Who wrote this mini-review of Barry Lyndon, and what’s happened to this viewpoint (or ones in this general realm) among the 21st Century film culture elite? I’ll tell you what’s happened to his viewpoint. It’s been decreed, elbowed and pooh-poohed out of existence. Well, enough of that. It’s high time for a backlash, dammit. Into the doghouse with Barry Lyndon! A rarified one, I mean. The kind that houses a very rare breed of movie that is simultaneously brilliant and over-praised, and which many have watched 15 or 20 times.
“Thackeray wrote a skittish, fast-moving parody of romantic, sentimental writing. It was about the adventures of an Irish knave who used British hypocrisy for leverage. However, it must have been Barry Lyndon’s ruthless pursuit of wealth and social position rather than his spirit that attracted Stanley Kubrick. His images are fastidiously delicate in the inexpressive, peculiarly chilly manner of the English painters of the period-the mid-18th century-and it’s an ice-pack of a movie, a masterpiece in every insignificant detail.
“Kubrick suppresses most of the active elements that make movies pleasurable. The film says that people are disgusting but things are lovely. And a narrator (Sir Michael Hordern) tells you what’s going to happen before you see it. It’s a coffee-table movie; a stately tour of European high life [that’s] like a three-hour slide show for art-history majors.”
Almost every hip film aficionado and filmmaker you might run into these days swears by Lyndon, and nobody ever says or writes anything like the above. The Lyndon cult is so dug-in and well-established that it’s almost become a fascist dictatorship. There is only one way to process the emotional bloodlessness of Barry Lyndon, and that is to call it timeless, exquisite, masterful, etc.
My view has always been that it dies after Barry marries Lady Lyndon, or the simple reason that his coarse selfishness — the thing that ensures his social and financial downfall — seems to come out of nowhere.
It comes down to simple visual pleasures…yes. The thought-out, strongly fortified kind that has led me to watch the Barry Lyndon DVD 15 or 20 times, even thought I don’t care for the funereal second half. I sit through this section only because I love the Lord Bullington duel sequence and the final epilogue card that states, “Good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.”