The Swing.jpg

After shooting him and seeing his opponent sink down, Redmond is led to believe, he has killed him and is sent off to Dublin with the money of his mother and of a friend of the family. Unfortunately the money is stolen from him on his journey. As is typical for picaresque stories Redmond stumbles from one mishap into the other. He ends up serving with the English army in the seven-year war, deserts, serves with the German army, meets a gambler, helps him… As visually stupendous as the first half is, I wasn’t entirely interested but that changed completely with part two.

In the second half of the film Redmond meets Lady Honoria Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), fancies and seduces her and, after her geriatric husband dies suddenly, he marries her. She is a very rich woman and he will do his very best to spend her fortune. Unfortunately for him and the son she gives him,  he doesn’t automatically acquire a title as well.

The misfortunes and mishaps continue throughout the movie until the end. Redmond brings a lot of those onto himself and I never really liked him until I had time to think about he movie later on.

What made me like the second part is Honoria Lyndon. One of the crucial moments in the movie is when the newlyweds sit together in the carriage. His young wife begs Redmond not to smoke in the carriage and he not only continues but deliberately blows the smoke into her face. At that moment Honoria Lyndon reminded me of Henry James’ Isabel Archer, when she discovers that she has been trapped and that there is no real love in her marriage. The disappointment and disillusionment in her beautiful face was very moving. As said before, I started to be truly interested in what happened once Honoria was introduced. She is such a tragic figure. Redmond gets more and more hateful but in the end, after the movie was over and looking back on all that has happened to him and where he came from, I felt pity for him as well.

Barry Lyndon is a very long and very slow movie. We are meant to dwell on those pictures and – given the choice of the music, Händel’s Sarabande – we can see this movie as a meditation on hope and sorrow.

I don’t know how true the movie is to Thackeray’s novel. We often hear a voice-over commenting Redmond’s actions which sounds as if it was taken directly from the novel. Maybe anyone has read it?

13 thoughts on “Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975)

  1. I might be lost here, I reread your review again but still not sure, is Kubrick the director?

    If so, I won’t be surprise if the movie is a bit different with the novel. He changed The Shining a lot.

    This movie sounds…boring. I know that this opinion of mine only based on the story you have described here.

    • I have a feeling you wouldn’t like it. I did but you have to be really in the mood for it… It’s not so much about the story as about the images and the music, the feeling it conveys…

  2. It took me three nights to watch this one, but like you I enjoyed it overall. The visuals are SO good – I love your comparison to a Rococo painting. I still want to read the book. Someday. And I’m almost ready to watch the movie again. I do think it is my favorite Kubrick.

    • It really has a Rococo feel, doesnt it? After I finished watching some scenes kept on haunting me, especially Honoria when she is outside walking with her kid and thought that reminds me of something and then– I remembered the paintings. I think I will watch it again… It will be better next time… I thought it would be a faster movie so it took some getting used to. I liked Eyes Wide Shut a lot, will have to watch it again.

      • I already want to re-watch some of the Kubrick films – this one for sure, A Space Odyssey, maybe The Killers. I liked Eyes Wide Shut a lot more than I expected to – I don’t usually care for Tom Cruise, but I would say it was one of his better films in my opinion.

        • I hated 2001 A Space Odyssey big time. Either I didn’t get it ( I was 16) or… A saw A Clockwork Orange at the same time and although I didn’t like it I found it highly impressive. I still need to watch Lolita. And Dr. Strangelove. Cruise is astonishing in Magnolia… The guy he plays is so obnoxious… Perfect role for him. Have you seen it? Magnolia is amazing.

  3. If there ever was a film meant to be seen in 70mm on the big screen, this is it. I’ve been afraid to watch it on DVD, fearing I’d ruin my memory of seeing it in the theater. Might be OK on blu-ray, though.

    • I agree, It would have been better in the cinema but I got a bit used to watching DVDs. It was a normal DVD on a BluRay player with a pretty good sound system… The colors are fantastic. Hopefully they will show Kubrick one day in one of the “studio cinemas”…

  4. I’m afraid films are a weak point with me. I love watching them, but unlike books (and even maybe with books…) I don’t feel like I have watched a good variety of them or can talk about them like I can to some extent with books. I’m not at all familiar with this one, but I like the idea of a film being like a Watteau or Fragonard painting–I will have to check this one out.

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