I don’t think I am dyslexic. Nevertheless until I picked up the DVD and saw its cover I thought that “Barry Lyndon” is about Lyndon B. Johnson. I’ve heard the movies title lots of times, knew that it was directed by Stanley Kubrick, but didn’t know anything else about the movie. As I was not familiar with Lyndon’s name (I knew thought that Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols is John Lydon) and was familiar with LBJ’s somehow my mind automatically assumed that this major motion picture would be about him. Fortunately by the time I sat down to watch the film, all three hours of it, I was better informed as I read the DVD cover.
A lot of people found the movie slow and too long. I didn’t. For me it was more like a theme park. Better yet like a renaissance fair. If you are not too concerned with the story line then you can just think of it as an immersion into the 18th century. The maximalist Kubrick and the people under his direction created a work that makes you feel you are in it. So the first thing I appreciated while watching this is the attention to details in recreating the atmosphere of a countryside two years ago.) I wasn’t the only on who noticed this as the movie got four Oscars, all in areas that responsible of creating the experience: art direction-set decoration, cinematography, costume design, and music. Kubrick himself was nominated in three more categories (direction, writing, picture) and didn’t get any of them
Having said the above I recommend though not disregarding the story. It is a grand epic of a historically insignificant man, played by the young Ryan O’Neal. It follows his humble origins, somewhat unexpected rise and unavoidable fall. I called him insignificant, but that’s true only from a historical perspective. From a personal and dramaturgical perspective he has all the ingredients of the making of a fascinating character. He is clever, playful, open to learning (e.g. courage and love), a gambler, a passionate and decisive man. His objectives and personality changes tremendously in the years of his life the movie covers and that’s another exciting point of the film. Rarely can one see the whole lifespan of a person in such exquisite details.
Thus ends my own reflection. Upon reading more about the film on wikipedia I learned that visually, Kubrick was striving to recapture the spirit of “the landscapes of Watteau and Gainsborough,” and that the movie’s script was based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Luck of Barry Lyndon. I mention these datapoints as it will help to understand the film for those who are familiar with these works. My knowledge of them is limited, so now I am inspired to get to know the sources better.
IMDB’s summary: In the Eighteenth Century, in a small village in Ireland, Redmond Barry is a young farm boy in love of his cousin Nora Brady. When Nora engages to the British Captain John Quin, Barry challenges him for a duel of pistols. He wins and escapes to Dublin, but is robbed on the road. Without any other alternative, Barry joins the British Army to fight in the Seven Years War. He deserts and is forced to join the Prussian Army, saving the life of his captain and becoming his protégé and spy of the Irish gambler Chevalier de Balibari. He helps Chevalier and becomes his associate until he decides to marry the wealthy Lady Lyndon. They move to England and Barry, in his obsession of nobility, dilapidates her fortune and makes a dangerous and revengeful enemy.