Barry Lyndon (1975)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Barry Lyndon is above all else, a strange movie. It’s the kind of movie that only someone like a Stanley Kubrick could pull off; in terms of being able to pull together the financial resources to make what is essentially a very non-commercial film. I am a big history nerd so a movie set in feudal England around the time of the Seven Years War naturally piqued my interest. Barry Lyndon is a very interesting character to base a movie around. Ryan O’Neal plays the character with a sense of entitled nobility and clawing inner desperation. He reminded me very much of a male Scarlett O’Hara, and the movie seemed like a bizarre world version of Gone with the Wind. There were so many similarities between the two stories, including the nature of the marriages, and each of their children dying in tragic equestrian accidents, that I had to look it up to see if it could have been intentional. If there was any copying done (which I know ultimately believe it to be just a coincidence) it was from GWTW copying this story, since the novel this movie was based off of predates GWTW by nearly a hundred years. Both of those stories are interesting to me though because they each feature lead protagonist that the films themselves don’t seem to sympathize with. Each character is oblivious to this, so it is not like they are self aware villains. It is more akin to real life, where even the least moral people still see themselves as the hero of their own little drama. Barry Lyndon is assisted in this by an unsympathetic narrator who presents his story from the beginning as the story of the disgrace and fall of Barry Lyndon, even while the movie itself seems to be telling the story of how this pugnacious tough little Irish kid is making a way for himself in a very tough world.
The movie shows the corrupt and corrupting nature of nobility and attaining power by force. The movie is set up within the framework of a series of duels and fights which propel Barry forward in his journey. First he duels with an English noble man who is set to marry the woman he loves, than he fist fights a soldier in the English army, and the final duel in which he has to face down the step son whose estate he usurps. In all this, Barry rises from a poor farm boy, to a soldier in the English army, to a deserter then to a conscripted soldier in the Prussian army, from which he escapes with the help of a fellow Irishman and aristocratic gambling character who mentors him. After this Barry goes on to marry a wealthy English widow and becomes the head of a vast estate. That said the son of the former head of the estate never fully trusts or likes him, which leads to the final climax of the movie in which Barry, who does what is perhaps the first selfless thing in his life, is still ultimately slapped down and winds up in a position more akin to the one he originally inherited than to the lofty one in which he always esteemed to have.