Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson
Whether you like the work of Stanley Kubrick or not, few can deny that his films are some of the most thought-provoking cinematic experiences anyone can have.
For me, all of his films belong to a master craftsman who poured his time and his intellect into the making of movies. None of them can be faulted for lacking depth or lacking artistic value. When Kubrick was set on making a sci-fiction film that raised questions about the origin and the future of humanity, Kubrick made the magnificent and timeless “2001”. When he explored the genre of horror and suspense, he made the Overlook Hotel the most horrifying place in America in The Shining. In the same fashion, Barry Lyndon responded to the very conscious desires of an ambitious film maker who was seeking to construct a rich and colorful time period piece set in 19th century European aristocracy.
Much has been said and written about “Barry Lyndon” by those that consider it yet another of Kubrick’s masterpieces. Contrary to what film critics of great repute like Roger Ebert have said calling it an example of the “arrogance of genius”, I do NOT consider Barry Lyndon a great film, but rather an extremely long and dull piece of film that is, like any other Kubrick project, technically flawless, classy, extravagant and distant.
One thing that cannot be denied is that Kubrick was a film maker that was not confined by a linear story. In that sense, Barry Lyndon exceeds the convoluted and uninspiring life of its protagonist framing it within a time period that had very distinct costumes, unique socio-economic realities and a certain feel and pace. From the manner in which the narration was conceived, to the long sequences of silence and very slow and precise enunciation of the dialogue, Barry Lyndon is perhaps the most ambitious attempt to capture a time in history that is foreign to most of us, but that becomes familiar by the time the end credits roll in.
Like in any other Kubrick piece, Barry Lyndon features an exceptional camera work that is supported by a carefully planned and realized costume design and make-up brought to life by a very capable set of actors. The protagonist, played with coolness and detachment by Ryan O’Neal, brings forth little to nothing in terms of emotion, as unremarkable and unheroic a lead as there has ever been.
Even though the rest of Kubrick’s films share its cool and sometimes brutal lack of emotion, Barry Lyndon feels void and stale, without the metaphorical resonance of the rest of his work. At fault is perhaps Kubrick’s rigorous stylistic approach to the film which did not allow it to become more than an atmospheric time piece. The structure and delivery of the film is a conscious decision by Kubrick, but does it have anything to say?
While films like “Full Metal Jacket” gained significance for its clear yet never openly stated anti-war message, and “2001” poses questions about life and existence, Barry Lyndon has no stance or underlying theme. It is framed the way Kubrick wanted us to perceive it, without a single technical problem and with the extravagance and precision that characterized his work. At the end, film is supposed to inspire, to move us, to entertain or to leave something of value. In that sense, Barry Lindon is more of a conversation piece than a film to own and revisit every few years.
Rating: 2.5/5 (average)