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I Haven’t Seen That In Forever: Barry Lyndon


If you asked me to name my five favorite film directors of all time, Stanley Kubrick would always make the cut. He just is someone who I've returned to a lot over the years and someone who genuinely inspires me. I don't think every one of his films is perfect (namely Lolita) but the drive that created every one of them should be enough to inspire awe.

Most film people will talk about 2001 or A Clockwork Orange or The Shining. The film he made that gets the short stick nearly every time is Barry Lyndon. That perception that it was one of his weaker films actually kept me from seeing it as quickly as I might have otherwise. And I do understand why people take issue with it. It is long, it does have a very deliberate pace, and Ryan O'Neal is far from the greatest actor in the world. But I love the film. It's actually one of my favorites of Kubrick's.

Watching it again, it's pretty clear that Kubrick is the star of the movie. He is present in every scene of the film. What I found the most admirable about the film is that Kubrick creates total control over the film. Most films can be watched and interpreted different ways, not this one. Kubrick tells you exactly what he wants you to think about or see or feel with every moment of the film. The only way to watch the film is how he wants you to. That takes an incredible amount of command and there are only a small handful of people who could ever do it.

The narration is key to how the story is presented to the audience. It lets everyone know that the story doesn't really matter. The narrated very casually mentions throughout the film how things will turn out by the end of the story. It gives us little chance to hope for Raymond Barry's redemption or a twist that will make everything right for him again. It seems to be a comment on fate and how everything has been decided but is waiting to be played out. It's a very cynical viewpoint of how the universe works but that's certainly not an unbelievable stance from Kubrick. The universe is indifferent.

And while the pace may be slow, it is never boring. I guess that's a matter of taste. Some people see the period setting and the Renaissance and their brain immediately shuts off. Mine does for other films set in this time period but not for this one. I always felt like it moved from one portion of his life to the other rather smoothly and I was constantly intrigued by what was coming.

And what can I say about how the film looks? It's almost unarguably one of the greatest looking movies ever filmed. Every frame is perfect. Just go look at stills from the movie and they will all look like paintings. The film is worth watching just for the images alone.

The film was considered a flop when it came out, despite being nominated for several Academy Awards and breaking even with it's budget. It has a long and fascinating history with it's origins as a substitute for the Napoleon film Kubrick never got to make and even how Ryan O'Neal was cast in the film. Time has been good to it (as it has to pretty much every Kubrick film.) I highly suggest you check it out. It's just as essential as the other Kubrick films that more people rave about.
3 comments:

Not a huge fan of Kubrick per se. I can't quite put my finger on exactly why that is. I like parts of The Shining but the tricycle through the hallway scenes are too much for me. I love the first half of Full Metal Jacket but then the second half is awful for me. Eyes Wide Shut bored me to tears. The one Kubrick film that I absolutely love and will watch from beginning to end is A Clockwork Orange. That being said, I appreciate his artistry. I may have to finally sit down and give this one a look.


How is the tricycle through the hallways too much? You're insane. The Shining is the greatest horror film ever made and I'll stand by that till I die

And I do get why people are sort of turned off by him. Barry Lyndon is sort of the worst place for a Kubrick-hater (not saying you are) to go. It's pretty much filled to the brim with all the things that he is accused of doing. It's long, devoid of emotions, more interested in narrative than drama, all ideas and no emotion. These things are all probably true of a lot of his films, but it depends on perspective. I see where those criticisms come from but they don't in any way bother me with the films.


It's not that the trike through the hallways were scary or anything like that. It's that it went on and on and on. It just dragged and that is one of the biggest sticking points for me as to why I am not that big of a fan of The Shining. Methinks another movie where we will have to agree to disagree.

Horror for me is one of those genres that is so varied in the types of film that are done that I can't say just one movie is the greatest ever made. I like a large variety of horror films for a large variety of reasons.

By no means am I Kubrick hater. I appreciate his camerawork and his artistry but it takes a lot for me to sit through one of his movies (unless it's A Clockwork Orange or Dr. Strangelove both of which I love) or in the case of Full Metal Jacket, half of that movie.


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