Quick-Thoughts, Again: Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975)

“Promise me never to quarrel so, but to love each other, so that we may meet again in heaven, where Bullingdon said quarrelsome people would never go.”

Man, this movie is one serious game of social hierarchy Chutes and Ladders

Is life strictly made of destiny or is it a spontaneous series of coincidences or better said “opportunities” that usually lead us into flawed but maybe not terribly ruinous territories? Barry is a young man (constantly called “boy”) set on his life’s quest that’s hilariously triggered all because of a recent love affair. Barry is someone who goes through the poorest and richest of lives, yet somehow they all feel like natural, even sometimes normal occurrences in defiance of life’s most seemingly destined “opportunities” and punishments. This is a drama with a somewhat honest amount of drama; Barry nearly ruins an entire kingdom yet we feel as if we just as well could be in his very shoes if we were set on his path, a path so guided by the wills of others and strangely rarely his own, so once again is life a destiny partially paved by the free-will of others? Howbeit, I respect this story for featuring a jerk-ish normie character front and center in a period piece meant to be seen as this grandiose “epic” where in spite of his multi-fluctuating life, he ends up still that jerk-ish normie by the film’s final second, reflective of what you could imagine the majority of people buried in this time frame would also maneuver like. It’s a weird feeling for a Kubrick movie too, in which most of his second era work constantly seems like their dystopian stories and extroverted characters are on the verge of blowing up into lunacy, yet Barry Lyndon is somewhat detached from that to me, strutting about its narrative of a boy become still a boy who thinks he’s a man, executed with such a delicate yet controlled manner of passive-aggressive tone. Kubrick’s movie to me screams more so of a time period barricaded with proper, quiet mannerisms to hide the peoples’ confused and egotistical ambitions or true social status, like it’s all a subtle cover up for what’s really just a merciless gladiator ring.

I always found it interesting though how part of Barry’s fatherhood at first is tainted by the pure abuse he relays on one of his sons, yet is then completely decimated because of the pure spoiling he relays on his other son. Barry’s final loss after this one actually comes from doing something noble too, a chance that was only presented to him because of another “coincidence”. All of this is especially interesting to me, however, because if we go back to before these affairs transpired, Barry’s encounter with this world of wealth in the first place was achieved directly from the devious manipulations he pulled off with The Chevalier and subsequently his wife, some very scandalous and mercenary moves in fact. It’s as if luck received after any action, whether of virtue or greed, has about the same amount of unbiased chance to occur. The journey of Barry Lyndon feels sincere to reality in that regard, where Lyndon’s neutral personality only leads him to what appears to be a very neutral life in terms of its benefits and tragedies, both deriving from a trade off between his heroisms and misdeeds. Some may call his eventual downfall nonetheless as plainly “karma”, but the plot really doesn’t show a whole lot of signs that the universe wanted him to face consequences, but rather so, that it just wanted to give him the opportunities to face them if he so desired, erasing any notion of him having a 100% set-and-stone destiny. Life’s a mix of it all. 

And yeah, yeah, anything larger than a medium shot in this movie is just crystal perfect cinematography. I had to be another one of the thousands to at least mention it. YES TO NATURAL LIGHTING AND ACTORS SLOUCHING DRAMATICALLY ON CHAIRS!!!! 

Verdict: A

My All-Time Favorite Movies, Stanley Kubrick Ranked

“Barry Lyndon” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

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