Some people find Barry Lyndon to be way too slow, too long, even uninteresting. Some people are nuts. To me watching this exquisite film (perfect word for it, exquisite) is like walking though a museum and admiring a series of paintings. But you get the bonus of a story that connects every painting together. Don't care for the story? Still got the paintings.
Watching Barry Lyndon is quite unlike any other film viewing experience I'm aware of. I am all for unique cinematic experiences. We've got plenty of run of the mill off the assembly line movies playing every day at our local cineplexes. Kubrick was one not just to break molds but shatter them into tiny shards. That's painstaking work which is why it would often take him four or five years to complete a single picture. Good things are worth waiting for.
Barry Lyndon is based on the epic 19th century novel, The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray. Really a lengthy discussion of plot, or for that matter one of moderate length, seems out of place in writing about Barry Lyndon the film. Suffice to say an Irish rogue of humble beginnings leads an adventurous life. He fights with two different armies in the Seven Years War attempting to desert both. Somehow he wins some glory for Prussia, of all things, and is in service of their royals post war. Young Lyndon then turns to gambling at which, in league with a partner, he excels. His marks include the titled gentry of Europe. One of whom he marries. The very wealthy and very lovely Lady Lyndon (Marissa Berenson). Suffice to say that our hero (more cad than hero, actually) runs afoul of most everyone as he manages to bungle the whole business....
In Barry Lyndon, Kubrick was not going to allow the actors get in the way of a beautiful story. There was not a wit of emoting, least of all from Ryan O'Neal in the title role. Among the stars of his era O'Neal is never singled out as a great thespian, but he was a solid performer and just the ticket for Lyndon as he was in The Driver (1978) three years later, in both cases playing men who kept their own counsel. This actually leads to a misconception about O'Neal and the Lyndon cast, that is that they mailed in their performances. They were intended to preen not percolate. Any "acting" would have interfered with the lovely pictures we were looking at. The story, with the aid of a third person narrator, pretty much told itself. No hams, this was a kosher production. After all, one would be rather distracted by a painting in which subjects were cavorting about.
Supposedly a picture is worth 1,000 words. I believe that goes for your ordinary garden variety picture. You take something like Jacques Louis David's The Coronation of David, and you can quintuple that easily. In Lyndon the series of set pieces strung together as the are, account for millions of words. But it is much more than story that we are getting. This is far more evocative than the telling of a tale. This is cinema touching us quite profoundly.
Lyndon not only is beautiful to watch, but to listen too as well. As he did with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Kubrick made sublime selections of classical music to accompany the visuals in this case including compositions by Schubert, Vivaldi and Bach.
This is a film to enjoyed at leisure. Make a pot of tea or open a bottle of wine. Perhaps some canapes, whatever you fancy. Give your TV screen a good wiping in advance of viewing. Clean those spectacles as well. Get comfy on the sofa, turn off your phone, pull the shades shut and press play. You will enjoy a feast for the eyes, the soul. Every scene more beautiful than the last.
(I leave you with more pictures from Barry Lyndon, but first this vignette: My darling wife saw the film in Santa Barbara shortly after its release. Seated behind her was an annoying young man who kept making snide comments about O'Neal. The whippersnapper in question was the actor Timothy Bottoms.)