Barry Lyndon (1975)

(On Cable TV, October 2017) For a nearly three-hour long movie from legendary director Stanley Kubrick, there is an unexpected levity to Barry Lyndon that I didn’t expect from the film’s reputation. It’s also a very unusual film in that its second half manages to completely undermine the triumphs of its first, suggesting that some characters are made to achieve success but not maintain it. Adapted from a nineteenth-century novel by William Thackeray, Barry Lyndon feels far more modern because of its somewhat satirical nature. Our protagonist spends the first section of the film stumbling and scheming himself in positions of higher power, eventually marrying rich and acquiring some measure of nobility despite a checkered past. Ryan O’Neal isn’t necessarily as charismatic as the character deserves, but there is a sense of adventure to the protagonist’s upward trajectory. The hammer hits after the intermission, as the protagonist finds himself unsuited to the work required to remain a decent noble. His mismanages his finances, alienates himself from his step-son, suffers through his son’s death, turns to alcohol and eventually loses it all. Such a narrative arc is still relatively unusual, and so Barry Lyndon remains distinctive even today. It certainly helps that it’s a film that features all of director Stanley Kubrick’s hallmarks, from stylized cinematography that still looks modern today, to an abundance of filmmaking effort that clearly shows on-screen. I thought, based on running time and subject matter, that Barry Lyndon would be an unbearable bore, but the result is far better than my expectations.

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