Courtesy of jonathanrosenbaum.com

You would think that after having a reputation as Stanley Kubrick’s “underappreciated masterpiece” for so long, his 1975 film “Barry Lyndon” would eventually stop being underappreciated and just be known as, well, a masterpiece. But somehow, it still hasn’t caught on to the degree it deserves. It’s as if Kubrick went right from making “A Clockwork Orange” to “The Shining” without releasing a major work in between that rivals those two films, other any of his other achievements. Maybe that’s because the film’s period piece aesthetics — although ridiculously beautiful — don’t lend themselves to the same iconic, dorm-room-poster status as “A Clockwork Orange” or “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Maybe it’s because the film’s distanced examination its title character is a perfect example of the cold storytelling style many find off-putting in Kubrick films. Either way, “Barry Lyndon” remains a film that begs to be discovered.

The film follows the life of Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), an 18th century Irishman who finds his way into war, crime, romance, a successful gambling career and eventual nobility — all without ever trying. Barry is an “adventurer” with no penchant for adventuring; he’s a bland character who leads a fascinating life by just being in the right place at the right time over and over again. It’s a brilliant reinterpretation of the picaresque story form: Kubrick uses the absurdity of Barry’s life to argue that all of us are defined by forces far out of our control. That’s what makes this film one of Kubrick’s most densely fascinating works: Whereas “2001” was his mind-blowing statement about the evolution of life, this is his most mind-blowing statement about life as we know it.

Silverstein is a member of the class of 2013.



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