“Barry Lyndon” was written & directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1975. It follows young Irishman Redmond Barry as he evolves from a young, naive boy into a scheming, ruthless rogue who ruthlessly climbs the social ladder of 18th century Great Britain.
Upon first glance, “Barry Lyndon” seems like it would be the most boring movie imaginable. Historical drama set in aristocratic society? Check. Three hour runtime? Check. Slow pacing? Check. However, despite all odds, legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick transformed “Barry Lyndon” into an enthralling and mesmerizing experience.
Easily what this film is most known for is its gorgeous cinematography. Kubrick infamously used lenses made by NASA during the film’s production to create images that look exactly like an 18th century painting. The level of precision and dedication necessary to produce such a visual style could only be done by someone as meticulous, gifted, and utterly insane as Stanley Kubrick.
Additionally, the costume design is impeccable. Normally I don’t care much about someone’s wardrobe, but with this film one can’t help but be stunned by the look of the characters. The costumes are essential for the immersion into this extravagant yet cold-hearted world, and when they’re combined with the gorgeous sets/scenery and Kubrick’s photographic expertise, true magic happens.
But the visuals and aesthetic aren’t the only sources of entertainment. The tragic arc of Barry Lyndon is absolutely compelling, not because it’s original, but because of the setting surrounding this archetype of self-destruction. The film efficiently uses all the fascinating events of its time period to present how wars and class systems could turn an innocent young man into a conniving, selfish manipulator.
“Barry Lyndon” plays out as a series of misadventures and schemes, creating a consistently entertaining narrative that’s tightly written despite the beast of a runtime. Barry goes from outlaw to soldier, from spy to confidant, from poor to wealthy, from lovesick to detached, from beloved to despised. He does whatever he can to move onto the next step in the social ladder, becoming more addicted to the pursuit of greatness. The entire narrative is built around challenging and changing the lead character — that’s the key to an excellent character study.
“Barry Lyndon” is a terrific film, possibly even one of Kubrick’s best. It makes use of each second of its runtime to build its protagonist and immerse the audience into another century. The film exemplifies the best of cinematic escapism, which is its greatest achievement.
Click here for my review of Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove”