Barry Lyndon

Released:  1975

Cast:  Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Diana Koerner, Gay Hamilton

Oscars:  Best Cinematography (John Aklcott), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Ken Adam, Roy Walker, Vernon Dixon), Best Costume Design (Ulla-Britt Soderlund, Milena Canonero), Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation (Leonard Rosenman)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director (Stanley Kubrick), Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted From Other Material (Stanley Kubrick)

SUMMARY:  In Ireland, in the 1750s, Redmond Barry’s (Ryan O’Neal) father is killed in a duel.  After this, Redmond’s mother becomes completely devoted to her son and only child.  As her son becomes an adult, he falls in love with his cousin Nora Brady.  To his dismay, Nora is also entertaining the attentions of a British officer named John Quin.  Quin is rather wealthy, and since Nora’s family is poor, they support the relationship with Quin.  In desperation, Redmond challenges Quin to a duel.  He wins the duel, and decides to leave the country to escape the repercussions of shooting a soldier.  He decides to go to Dublin, taking with him all the money his mother can scrape together.  On the way, he is robbed, and his money and horse are taken.  Since he now has no money, Redmond decides to join the British Army.  When he does, he meets up with an old friend, who had been his second in the Quin duel.  Redmond is shocked to learn that he did not kill Quin, as he believed; not wanting to lose Quin’s money, the family had staged the duel, loading Redmond’s gun with tow.  After Redmond left, Quin married Nora.  Later, Redmond and the rest of his unit go to Germany to fight in the Seven Years’ War.  Now desperate to get out of the service, Redmond deserts, stealing an officer’s horse and uniform to get through the lines.  He is stopped by a Prussian officer, who pretends to be friendly.  However, the officer is leading Redmond into a trap:  he knows Redmond is impersonating an officer.  When caught, Redmond is offered a choice:  he can be returned to the British, where he will be shot for deserting, or he can join the Prussian army.  He decides to join the Prussians, and later wins a medal for valor.  When the war ends, Redmond becomes a spy working for the Prussian Ministry of Police.  He is assigned to watch a Chevalier who is suspected of being a spy.  However, when Redmond discovers that the Chevalier is also an Irishman, he confesses his true purpose.  The two become friends, leading the Prussians on for months while they rake in piles of money at the gambling tables.  When the Prussians finally decide to force the Chevalier out of the country, he escapes the night before:  instead, the Prussians escort a disguised Redmond back into England.  He and the Chevalier then continue their life of gambling, making huge sums of money all over Europe.  Remond eventually tires of this life, though, and decides to settle down.  He meets the Countess of Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), who is married to the elderly and unwell (and wealthy) Sir Charles Lyndon.  When Sir Charles dies, Redmond marries the Countess.  As the name of Lyndon is distinguished, Redmond adopts it, and becomes known as Barry Lyndon.

The Countess has a young son, known as Lord Bullingdon; she and Barry soon have another son named Bryan.  Though he had actively pursued her, once they are married Barry seems to lose interest in his wife.  Instead, he spends his time having affairs and spending his wife’s money.  He also sends for his mother, who comes to live with the family.  She warns Barry that he has no wealth or position of his own:  it is all dependent on his wife.  If she were to die, everything would go to Lord Bullingdon, who openly hates Barry.  There is no doubt that Bullingdon would cut off both Barry and his son Bryan.  Barry’s mother advises him to acquire a title of his own, which Barry attempts to do by throwing lavish parties and spending even more money.  This further angers Bullingdon, who responds by disrupting an important concert.  He also announces his hatred of Barry, and that he intends to live elsewhere, so long as Barry is married to his mother.  Furiously, Barry throws himself at Bullingdon, and has to be pulled off by several men.  Bullingdon does leave, but Barry’s fit of temper causes all of his wealthy friends to cut off and ignore him.  Barry now amuses himself by spending time with Bryan, and indulging the boy’s every whim.  When Bryan asks for a horse for his 9th birthday, Barry buys one for him.  Bryan’s parents both make him swear that he will not ride the horse unless his father is with him, but Bryan ignores them.  He sneaks out to ride the horse, and is thrown.  Not long after, Bryan dies.  Both of his parents are stricken with grief:  Barry drinks himself into a daily stupor, while the Countess resorts first to religion and then to a suicide attempt to cope.  This leaves Barry’s mother in charge of the estate and its finances.  She quickly cleans house, dismissing longtime reverand and tutor Samuel Runt.  This prompts the Reverend and the family’s longtime accountant to seek out Lord Bullingdon.  When Bullingdon hears of what has become of his mother, he returns to England, finds Barry, and challenges him to a duel.  When the time for the duel arrives, Bullingdon is so nervous that his first shot is a misfire.  Seeing Bullingdon’s extreme anxiety and fear, Barry deliberately misses his first shot.  He expects this to end the duel, but Bullingdon insists on continuing.  With his next shot, he hits Barry in the leg.  Barry is taken to a local inn, where a doctor tells him that the leg is so badly injured that it will need to be amputated.  Meanwhile, Bullingdon takes charge of the estate.  He gives Barry a choice:  he can either leave England forever, and receive a yearly allowance, or he can return to the estate, where his creditors will be allowed to come after him.  Barry and his mother decide to leave England.  Eventually, Barry resumes his life as a gambler, though rather unsuccessfully.  He never sees Lady Lyndon again.

MY TAKE:  This is definitely different from most Stanley Kubrick movies.  It’s not scary or graphic, and it’s a period piece, where the characters have very restrained emotions.  Redmond Barry starts out as seemingly a good guy, but definitely devolves as the movie goes on.  He becomes a slave to money, and loses almost all of his principles.  At the beginning of the film, he’s devastated when his best friend is killed in action:  after his marriage, he is downright cruel to his wife and Bullingdon.  It’s really no wonder that Bullingdon can’t stand him.  When he buys Bryan the horse, I knew something bad was going to happen.  For me, the standard was set by Gone With the Wind:  when doting fathers buy spirited horses for their children, disaster usually follows.  It also usually serves as the catalyst for the breakup of the family.  You would think that as a former gambler, Barry would be a little more careful about owing money, but he works himself so far into debt that Bullingdon is eventually able to force him out of the country.  Had he behaved half as well at the end of the movie as he did at the beginning, he would have been a lot better off.  He also would have been better off had he realized that duels only bring him trouble:  his father was killed in one, his life was drastically altered (obviously for the worse) by the one with Quin, and he loses his leg as a result of the last one.  The man just doesn’t learn.

RATING:  Beautifully shot movie, frustrating (but compelling) main character.


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