Long an admirer of Stanley Kubrick, I count 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb among my favorite films of all time. However, Barry Lyndon, a period piece based on the 1844 William Thackeray novel and released in 1975, has never quite clicked with me. It’s not a bad film, just not among my favorites.
Clocking in at over three hours with an intermission, Barry Lyndon takes place over a thirty-plus year period. Born in Ireland, and raised by a single mother with modest means, Redman Barry (Ryan O’Neal, Love Story) is determined to be something more. Rejected by his cousin Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton), in favor of a well-to-do English Captain (a humorous Leonard Rossiter), he challenges him to a duel and wins. Forced to leave the district shortly thereafter, Redman enlists in the British Army, and later ends up fighting for the Prussians. From there he becomes a police spy, a gambler, –than his biggest accomplishment – The husband of an English noblewoman, the Countess Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), who bares him a son. Taking his wife’s name, Barry revels in his new status, enjoying the hedonistic pleasures that come with it.
The compartmentalization of the film is interesting. Even at the start, when Barry, a pauper, lived life as an outsider, green with envy at the things titles afforded people, he gained insight that informed his later decisions. When he does become a member of the elite, he does so with the same bratty sense of entitlement exhibited in his youth. Alas, the marriage that gave Barry his elite status, is also the vehicle for his destruction.
One of Kubrick’s best decisions was to make Barry Lyndon as beautiful as it is. Disguised as a period piece with beautiful costumes and stunning landscapes, this is a one of the most cynical studies of human nature ever committed to film. Barry is a survivor, a realist, who realizes his best chance in life is to keep advancing, and he’s not afraid to take advantage of those willing to trust him. Suddenly, it all comes crashing down and Barry is forced to confront his demons.
Truthfully, I’ve never been a real fan of Ryan O’Neal, having always had the sense that he was a man uncomfortable in his own skin. Strangely enough, that bodes well for his portrayal of Barry Lyndon, man always in search of something; never quite satisfied. Surrounded by a talented cast who all turn in strong performances, Barry Lyndon has to be considered a career achievement for Ryan O’Neal.
Criterion presents Barry Lyndon via a new 4K digital restoration of the 35mm camera my
negative. The film is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which means you’ll see every bit of the frame Kubrick intended. It looks absolutely gorgeous! Known for its beautiful imagery, Barry Lyndon has a rather soft quality, reminiscent of the popular paintings produced during the time the films story takes place. Even so, fine detail and texture remain strong throughout. Colors are well balanced and accurate. A light grain is present, but there is no sign of digital enhancements.
The film includes an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, as well as well as an alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack. The music, as well as every sound, ambient or otherwise, sounds clean and vibrant. The dialogue is crisp throughout.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available on a separate Blu-ray:
- Making Barry Lyndon (HD, 37:52) This new documentary produced exclusively for Criterion in 2017, focuses on the production history of Barry Lyndon and Kubrick’s reputation as a perfectionist. It features interviews with various members of the cast and crew, as well as audio from a 1976 interview with Kubrick himself.
- Achieving Perfection (HD, 15:32) Produced exclusively for Criterion in 2017, this featurette examines the films groundbreaking visuals. Focus puller Douglas Millsome and Gaffer Lou Bogue discuss working with Kubrick. We also hear excerpts from a 1980 interview with cinematographer John Alcott.
- Drama in Detail (HD, 13:34) Produced exclusively for Criterion in 2017, this featurette has noted author and historian Christopher Frayling (Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design) discusses the legacy of Oscar-winning production designer Ken Adam and his professional relationship with Stanley Kubrick.
- Timing and Tension (HD, 13:50) Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2017, editor Tony Lawson discusses Stanley Kubrick’s working style and the editing process on Barry Lyndon.
- On the Costumes (HD, 5:00) A segment of the September 19, 1976 broadcast of Les rendez-vous du dimanche in which Ulla-Britt Soderlund the fabrics and costumes that were used in Barry Lyndon and her work with designer Milena Canonero. In French, with optional English subtitles.
- Balancing Every Sound (HD, 10:13) Produced exclusively for Criterion in 2017, this featurette has actor Leon Vitali, who was Kubrick’s personal assistant, discussing the original sound design of the film.
- Passion and Reason (HD, 17:35) In this 2017 interview for Criterion, critic Michel Ciment (Kubrick: The Definitive Edition) discusses the evolution of Stanley Kubrick’s style, the narrative structure of Barry Lyndon and the theme of ‘passion vs. reason’ that reappears in different forms in the director’s films.
- A Cinematic Canvas (HD, 15:04) Produced for Criterion in 2017, this featurette has Metropolitan Museum of Art assistant curator Adam Eaker discussing the painting that influenced the visual style of Barry Lyndon.
- Trailer (HD, 4:07)
- Trailer (HD, 2:09)
- Booklet: 40-page illustrated booklet featuring critic Geoffrey O’Brien’s essay “Time Regained” and two archival pieces about the look of Barry Lyndon from the March 1976 issue of American Cinematographer.
Movie title: Barry Lyndon (1975)
Director(s): Stanley Kubrick
Actor(s): Ryan O'Neal , Marisa Berenson , Patrick Magee , Hardy Krüger, Steven Berkoff , Gay Hamilton
Genre: Drama, Period, War , Epic, History