Barry Lyndon [1975]

In 1975 the world was at Stanley Kubrick's feet. His films Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, released in the previous dozen years, had provoked rapture and consternation--not merely in the film community, but in the culture at large. On the basis of that smashing hat trick, Kubrick was almost certainly the most famous film director of his generation, and absolutely the one most likely to rewire the collective mind of the movie audience. And what did this radical, at-least-20-years-ahead-of-his-time filmmaker give the world in 1975? A stately, three-hour costume drama based on an obscure Thackeray novel from 1844. A picaresque story about an Irish lad (Ryan O'Neal, then a major star) who climbs his way into high society, Barry Lyndon bewildered some critics (Pauline Kael called it "an ice-pack of a movie") and did only middling business with patient audiences. The film was clearly a technical advance, with its unique camerawork (incorporating the use of prototype Zeiss lenses capable of filming by actual candlelight) and sumptuous production design. But its hero is a distinctly underwhelming, even unsympathetic fellow, and Kubrick does not try to engage the audience's emotions in anything like the usual way. Why, then, is Barry Lyndon a masterpiece? Because it uncannily captures the shape and rhythm of a human life in a way few other films have; because Kubrick's command of design and landscape is never decorative but always apiece with his hero's journey; and because every last detail counts. Even the film's chilly style is thawed by the warm narration of the great English actor Michael Hordern and the Irish songs of the Chieftains. Poor Barry's life doesn't matter much in the end, yet the care Kubrick brings to the telling of it is perhaps the director's most compassionate gesture toward that most peculiar species of animal called man. And the final, wry title card provides the perfect Kubrickian sendoff--a sentiment that is even more poignant since Kubrick's premature death. --Robert Horton

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Redmond Barry:
Excuse me, sir!

Captain Feeny:
Good morning again, young sir!

Captain Feeny:
Don't even think about it. Get down off that horse. Raise your hands high above your head, please. Come forward... stop. How do you do? I'm Captain Feeny.

Redmond Barry:
Captain Feeny?

Captain Feeny:
Captain Feeny at your service.

Redmond Barry:
THE Captain Feeny?

Captain Feeny:
None other. May I introduce you to my son, Seamus.

Seamus:
How do you do?

Redmond Barry:
How do you do?

Captain Feeny:
To whom have I the honor of speaking?

Redmond Barry:
My name's Redmond Barry.

Captain Feeny:
How do you do Mr. Barry? And now I'm afraid we must get on to the more regrettable stage of our brief acquaintance. Turn around, and keep your hands high above your head, please.

Seamus:
There must be 20 guineas in gold here, father!

Captain Feeny:
Well, well, well. You seem to be a very well set up young gentleman, sir!

Redmond Barry:
Captain Feeny, that's all the money my mother had in the world. Mightn't I be allowed to keep it? I'm just one step ahead of the law myself. I killed and English officer in a duel, and I'm on my way to Dublin until things cool down.

Captain Feeny:
Mr. Barry, in my profession we hear many such stories. Yours is one of the most intriguing and touching I've heard in many weeks. Nevertheless, I'm afraid I cannot grant your request. But I'll tell you what I will do. I'll allow you to keep those fine pair of boots which in normal circumstances I would have for myself. The next town is only 5 miles away, and I suggest you now start walking.

Redmond Barry:
Mightn't I be allowed to keep my horse?

Captain Feeny:
I should like to oblige you, but with people like us, we must be able to travel faster than our clients. Good day, young sir.

Captain Feeny:
You can put down your hands now, Mr. Barry!

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