We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out
“It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived or quarrelled, good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor. They are all equal now.”
– Epilogue, Barry Lyndon
Stanley Kubrick’s epic masterpiece Barry Lyndon (1975) portrays the rise and fall of an Irish charlatan marrying into 18th century aristocracy, who is “clever enough at gaining a fortune but incapable of keeping one. For the qualities and energies which lead a man to achieve the first, is often the very cause of his ruin.”
Barry Lyndon is a frightful reminder of how connections, titles and fortune may be acquired through various forms of deceit and corruption, but virtue and love are attainable only through earnest deeds. It reminds me of a scene from Molière’s Don Juan in which Don Louis, a noble and virtous man, tells his decadent son Don Juan that “birth is nothing where virtue is not” (“La naissance n’est rien où la vertu n’est pas”).
My favourite scene is the duel between Edmond Barry (renamed Barry Lyndon) and his stepson Lord Bullingdon: it is simply astonishing. The preceding scene of Bryan’s death is an emotional reminder of how undisciplined overindulging by parents, or by anyone for that matter, may have disastrous consequences.
Kubrick’s use of classical music to accompany some of the central scenes, such as Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio in E Flat Major and Händel’s Sarabande from Suite in D minor HWV 437, amplify the emotional experience, as is indeed the whole point of film scores.
Barry Lyndon is a beautiful movie, underrated by many, most likely due to its lengthiness and slow pace, but allowing for the painterly qualities and superb lighting to be gradually savoured. If you haven’t seen this movie before, it is certainly about time you did.