Barry Lyndon – Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick reconstructs with acuity the atmosphere and style of the 18th century. The style of Rococo painting sets the style for the cinematography of Barry Lyndon. Landscapes, portraits and lightning are all faithful to the lavishing painting style. Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott used the latest NASA techniques to shoot at candle light so that the image of the interiors would resemble the texture of period’s paintings.

The story of Barry Lyndon is about the individual’s urge to access social circles in which he/she wasn’t directly born into. An innocent but misfortunate love affair puts young Barry Lyndon on a journey of defining his destiny, always choosing the road that leads to what’s hip in the 18th century. With all the good traits of his character Barry Lyndon does not succeed to leave a positive, authentic trace in history. He cunningly manages to go up in the world but spectacularly fails to stay there.

Kubrick does not allow us to empathize with his main character; the use of a narrator keeps us in touch with our contemporary values, allowing us the superior smirk. This is Brecht’s method, the Verfremdungseffekt, the distancing effect; we’re constantly reminded that we are watching a fiction, and the drama does not concern us, does not, in any way, resemble our reality.

We are allowed to objectively judge the acts of Barry Lyndon and the social manners of the times depicted. The narrator always acts as a cynic counterpoint when a scene gets too emotional, suspending all tension and, what’s more important, defining the characters with more acuity then they define themselves through their own actions and words.

On the one hand we have a subjective inner content of the story and on the other hand we have an objective outer content, the narration. Placed in cinema’s no man’s land, between the filmed story and the viewers, the narrator is also a viewer but he is also a part of the film. Actually his existence in both spheres is pure abstraction.

Kubrick is, as always, merciless with his viewers. With a final sentence, part of narration, he makes us aware of our possible resemblance to Barry Lyndon. He reminds us that we too will be sucked into oblivion. Our times have as many restrictions and are as ridiculous as any other time period in history. Maybe the only thing that matters is, not how you go down in history but how will you be remembered by those whose lives you affect.

For us, the common people, eternity lasts until we’re forgotten and, depending on our actions, our ephemeral “eternity’ will be a doomed or a blessed one.


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