A TRIBUTE TO KUBRICK’S BARRY LYNDON

A VISUALLY STUNNING MASTERPIECE OF CINEMATOGRAPHY

Barry Lyndon is a 1975 film directed by Stanley Kubrick based on Thackarays’ 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon which recounts the exploits of an 18th century Irish adventurer. Although the film had only a modest commercial success, it is now seen as one of Kubrick’s finest films. Here is the actual movie trailer from 1975:

The film is divided into two halves each headed with a title card.

I.  By What Means Redmond Barry Acquired the Style and Title of Barry Lyndon. 

The film opens with the father of Redmond Barry killed in a duel over a disputed horse sale after which, his widow spurns several offers of marriage to devote herself to her only son.

In time Barry falls in love with his older cousin, Nora  who seduces him.

Nora, however, casts aside her love-lorn swain when the affluent English Captain John Quin appears on the scene. In a jealous fit, Barry challenges Quin to a duel and kills him.

Having now committed murder, sixteen-year-old Barry flees to Dublin, but is robbed en route by a highwayman. With nowhere else to turn, he joins the British army where a family friend informs him that he did not, in fact, kill Quin. He explains that the duel was merely staged, Barry’s pistol loaded with tow, to get rid of him so Quin could marry Nora and repair her family’s fortune.

Soon after this startling revelation, Barry’s regiment is deployed to fight in the Seven Years’ War where Barry deserts by stealing an officer’s uniform, horse and identity, but doesn’t get far.

Encountering a Prussian officer, he is given the choice of being shot as a deserter or enlisting in the Prussian army.

When the war ends in 1763, Barry is employed by the Prussian Police to become servant to a professional gambler whom they suspect of being a spy. When Barry discovers the Chevalier de Balibari is actually a fellow Irishman, they become fast friends and confederates cheating at cards.

Barry and the Chevalier travel the capitals of Europe and amass great wealth but Barry is dissatisfied with the life of an adventurer and sets out to marry an heiress.\

He soon encounters the beautiful and wealthy Countess of Lyndon who is married to an invalid. He seduces her.

II. Containing an Account of the Misfortunes and Disasters Which Befell Barry Lyndon.

After the death of her husband they wed, and Barry assumes the Countess’ last name of Lyndon. The newlywed couple take up residence at her English estate where Barry  adopts a life of ease as “lord of the manor.” His true colors soon surface, however,  through profligacy and infidelity, proving he is indeed nothing better than the adventurer. The countess’ ten year old son, Lord Bullingdon, sees through the sham and despises his step-father.  

Having incurred his step-son’s hatred, Barry realizes he would be reduced again to penury should his wife die. Thus, to protect his interests, he sets out to obtain a noble title of his own.

While Barry makes every effort to this aim, all is lost during Lady Lyndon’s birthday party when her son publicly declares his hatred and disdain for his stepfather. Enraged, Barry beats the young man in front of their aristocratic company, proving himself before all as nothing better than the low-life rabble Bullington had accused him of being.

Humiliated, Bullingdon leaves England and Barry becomes a social pariah.

Although he’s been a heartless rogue with Bullingdon, Barry is a doting father to his own son. He buys the boy a horse for his ninth birthday but the spoiled child steals away to ride it by himself. He is thrown and killed.

Grief-stricken, Barry turns to drink, and Lady Lyndon to religion but later attempts suicide. When Lord Bullingdon learns of this, he returns to England to challenge Barry to a duel.

Bullington fires and misses but Barry refuses to engage. Bullington fires again and hits Barry in the leg. The severity of the wound requires amputation.

During Barry’ recovery, Bullingdon takes control of the estate and offers his step-father a deal- an annuity of 500 guineas for life if he will divorce Lady Lyndon and leave England forever; or risk the fate of debtor’s prison for his unpaid debts.

Barry reluctantly accepts, returning first to Ireland, and then to Europe to resume his former profession of gambler, but without his former success. He never sees Lady Lyndon again.

The final scene (set in 1789) shows the middle-aged Lady Lyndon signing Barry’s annuity cheque as Bullingdon looks on. One last title card closes the film:

Epilogue…It was in the reign of King George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now. 

Links: http://kubrickfilms.warnerbros.com/video_detail/barry/index.html

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