One of my favoruite things about offering these videos to the film community is that there seems to be an real appetite for discussion of great films. With this in mind I want to bring a film to the table that hasn’t gotten the attetion its deserves and my two aims this this video are to raise some awareness of the quality and unqiueness of this film and secondly explore the structural form, themes and narrative of Kubricks Forgotten Mastepeice.
Part 1 – The under appreciation of Barry Lyndon.
Scoresse 1st clip
Now, is the films lack of awarness due to a drop in quailty from Kubrick as even the best directors have flops in their body of work?
Measuring quality in a subjective meduim can be difficult, but box office money and critical review are one way to gauging a films success , however ‘The test of a work of art, in the end, is our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good.’
Barry Lyndon has found its way into my heart and Im confident that people will be moved with a little openess and encouragement.
So why has this film created such a barrier?
It’s hardly surprising since the film is rarely discussed online, the DVD is out of production in major stores, not indcluded in some Kubrick box sets and isnt as iconic at first glance as The Shining or 2001.
The film is also a 3 hour period piece that deliberately uses a slow pace of storytelling. Even if some people watch the film once, the films weight doesn’t invite multiple viewings.
Now the reason The Shining has received so much attention and analysis in recent years was due to the examination and investiagtion of the complexity of the film, requiring multple viewings taking a 30 year period since the films release.
The same level of complexity and craft are present in Barry Lyndon, but its non user friendly genre, length and pace have slowed down the interest and re-watch factor of the film.
Here’s my 3 reasons you should watch Barry Lyndon:
- The Cold Director: Kubrick has been described as a cold and distant director, however Barry Lyndon is an extremely moving character study about human beings, their ambtions, their flaws and regrets and the slow nature of the film that some view as a flaw becomes trance-like after the opening moments.
Scorsses clip. 1 and 2.
- Perhaps the best looking film ever made: Kubrick went to extreme lengths, as he did in all his films to break technical ground, but for the purpose of elevating the story through the visuals. Every image in Barry Lyndon is gorgous and so well crafted.
Lense pics on desktop
As part of this movement to bring Barry Lyndon back to populatrity im sure it will be a topic of dicussion during oscar season with The Revenant, a film ambitous enough to use no artifical lighting, shooting the film enteriely with natural light to give a feel of authenticity of the 1820’s. A feat Kubrick pioneered 40 years earlier.
- The Kubrick touch: Despite the subject matter of an 18th century period piece the film undoubtably has the Kubrick touch and presence the entire way through, his very destinct voice which has been made famous in other films is very evident and sharp here. The film by mere accosistaion is grouped together with other films of this genre and time period but the film stylistically and formally fits with Kubrick’s body of work.
Part 2 – Narrative, Structure and thematic elements of Barry Lyndon.
(To fully appeciate the strength of each element within this films its important to have context to see how things fit in, so lets first look at Structure.)
Much like Full Metal Jacket, Barry Lyndon is a film if two halves.
The RISE and FALL of a young oppurtunist. The film cleverly uses each half to emphasis repeation of actions, symmtery of events and contrasts moments to highten some of the emotional beats.
The FATHER/SON theme throughout the film is a driving force for Barry’s actions & we’ll see how his young rebelious nature causes both his RISE and ironically his FALL.
Barrys father is killed in the opening moments of the film in a dual, a confornation that will be revisited by Barry later in the film.
Despite the screen time of Barrys father death, the significance of this event is crucial as all Barry’s actions throughout the film suggest a craving for surragte father figures and a need to follow in his many fathers footsteps.
This progession of different role models gives Barry this apprerance of a social climber, however his drive is more fueled by a deep need for a fatherhood and a place of pain rather than ambiton.
Father/Son repition (Observe and emulate)
- Barry cant stand Captain quinn taking his young love with his Miltary status
Barry later uses his false status as a Captain and sedues a young woman, living out the fanstsy once displayed by Quinn. There are other clues and similararties that suggest Barry is living out the fanstsy he obsevred: Both woman look simialr, both are impressed by the captain statuas of the men, both scenes have the presene of thunder in the background, a baby of sorts and both men tip their hats as the head off to their next adventure.
Notice how Barry follows the pattern of observing and then emulating throughout
- Barry looks up to and respects Captain Grogan, who refers to Barry as ‘My boy’
Barry later joins the army himself in his next fathers footsteps. Death my boy.
- Captain Potzdorf first catches Barry for impressating, something he will do again, but later becomes fond of him. ‘My Boy’
Barry Later works for Rogan and plays out the role of the favourite son.
- Send to spy of the Chevalier,(Chav illiee) Barry Cracks when hearing the old Irish tongue and soon becomes The Chevalier right hand man, not to mention impressiating him. ‘My Boy’
- The first half concludes Barry’s RISE by continuning his rebilous nature and forcing his way into an upper class family, with aims of replacing the father figure, despite resitance and instant hatered from Bullington, the step son.
‘Nothing more than a young opurtunist.’
Not to mention the presence of Captain Finnie and his son, taking advatage of passers by for their own advancement in the world, another duo supporting the father and son theme.
As we enter the 2nd half of the film, notice that the stucutre allows for some symmtery and compariosn of events as the young rebilious nature that elevated his social stauts is the exact nature that will bring him down.
Beginning the 2nd half Barry is in a place of extreme confidnece about his position in life, Barry looks quite pleased with himself, this shot in the carrage perhaps marking the peak of his climb, only to be contrasted with another carrge shot of ultimate loweness later in the film.
After Barrys continous searching for a true father figure it is clear he is happy with the presence of his very own son and we see genuion caring and emtoions towards Bryan. His step son is never treated with affection and starts to embody the rebilous anti-establishment attitude once held by a young Barry and continiously confronts Barrys authority as a father figure.
Knowing the value Barry places of status Bullingon continous to insult him by using his old title of Redmond Barry, reminding Barry of his place and unworthness.
After some escalation Barry again engages in a fight to prove himself, but instead of being the underdog, he is now fighting his own son, marking an almost pathetic action with the insult to his ego. This is Reminisant of his fight in the army, you can see the simialarity in the handheld feel.
Apart from these 2 instances, the film is very steady and deliberte with its use of the camera. However one consitent theme throughout the film is the use of elborate Zoom’s. The audencie cant help but notice the deliberate movement of the ‘zooms in progress,’ making them keenly aware of the frame. Not just to be notcied but sigficant enough to be thought about.
Each zoom has narrative meaning and complexity at different stages for Barrys character but also mirrors the structure of the film. Most zooms in Part 1 of the film showcase expansion, Barrys world opening up, a sense of oppurtunity and a world to be discovered. Contrasted with the zooms in Part 2 which highlight a feeling of an inescapable narrowing in circumstances, a feeling of being trapped and clasutaphibia.
But Barry continues to loose everything he has come into. His repuation is lost after embarrsing himself by beating his own son, without the knowledge of how to maintinan an estate and household his fincational state falls, he drinks, cheats and then his one tue love in the world, of which he had high hopes is taken away from him, his son is killed and Barry slips into a state of depression.
Continuing this downward spiral, bullindon fights back, using that attitude of entitlement once held by Barry, challenging him to a dual.
Now the film is bookened with 2 duals, the loss of Barrys father which is short and quick, contrastd with the very slow and lengthly Barn dual were Barry is ultimately defeated.
I cant help but feel sorry for Barry here, as he shows a level of grace in his maturity by not firing towards Bullingdon and giving his step son a way out of this mess, a gesture he has probably gained through age and experince, possibly the most fatherly and mature gesture Barry displays throughout the whole film. But Barry is taken advatage of, Bullingdon doesn’t let up, leading Barry to his physical demise and banisment from his family estate.
Like the opening of the second half showing Barry at his Peak of confidence, status and position, the films final image of Barry shows another Carrage shot, but freeze frames to show the audeince how physically, emotionally, finacically broken he has become. Possibley his lowest, weaknessest and most pitiful moment.
Compared with early ‘zoom out’ to show the openness of Barrys beginnings, his final moment in the film uses a zoom in, finishing with a very skewed, unsymmetrical, claustiphic feeling, empahsing the ultimate emotional state of Barry’s downfall.
In the end the films show a level of symmetry as Barry’s young rebeilous nature is re-embodied in Bullingdon to destory him, but I cant help but feel empithy towards Barry, despite his own self caused distruction, the fuel and emotinal driver for him seems to be a yearning for fatherhood, one which he tastes at several points throughout the film but is taken from him, almost the way his father was taken at the beginnning of the film, making th story of this wonderer and social climber a very tragic and empty joureny.
Kubrick shows the level of Barrys impact of his wife as the final scene of the film show her signing a cheque to keep him away, we see the subtlest and faintest thought for him but no emotional release. Closing the final shot with delibrate negative space, symbolising the lack of a complete family and absesne of Barry.
One of the reasons Stanley Kubrick is regarded as the gold standard of filmmaking is firstly the craftsmanship, note this films oscar for cinematography.
But the second reason is the complexity of the types of stories he was trying to tell, very human, presented unqiuely but always with an aim of asking the audience to engage with a story that digs into the grey nature of the human condition.
The film closing message is directed at the audience. Interestingly not narrated like much of the rest of the film, intended to read by the viewer and somehow interalise the words mixed with the expeirnce of the film.