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Barry Lyndon is Stanley Kubrick's 1975 period piece, widely considered one of his most underrated films. The film concerns the life of Irish peasant-turned-adventurer-turned-aristocrat Redmond Barry, who leaves his Irish home after his family con him into leaving alone his cousin with whom he is besotted. The first half shows how he then goes on to be a British deserter of the Seven Year's War, a Prussian conscript, a spy and then a travelling dandy. The second half, however, is far more downbeat and involves his quest to become an aristocrat, which eventually merely leads to tragedy as he spurns his beautiful but fragile wife and brings his stepson to hate him with a passion.
The film had very mixed reviews when it came out, and was seen as weird for Kubrick as he wasn't fond of period pieces. Nowadays, however, the film is considered a cinematographer's dream with its beautiful camera work (including scenes lit only by candles), and no other film has so convincingly brought the 18th century to life. It's a simple story, but if you allow yourself to be absorbed by it and accept the pace it's deeply engaging, romantic and even thought provoking. There are some truly classic scenes, such as the climactic duel between Barry and his stepson which has tremendous tension, and the first meeting and seduction of Lady Lyndon by Barry, in which involves a room of gamblers, a balcony, and Franz Schubert's Piano Trio In E Flat Major, which is just pure romance on film.
This film provides examples of:
- Affably Evil: Captain Feeny.
- Awkwardly-Placed Bathtub: Lady Lyndon bathes in a clawfoot tub in the middle of a large room with no other furniture.
- Corporal Punishment: While Barry is serving in the Prussian Army, he witnesses corporal punishment. He later administers it himself upon his stepson, Lord Bullingdon, on two separate occassions.
- Chiaroscuro: The film is famous for its use of natural lightning (candles, lots of candles) during nighttime scenes, thus emulating the chiaroscuro painting technique.
- Cry Into Chest: Barry does this when Captain Grogan dies. He kisses him, and then collapses onto his chest, weeping. Justified, because the guy was probably the closest thing he had to a father figure
- Dirty Coward: Captain Quin.
- Lord Bullingdon as well, considering his final act of defiance.
- Duel to the Death: The very first shot of the film shows Barry's father dueling to the death. This establishes a motif throughout the film, though none of the three duels Barry gets himself into end in death.
- Downer Ending
- Foregone Conclusion: The narrator has a whimsical tendency of predicting the outcome of the more suspenseful sequences in the movie, not to mention the end of the movie itself.
- Gold Digger: Every single scene but (arguably) the final duel establishes Barry Lyndon as one.
- Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen
- Honor Before Reason: Barry magnanimously delopes when Bullingdon misfires. It does not end well.
- Alternative Character Interpretation : There are several possible reasons for Barry not firing at Lord Bullingdon. Honor, disgust...
- Kubrick Stare: Captain Quin pulls several during his duel with Barry.
- Last Kiss: Barry and Captain Grogan, who asks for one, saying that it's the last time that Barry will ever see him. He's been shot.
- Manly Tears: Barry cries FOUR TIMES during the film, which is a heck of a lot of crying for a male character in one movie. He cries when his friend Captain Grogan dies, when he meets another Irishman while in exile, when his son dies, and when his leg is cut off. Yeah...I think those are all pretty good reasons for tears.
- Morality Pet: Barry dotes on his son, and the boy is arguably the only thing he genuinely cares for.
- Oh Crap
- When Barry realises that Captain Potzdorf has been leading him on and exposed him as a deserter.
- When Lord Bullingdon's pistol misfires. He retches, cries, and generally subverts the idea of the cool-headed righteous avenger, showing himself to be little more than a (justifiably) angry young boy vastly out of his depth.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Ryan O'Neal, full stop. Given Kubrick's reputation as a notorious perfectionist, it gives one pause to wonder why he didn't hire someone who could convincingly emulate an Irish accent (or, you know, hire someone who naturally speaks the dialect) for the title role of the movie.
- Apparently this was because Kubrick was contractually obligated by Warner Bros to cast an actor who was currently one of the top 10 highest box office earners, or else they wouldn't fund his film. Most of the 10 were ruled out, because they were too old or unsuitable or female, leaving only two - Robert Redford and Ryan O'Neil. He couldn't get Robert Redford.
- Professional Gambler: Barry becomes one under the tutelage of the Chevalier de Balibari.
- Seven Years War: As a backdrop during Barry's rise to fame and wealth.
- Scenery Porn: The film was was shot on custom-made NASA lenses that allowed Kubrick to film nighttime scenes by sheer candlelight, evoking the Chiaroscuro period technique, while zooming away from the central action in order to frame the shots as if they were period paintings. Not only that, but a good portion of the film was shot during a few precious moments of golden sunrise/sundown. Sure enough, cinematographer John Alcott won an Award for his work.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The second part of the movie geometrically undoes every bit of luck Barry has enjoyed during the first part of the movie, and arguably ends with less than he began with.
- The Film of the Book
- Unreliable Narrator: See Foregone Conclusion above.
- Consider the book source, where Barry himself is the unreliable narrator.
- Villain Protagonist: Some viewers take Barry's opportunist side and grant him the benefit of redemption during the final duel while others identify with the Lyndons' pejorative view of the "upstart Irishman". He has, without a doubt, the Blue and Orange Morality of his times, but is he really any more villainous than the remainder of the cast?