For Reel

Barry Lyndon (1975)
February 27, 2016, 5:27 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Stanley Kubrick
5 Stars
Barry LyndonBarry Lyndon is a film about death, its period details unfolding with an exactness that doesn’t so much invite the viewer in as it reveals disparities. From the opening narration we know that Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) will go on to die penniless and childless, a bleak detail that somehow finds justice in the bookending title card that muses that, “good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor they are all equal now”. The performances by O’Neal and Marisa Berenson are presented as touring exhibits–they aren’t treated so much as actors as clotheshorses, which is key to Stanley Kubrick’s themes of how cultural structures inform the individual. Kubrick’s strength as a storyteller often involved the relationship between his characters and the world around them. One couldn’t imagine Kubrick making a film about a cultural anomaly, for example–his stories serve to pervert an institution’s tensions to the point that often leads to tragedy. Barry Lyndon is most famed for its revolutionary cinematography, using special lenses that would perform better under the conditions of low light. As a result, the film has a look that mirrors the oil paintings that often populate the backgrounds, feeling somewhat hazy and dreamlike. Even movements–like the servants, who dutifully present a family their course at a dinner table in perfect unison–seem somehow delicate and illusory, as if they were images on a canvas that have come to life. The difficult thing to articulate about Barry Lyndon, however, is not necessarily the formalism (exhaustive writing has been done on the subject), but in capturing just how intoxicating it is. It’s a still, terribly slow paced period piece that feels immediate and exciting, transcending the vacant performances and distanced approach through its utter precision.

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