This is it. My final Kubrick film (not counting his earliest works). Even with the abnormally high stature that I place Kubrick films on, I’ll admit I was still hesitant to get started with Barry Lyndon, for several reasons. First off, the most obvious one: the film is over three hours long. This, coupled with the fact that it is very much a period piece, meant that it would take some sort of Kubrickian effort by the director to get me to overcome my anxieties towards Barry Lyndon. Good thing this is still Kubrick, however; he did not manage to succeed unequivocally, but he certainly did not fail. I definitely liked Barry Lyndon, and given the right mindset I’d watch it again, but neither did it skyrocket to the top of my favorite Kubrick films.
The film follows the life of fictional Irishman Redmond Barry, from upstart young youth in love with a woman who is betrothed to another to save the family, to his forced enlisting in the British (and later Prussian) army in the Seven Years War, to his later marriage to the Countess of Lyndon, to which he adds her last name to his own. All the while, Barry intends to make a name for himself and come into great wealth, and all the while fate thwarts him at every turn. Aside from Spartacus, I believe this is Kubrick’s longest film, and I mentioned in my review of that one that I didn’t think other filmmakers forcing Kubrick into the epic genre worked as well as they’d hoped it would. Thankfully, this seems to be a much more willing proposition by Kubrick, and even with the film’s length, the story as a whole feels surprisingly short, time-wise. What I noticed was that this basically had all the hallmarks of a Kubrick film, but that these hallmarks were cleverly (or sometimes not so cleverly) hidden or disguised, so as to not make it seem like “just another Kubrick picture”. Kubrick’s stoic camera is still here, moving with a frigid stillness only ebbed by the loving classical score and the warm colors of the interior scenes, but it generally takes a backseat to John Alcott’s Oscar winning cinematography, as well as the expectedly extravagant production value, which are the chief sells the film offers. Not to mention Kubrick’s unbelievably wry sense of humor at all the proceedings of Barry’s life, which as the film went on became the chief entertainment value for me.
Not even halfway through this one, I began to wonder why this film even needed to be made. It seemed so pointless, albeit a remarkably made pointlessness. It was as I continued through the film that it finally dawned on me; the pointlessness of Barry’s whole life is itself exactly the point. This man was no hero, or even an important figure, even fictionally. He was merely a man that tried to make something of himself, and would end up failing every time… and that was the point of the story. Thus, after this realization, the rest of the film became a splendid exercise in sardonic cynicism, watching as Barry’s inevitable shortcomings as a person continued to shoot himself in the foot, no matter how much he would try otherwise. This was probably the easiest three hour watch I think I’ve ever seen, regardless of the fact that it’s a Kubrick film. It may be hard to convince yourself going into it that it will be entertaining, but leave it to Kubrick to make something out of an otherwise unconvincing proposition.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10