Barry Lyndon Reconsidered
by Mark Crispin Miller
© 1976 The Georgia Review Volume XXX, Number 4. All Rights Reserved
Escorted by Lord Hallam and Wendover, Mr. Barry Lyndon tours an art gallery under the guidance of the proprietor. They stop before a painting which the proprietor identifies as Lodovico Cardi's Adoration of the Magi. They gaze up at the costly object, their Star of Bethlehem. "I love the use of the color blue by the artist," says Barry, with a fine tact of an intelligent parvenu; the proprietor concurs and they chat vaguely and politely of price. We can see only enough of the painting to know that it is huge. It is probably unimportant to Barry except as an impressive possession. And it is unimportant to us. What we see in this room full of pictures is the man looking at them: he is the proper object of our attention.
Escorted by Lord Hallam and another gentleman, King George III greets, one by one, a long row of courtly visitors, among whom Barry Lyndon stands, an attractive object like the painting he has just priced. The audience with the king is not a success. "We were very fond of Sir Charles Lyndon," says the king, referring to the man whose widow is now Barry's wife, "And how is Lady Lyndon?" "She is very well, your majesty," says Barry. The king turns to the next visitor, but is interrupted by his attendant, she tells him that Mr. Lyndon has sent a regiment of men to fight the rebels in the American colonies. The king's response is not encouraging: "Good, that's right, Mr. Lyndon! Raise another one, and go with them, too!" The king sees nothing more in Barry than a decorous upstart. He glances with disdain, and turns away, a superficial viewer like so many other within the film, and so many other seated before it.
I. PreconceptionsThe facts of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon are misleading, for they suggest a conventional story of roguery: forced by a passionate action to become a fugitive from justice, young Redmond Barry learns the ruinous way of the world, and turns deserter, fortune hunter libertine, drunkard. The film's "rise and fall" structure reinforces this sense of a rake's progress. Part I deals with Redmond Barry's gradual sophistication as circumstances take him from his Irish home to the British army, then into the Prussian army, and finally into the service of the Chevalier de Balibari, an old Irish gambler who lives by imposture. Thus employed, Redmond meets and woos Lady Harriet Lyndon, them marries her upon the death of her husband, whose surname he adopts. Part II presents the deterioration of this fragile status: Barry Lyndon strives to gain a title and become one of the great, but extravagance and domestic woes destroy him, and he ends up a penniless outcast, fulfilling the demands of public morality by falling in disgrace from the noble world he has invaded.
Those who observe the enigmatic wanderer in their midst describe him with easy contempt ("a low bread ruffian," "a common opportunist," "idle, dissolute and unprincipled," etc.), contributing to a general impression of the hero which is entirely predictable, and tragically irrelevant. These spectators resemble ourselves: Kubrick repeatedly stresses the similarity, implying that we are no better viewers if we too fail to watch closely and sympathetically. Throughout the first half of the film. Barry stands alone before the scrutinizing gazes of others, cut off in some small section of the frame. Kubrick places us among these viewers by shooting such scenes from the point of view of another member of the watching group, thereby bringing both audiences together: we frequently see Barry frames between the heads and shoulders of other spectators placed directly in the foreground, as if they were sitting right in front of us.
Furthermore, the very style of the film calls attention to our presence. The careful painterly compositions place us in the position of visitors to an art gallery; like art objects which "expect" observers, they seem at first to require nothing more than cool, detached perusal. And as this style seems to ease our viewing, so it contributes to the general simplification of Barry's personality. It is an ambiguous device, for while it overwhelms a pictorial figure, providing imperceptible comments that reinforce the careless judgments of others. For example, when we see Barry sprawled drunkenly in a tavern chair in the middle of the day, a dissolute group of gamblers and drinkers at a table behind him, we recognize a Horgarthian tableaux that moralizes about its central figure: "See this fallen man in his helpless stupor. See what has become of him." Such compositions have an allusive force that it is our obligation to resist.
Kubrick uses cinematic as well as art historical precedents to evoke temptingly simple formulas. The Georgian setting and wry voice-over narration recall the Osbourne/Richardson Tom Jones (1963), in which the narrator's voice offers the viewer an unimpeachable perspective in a tone of genial irony, as we see young Redmond in the beginning of Barry Lyndon playing cards with his pretty, restless cousin Nora, the narrator's voice reminds us of the earlier film, and seems to prepare us for another lighthearted treatment of comic transgression in a eighteenth-century world. the echo of Tom Jones suggests that Kubrick is aware of popular predecessor; and if we recall a similar allusion in Dr. Strangelove (the triple casting of Peter Sellers, which brings to mind his three roles in that earlier "bomb comedy," The Mouse that Roared ), we realize that Kubrick has again adopted a familiar device only to take it in surprising directions. For unlike the narrator in Tom Jones, Kubrick's narrator is never thoroughly reliable. His interpretation of his hero's motives are simple-minded, and his moral observations often jarringly intolerant. Because he speaks directly to the audience throughout the story and is capable of half-truths, the narrator is by far the film's most misleading commentator, confidently explaining things away, flattening important events into mere expository background, ignoring any details which do not accommodate his ( and our) presuppositions, and disguising his condescension with a tome of exalted kindness.
Various aspects of the film, then, work to obscure the hero's psychological subtleties in favor of a stock character that honors our preconceptions. The plain fact of the narration, the cynical "rake's progress" structure, the disparaging epithets spoken by other characters, the moralistic tableaux, all appeal to our least generous expectations; and the narrator panders to the expectations by imputing base motives to a character who craves things far subtler than sexual gratification of wealth. "Rake's progress" is a comforting formulation of tragic experience. It assumes that one's deeds have an effect on one's fate, and it dismisses the complexities of motive and desire, reducing life to a set of clear moral consequences. As the film proceeds and we find we must question the narrator's assertions, we begin to appreciate the hero's complexity, impelled by our distrust of verbal reports, to attend more careful to what happens on screen.
II. Seeking a FatherBarry is not a scoundrel, but and innocent deprives of guidance. This deprivation is the first thing we see, for the film opens with a stationary long shot of the duel that killed Barry's father. Two little figures, anonymous and identical, face off on a hillside; one shoots, one falls. Our distance from the event obliterates the identity of Barry's father, conveying the son's dim recollection of his parent. The narrator reduces this fundamental loss to a bit or ironic exposition, for tales such as these traditionally begin with a cursory recital of lineage. We are told only that the duel occurred (and for no good reason), which implies that the son will go the way of the father, an account that fails to consider the duels most significant consequence: Barry is fundamentally dispossessed.
The world of Kubrick's films is godless, parentless, bereft of moral guidance. The leaders in Dr. Strangelove pout and bicker like maddening children as the effect the destruction of the world. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the astronauts and scientists float unattached in space, their parents and children nothing more than televised images. The brutal Alex in A Clockwork Orange enjoys his "ultraviolence" unhindered by his parents, who are caricatures of permissive feebleness, exercising their function only by fretting weakly and finally turning their bothersome son away. These examples of disastrous autonomy refer to modern man, the recently isolated creature who has in Kubrick's words "been cut adrift in a rudderless boat on an uncharted sea."
In Barry Lyndon Kubrick's treatment of this sad isolation differs from his earlier endeavors in two ways. First, the theme of orphanhood has a poignancy unmitigated by satire. Barry's attempts to find a father and his short-lived joy in his own little boy radiate an emotional intensity which we do not expect from an accomplished ironist like Stanley Kubrick. The second departure derives its impact from this affective power: Barry's fatherless odyssey takes place among the strongly familial institutions of eighteenth-century Europe. If Kubrick has, since Paths of Glory, been engaged in projecting his vision of Western history, then perhaps the broken Redmond, finally banished from the domain of old estates and family fortunes, is an image of modern man coming into being at the time of the French Revolution. The film's climactic duel between Barry and his stepson takes place in an abandoned chapel: the bizarre ritual of gentlemanly homicide proceeds in the absence of a supreme parent, between fatherless rivals.
Unwittingly driven by dispossession, Barry seeks permanence and stability by liking for a father, His first adventure (and episode not in Thackeray's novel) adumbrates the peculiar outcome of this search. Having just left home for Dublin, Barry is robbed on the road by Captain Feeny and his son. The father, pistols in hands, gives orders with the courteous irony of a shabby lord as his son searches Barry's clothes for valuables. The profession of robbery keeps these two together; and in practicing this family trade, they deprive Barry of his own slight family identity, taking his father's sword and pistols and the money his mother had given him. The robbery both causes and prefigures Barry's discovery of another paternal outlaw. Because he is now impoverished, Barry joins the British army, which results in him "joining" the Prussian army, which in turn land him in the services of the Prussian police, who use him to spy on the Chevalier de Balibari; and so he ends up working as the old rogue's henchman, assisting the grotesque and splendid outlaw in elegantly robbing the wealthy at the gaming tables. By attending this polite thief with filial devotion, Barry repeats the function of Captain Feeny's son, and discovers the father he needs.
Paradoxically, the closest and most "successful" father/son unions in this world of primogeniture and long-standing titles are those outside the status quo. Indeed, the establishment of a loving family entails rejection of established society in the world of Barry Lyndon, where fortune and pedigree are more important than anything else. Ostensibly nothing more than a picaesque episode, the robbery confronts Barry with an instance out that outlawed devotion with will prevent his ever making a permanent home in the respectable world. It has an allegorical fullness, suggesting the result of all his strivings upward. Moments before the robbery, Barry meets the two highwaymen at an inn where he pauses for a drink of water. Insisting that he must be on his way, he resists Captain Feeny's repeated invitations to join them for some refreshment. The sequence ends with a close-up of Captain Feeny's disquieting smile as he says, with eerie appropriateness, "Good-bye!"
Between the highwayman and the gambler Barry discovers other fathers, military men whose guidance reflects the spirit of the armies they serve. As he moves from father to father he learns how to behave. This is not a moral education. In a world of surfaces, where behavior must be both pleasing and controllable, learning how to behave means learning how to project a self that others want to see. Barry relies on such decorousness because he is fatherless, powerless, unprotected. But he needs tolerant guidance, not oppressive discipline: the more cruelly he is treated, the more earnestly and convincingly he lies, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Both, through their poses, succeed in gaining the favorable notice of prominent spectators.
Captain Grogan, kind, experienced and plain-speaking, loves and accepts Barry, admiring the spirit that many try to crush. The other British soldier's also applaud the young man's aggressive energy. As the sit on the field one day, eating their afternoon meal, Redmond incurs the derision of all around him by asking for a clean beaker. Toole, a hulking bully, stands and bawls out, "Get the gentleman a towel, and a basin of turtle soup!" He then swaggers over, looks at Redmond full in the face and downs the contents of the greasy beaker, mush to the rowdy observer's amusement. A boy sitting next to Redmond prompts him with material for mockery: "if you want to vex him, ask him about his wife the washer-woman, who beats him," and Redmond skillfully expands these tidbits of gossip, bating his dim-witted adversary into a fury that delights the audience of soldiers. The two men begin to brawl, but an officer intervenes and arranges a proper boxing-match ("We will for a square for that purpose") which Redmond wins. At no other time is he so popular, so openly appreciated. Roaring their approval, the soldiers hoist the victor onto their shoulders, This red-coated army of volunteers briefly provides Redmond with the right combination of encouragement and restraint, like a good family.
But upon the death of Grogan during a skirmish with the French ( the British having been sent to serve their obscure purpose in the Seven Years' War), the army ceases to satisfy Redmond and so he steals an officer's uniform and heads for neutral Holland. Along the way he encounters a detachment of Prussian soldiers led by Captain Potzdorf, who offers Redmond dinner and gentlemanly company at a Prussian officer's club. Through wine, flattery , and subtle interrogation , Potzdorf discovers the naive pretender's deception and forces him to join the Prussian army. The first courteous "Captain" had invited Redmond to share some refreshment, them robbed him; this second bandit is more respectable, but the theft is more drastic.
There is nothing rough or casual about this army of kidnapped soldiers, who fill the screen with disciplined formations of dark blue. The hearty spirit of the red-coated British does not exist amongst these punished men. The narrator says that Barry became "very far advanced in the science of every kind of misconduct" in this repressive atmosphere, but we see no evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever. In fact, we witness Barry's valor when he responds to Potzdorf with loyal protectiveness: like the filial Aeneas, he carried the dying Grogan from the battlefield. Colonel Bullow rewards Barry with two honorary coins, and then condemns him: "Corporal Barry, you are a gallant soldier, and have evidently come from good stock; but you are idle, dissolute and unprincipled, and have done a great deal of harm to the men, For all your talents and bravery, I am sure you will come to no good."
The colonel speaks from the standpoint of one who thinks ill of every inferior. His criticism is more a public ritual than a personal remark. Potzdorf, standing at Bullow's side, seems surprised at the disparagement. The other soldiers stand to attention during the ceremony; they too have "formed a square for the purpose" of witnessing a ritual, but here they stand must and still, watching noting as spontaneous as an exchange of blows, but a detached, high-handed display of derogatory rhetoric. As usual, Barry's response is able and decorous. He admits he has failings, but has "only done as other soldiers have done." Looking at Potzdorf, he claims he has "never has a kind friend and protector before," and vows that he "would go to the devil to serve the regiment." There is truth in some of this, and yet Barry is playing a part, now that he is more adept at pretense.
This ability to display the proper image at the proper time wind Barry the chance of advancement which the narrator assumes is his hero's only concern. After the war, Potzdorf introduces Barry to his uncle, the Minister of Police, who wants Barry to pose as a servant in order to spy on the Chevalier de Balibari. Standing at attention before the bleary eyes of cynical authority, Barry again professes allegiance. "Your fortune is made," Potzdorf tells him; assisting with surveillance "will allow you to move in a better sphere than that which Fortune has hitherto placed you." If Barry were the self seeking rogue the narrator assumes him to be, he would persevere obediently and succeed, but he rejects this chance and joins the Chevalier. The narrator misinterprets this action and misses the agony behind Barry's pretense.
Having been prompted by Potzdorf (he is to pose as a Hungarian), Barry enters the vast burnished room where the Chevalier sits breakfasting at a small table. Like most of the elegant interiors in Barry Lyndon, this room is large, empty, suffused with polished gloom-it recalls the room where the corrupt general deliberate in Paths of Glory ; and the Chevalier, seated before his elaborate breakfast in the privacy of his immense chamber, is an image of over-civilized loneliness like the aged astronaut in the allegorical sequence at the end of 2001. Barry, his role committed to memory, approaches the Chevalier's table and hands over his false letter of introduction. The two of them discuss his qualifications in German.
"As I spoke, I burst into tears; I can't tell why," says Thackeray's Barry, and this sudden effusion of honest feeling is indeed mysterious, especially so in the film, for in Thackeray's novel the Chevalier is Barry's long-lost uncle. Barry confesses the entire plot, a surprising gesture which the film's narrator explains as the result of homesickness because the Chevalier is another Irishman; and "the splendor of his appearance [and] the nobility of his manner," adds the narrator, impress the would-be spy. These are contradictory explanations, This outlandish "splendor," a fantastic veneer of powder, rouge, gilt and jewelry, is unlike anything affected by Barry's Irish acquaintances, who are unadorned and monochromatically dressed. Furthermore, the Chevalier speaks German with a French accent, concealing his origins all the more.
He is, in fact, unique in Barry's experience, not just because of his rings and cosmetics, but because he is a lonely paternal figure who sits before Barry without judging him; his eye patch is a prop that mitigates his searching gaze. After examining the spurious letter, he looks up and tells Barry that he seems fine for the job: the Chevalier accepts without question the young man who has been sent to scrutinize him, and who now chooses to relax his guard at the moment of his easiest success as a pretender. Moreover, unlike the Minister of Police whom we see immediately before and after, and unlike Barry's uncle, who, early in the film, sits at his dinner table with is two sons beside him, this old sedentary gentlemen has no "son" at his side. This is what makes Barry cry. He has found his father, and his father has accepted him.
After the confession, the Chevalier rises, comes from behind hid table, and embraces his new son. This intimacy conquers the stately twilight of the surrounding room.
III. Acting and LovingThe narrator thinks in public terms. and so intimacy eludes him. He can respond only to that calculated self which Barry leans to direct toward his viewers. Society in Barry Lyndon is largely chairbound, a world of sedentary watchers whose inert spectatorship comprises a metaphor for limited sympathy. The narrator speaks for such observers. Throughout Kubrick's films, those who are always seated are destructively unimaginative: the generals in Paths of Glory, the crippled Dr. Strangelove and him inept co-administrators, the technocrats of 2001, the proponents of the Ludovico Technique in A Clockwork Orange; and insofar as such figures are reflections of ourselves as audience members, the narrator is a sort of propagandist, bolstering our prejudices with his pronouncements. The unimaginative viewer neither sees nor understands intimacy, which is invisible. He prefers the neat motive to the heart's tumult, and the narrator obliges him.
Barry's tragedy derives in part from his impossible attempt to discover intimacy though the bold motions of performance. Without money or pedigree, he is at first unimpressive to his viewers. his is by nature passive, happening upon situations rather than generating them, unlike Thackeray's grandiloquent rascal who slyly arranges involved comic plats. But his cousin Nora, whom he wants to marry, is greedy for spectacle, bored by her cousin's shy fondness. Out of love then, he transforms himself into an effective actor, and in doing so begins his career as an outcast.
When we first see him he is without histrionic ability. Beginning with a suggestive close-up of an ornamental statuette of a small child, Kubrick slowly zooms back to reveal a little parlor on a rainy afternoon. Redmond and Nora play a game of cards, he bashfully, she with fidgety impatience. She wins the game which allows her to dictate some task. In hopes of initiating a bawdy game of hide-and-seek, she hides a ribbon in her bodice, then rises and stands, expectant and imposing, before her cousin, and tells him that he must seek out the ribbon, "and I will think very little of you if you do not find it." Reticent, baffled, he separates he clasped hands and immediately gives up the search when he sees that the ribbon is not there. She finally takes his hand and guides it. "Why are you trembling?" she asks. "At the pleasure. . . of finding the ribbon," he falters, pulling the favor free. "You're a liar!" she says, and bends down to kiss him. The victories are all hers.
This sequence shows how unaggressive Redmond really is; there is neither lust nor the hunger for conquest in his love. He cannot seek things out, but takes what opportunity presents him. He is a mere baby as the statuette suggests. His and Nora's physical attitudes not only express the quality of their relationship, but establish an important compositional pattern for informing the entire film. Because Redmond sits and Nora stands over him, he is at a disadvantage. A destructive anonymity is imposed on him whenever he does not stand out: when he stands in the ranks, as he does in the army and again before him unimpressed monarch, and when he sits in the inhibiting position of spectator. He must learn to exploit the lonely position of a watched object to perform rather than observe.
Nora wants a performer like Captain John Quin, and Englishman who parades theatrically with his regiment before an admiring assembly of Irish civilians. Kubrick cuts from the cousins' kiss to the Englishman's showy maneuvers. When Quin and Nora dance, it is more an exchange than a union: he capers away awkwardly around Nora, then she skips prettily as he ogles her. Their bookish courtship proceeds with the same self-consciousness, as the stand face to face, trading romantic banalities. Each of these stiff demonstrations confirms Redmond's helpless spectatorship until he is finally driven to become an effective actor upon witnessing a final bit of mannered acting.
The entire family sits at dinner; Redmond takes his place across the table from his cousin and rival. His uncle stands and announces the couple's engagement, the exhorts the Englishman to kiss his "treasure." As Redmond stares in outrage, Quin stilted and hesitant, seems to parody Nora's first kiss by bending over and kissing his betrothed on the lips. The other family members coo and applaud. What has been an intimate moment has been translated into a crude public display. Redmond remains seated while the other men rise to toast the couple; his uncle admonishes him for his rudeness, this failure to take his part in a pleasing picture. He rises, one the other men have taken their seats. He now stands out, ready to perform, isolated from the others. His gesture is startling and impressive. :Here's my toast to you, Captain John Quin," he says evenly, and dashes his glass against his rival's forehead.
He has begun to act, but not with decorum. This audacious theatrical gesture is misplaces. It leads to his banishment. In order to get rid of the impoverished rival( the family is obsessed with Quin's "fifteen hundred a year"), Nora's father and brothers manipulate him into dueling the captain with a harmless pistol. Believing he has killed Quin, Barry flees, a friendless outcast after leaving the sedentary company of viewers.
Grogan tells him of the hoax much later, and thereafter Barry's performances (with one crucial exception) cease to be disruptive. Whether serving in the army or moving among the friends of George III, Barry always observes decorum, and yet his adoption of a facade is never wholehearted. The narrator represents his hero as an able pretender, but to the careful viewer Barry seems ill at ease in these roles. When Potzdorf asks to see Barry's papers (which, albeit stolen, are all in order), the young man does not comply with the smooth readiness of a practiced fraud, but hesitates, as if taken aback by the request. The stories he makes up for Potzdorf's benefit are schoolboyish inventions, intended not to dupe the Prussian, but to win his friendly approval.
For when Barry pretends to be an officer, or defies his cousin's rival, or spends huge amounts of money to gain a peerage, he is seeking acceptance from the society in which he has been p;aced, not acting out of any self-aggrandizing urge. Always an outcast, he aspires to satisfy the demands of his heart by trying to honor the expectations of a world that dies not want him. This is a tragic pattern: every histrionic gesture only serves to make that cherished closeness more remote. Barry disguises himself on order to find love, then finds that love has not need for disguises, a dilemma to which the narrator is blind. nothing demonstrates this more disturbingly than the sequence showing Barry's involvement with Lischen, the German girl.
Newly transformed by his stolen uniform into the image of an officer. Barry rides through rural Germany. away from battle, Coming toward him on the woodland road appears a young German girl in peasant dress, a vision that materializes like a spirit in a fairy tale, as sudden as the apparition of Captain Feeny, the sinister, black-clad ogre who has blocked the young man's path in the dark forest. These mythic reverberations provide elements of a psychological allegory: Captain Feeny and his son were prophetic manifestations of refined outlawry, embodying a tragic dimension of Redmond Barry's life; this blond girl is a benevolent apparition, re animating the lost image of that happiness which Redmond always seeks, for she looks like Nora, a fairer, kinder and more wholesome Nora.
This encounter repeats the elements of the earlier courtship but Redmond is no longer "but a boy" competing with an officer: he is an "officer" himself, and from atop his horse looks down at a sweeter version of his cousin. He and the girl begin to converse in German; but after getting a better look at her he suddenly asks, with a fascinated expression, "Sprechen Sie English?" , even though his German is excellent (Potzdorf later employs him for his fluency). He has notices, as the viewer must, that this country girl resembles the cousin he has lost.
That evening they sit at dinner in the girl's kitchen. Lischen holds her baby on her lap. Barry delicately asks about her husband who is away; about her loneliness; about her child. Her answers are trustful, shy, encouraging,. The situation seems fraught with bawdy possibilities, but there is nothing of seduction or even much of sexuality in this encounter, recalling Redmond's innocence with his cousin. The scene recapitulates and fulfills that earlier scene: again thunder grumbles sporadically in the background' "Woman of Ireland," the theme which had always accompanied Nora's presence on the screen, starts to drift plaintively across the action. (1) The girl's healthy child has replaced the wooden figurine, her candor and acceptance have replaced Nora's exacting spectatorship; and as the sit at the table together, suffused with the soft orange glow of candlelight, they compose, just for a moment, a family, which is what Redmond had longed for with his cousin, and what he will briefly find with another woman and child.
He persists in his pretense until it is proven superfluous by the loving atmosphere win which he uses it. The girl's behavior is uncanny, for she almost seems to know who Redmond really is. She asks his name. "Fakenham," he answers promptly (and suggestively). "No," she says, "What is the name - before 'Fakenham'?" implying that he has had a previous name as well as asking for his Vorname. "Lieutenant Jonathan Fakenham," he answers, then says it must be lonely for her there. "And it must be very danger for you to be in the war," she says tenderly; to which id glib reply is "I am an officer, and must do my duty." She looks back at him mournfully, with something like reproach, as if she senses the falseness of his boast. She asks him to stay with her for awhile. They lean across the table and kiss.
This is followed by a shot of the girl's house that night, then by a close-up of the lovers' heads as they embrace on the morning of Redmond's departure. All pretense had disappeared. The girl has overcome the young man's posturing. Both speak German: "Auf Wiedersehen, mein schönes Lischen," says Redmond, speaking her name for the first time; "Auf Wiedersehen, Redmond," says Lischen. "Jonathan Fakenham" is no more. We can only guess at whatever intimacy these two have shared.
However, the narrator can only provide a cynical footnote as Barry rides away. He compares "this heart of Lischen's to some neighboring town; it "had been stormed and occupied many times before Barry came to invest it. A lady who sets her heart upon a lad in uniform must prepare to change lovers pretty quickly, or her life will be but a sad one." Confirming the superficially picaresque character of the episode, this course observation misses the gently spirit and subtle meaning of the encounter.
The narrator never perceives the story's undercurrents of tenderness, which shake his confident fabrications; instead, he seizes on the tawdriest of details. After Barry's wedding we are told that Lady Lyndon would come to mean no more to her husband "then the elegant carpets and pictures which would form the pleasant background of his existence." At first this seems a safe prediction, for it concludes a scene in which Barry insolently blows smoke in his wife's face after she asks him to extinguish his pipe. However, this insistence of barracks behavior does not fully capture the spirit of the marriage. Later, Barry apologizes to his wife for kissing one of her servants. Lady Lyndon sits despondently in her bath; Barry stands over her and says only, "I'm sorry." She gives him her hand, and a look of understanding and forgiveness; and just as Nora had bent down to kiss him, Barry now bends down to kiss his wife, as he had bent down to kiss the dying Grogan, as he will bend down to kiss his dying son. The narrator always ignore this intense recurring gesture.
Whenever Berry bands and kisses one he loves, he stoops not to conquer but to join. The kiss is a private communion that nullifies performance. Barry shuts out the possibility of detached viewing when he embraces the Chevalier (who dies not stare and judge) and when he kisses hungrily, as if to relax the pestering self-consciousness which he has learned to use so adroitly. Whet Kubrick show us of Barry's "open infidelity" is, significantly, no more that such kissing. He is glimpsed kissing his wife's maid, and we see him in a bordello, sitting with each arm around a half-clad women, kissing one, them the other, with a voraciousness that is not necessarily sexual. (2)
Others parody this amorous self-effacement by turning expressions of love into spectacle. Quin and Nora do this when they kiss for the benefit of Nora's watching family, and when they exchange amorous clichˇs in a moment of fine comedy: "No, Nora, no!" Pleads Quin with muted fervor, "Aside from you and four others, I swear my heart has never felt the soft flame!" Similarly, two identical British officers hold a tryst in a pond, trading wan endearments while Barry steals a horse and a uniform: "It's times like this that I realize how much I care for you, and how impossibly empty life would be without you." (3)
Real intimacy has nothing to do with these stylized dramatizations of affection; in face this intimacy undercuts the heavy opulence surrounding it. When Barry and the Chevalier embrace, their closeness overcomes the room's sepulchral magnificence. Barry and Lady Lyndon first kiss in the nocturnal privacy of a portico. Rouged and powdered in the moonlight, arrayed in pink and white, they appear fantastically frosted: with their lips they find each other through this ghostly veneer, In a Later scene, Barry, with his son Bryan on his lap, fondly peruses the child's coloring book. The scene ends with a shot of the entire room: a huge, dark group portrait, an immense sofa, and ornate carpet; and in the corner of the sofa sit Barry and his son. Amidst all those things intended for show, their loving involvement wins our attention. For all the film's visual impact, what is most intriguing is invisible.
IV. "They are all equal now."Barry Lyndon is not an essay on the vanity of civilization, and more than 2001 is a simple attack on the evils of technology. The man-made world is impressive and exquisite ( as the film's existence attests), and at the same time overpowering and cold. Rooms and landscapes dwarf the lonely figure of Redmond Barry, but in suggesting that his hero's inner life is more important that these scenes, Kubrick does not undercut or deflate their beauty.
Barry Lyndon may be the most visually beautiful film ever made. At once stylized and charged with immediacy, its evocations of the battlefields, gaming tables, festivals and spas of a vanished age have probably never been equaled as spectacles of life transformed by the camera in to visions of aesthetic splendor; perhaps no selection of musical pieces has ever been so apt;y and movingly integrated into the action of any film. But this beauty is more than a matter of scenery and score. It radiates from the tension between Barry's vitality and the brilliant scenes and objects which surround it: this beauty depends on Barry's presence. Kubrick repeatedly "places" Barry, or some pertinent image of entity, then slowly pulls back, establishing at the center of each vast tableau a human impulse that informs the swelling scene with mystery, Without this mystery, we are left with empty display. When Barry leaves the scene for good, a freeze frame (a surprising device in a film whose technique is so unobtrusive) suggests that the action stops once the hero no longer enlivens his surroundings.
And as our involvement with this mystery grows deeper, our sense of the film's beauty increases. We may marvel at the chic glossiness of A Man And A Woman, or admire Visconti's Death In Venice for its ambiance of gleaming elegance amidst the thick swirl of decay, but in neither case do we experience more than sensory pleasure. The celebrated beauty of Barry Lyndon is as much emotional as aesthetic. The more we try to understand rather than merely observe, the more intensely do we feel the tragic quality of this loveliness. As we discover the hero's inner depths, the film's alluring surfaces become emotionally charged, for it is through them that Barry strives to express his complex spirit.
Whatever success Barry enjoys in his aimless progress is the result of his decorousness. Pretty and unobtrusive, he becomes a part of his surroundings with seeming ease, doing gracefully what others do clumsily. While Thackeray's Barry is a strutting ruffian making much of himself in a squalid world, Kubrick's Barry offers his spectators a pleasing surface, and knows the effectiveness of restraint. (4) He defeats the barrel-chested Toole by refraining form approaching him, letting the hungry giant wear himself out, then stepping in to trounce him deftly. He defeats Lord Lyndon in the same way. Seated at the card table, the old invalid barks and fumes in bitter irony at his wife's suitor, his gibbous face strained with rage as he rants like an infuriated Punchinello. Barry stands motionless before him, hair powdered, face whitened, lips bright with rouge, an accomplished ornament. He lets Lord Lyndon wheeze out his final jest, then says politely, "Sir, let those laugh that win," and makes his gracious exit, Having just bragged angrily that his death is still a long way off, Lord Lyndon has a fatal attack, brought on by Barry;s maddening self-possession.
These triumphs are strokes of cautious passivity, not dazzling coups of manifest cleverness. We never see Barry swagger, or hear him pride himself on his achievements; only once after refusing to stop smoking in his wife's presence, does he seem to behave with anything like smugness, and even this is an ambiguous moment. Never, in fact, do we see Barry engaged in obvious playacting. We must infer his insincerity. He acts disingenuously at times, but because such pretense merely accommodates the prejudices of its observers, it says more about them that about the pretender himself. He is self-protective rather than self-seeking, despite the narrator;s repeated ascriptions of ambitiousness. When he stands before his audience's appraising eyes, he gives nothing away, making confident judgment impossible.
The style of Ryan O'Neal's performance conveys perfectly the tension behind this artful self-restraint. Whether he presents himself as a stalwart trooper, knowing dandy or helpless innocent at the mercy of those who watch him. Implicit in Kubrick's casting is an allusive dynamic that emphasizes this alienation. We know Ryan O'Neal as an all-American actor, a familiar presence from Love Story and Paper Moon; whether sympathetic or not, the character he projects is always basically wholesome, "a regular guy." All of the other actors in Barry Lyndon are European, and evince a worldly subtlety that we neither expect nor observe in the film's star. On the level of these associations, Barry is a protagonist like Daisy Miller.
O'Neal's effectiveness, however, is more that the result of his screen history. That magnetic restraint which makes his victories possible also makes him a sympathetic character. When he stops "acting" and gives way to feeling, his tears are convincing. Sobbing over Grogan's corpse, before the Chevalier, at his child's deathbed and on his own bed in pain, Barry's passion, like his kisses, has an ingenuousness that suddenly overcomes his pretenses, and in which, paradoxically, we believe. As a smooth poseur, he contributes to the world of spectacle, when the posing stops in moments of grief, we sense the quiet tragedy inhabiting that world.
For Barry Lyndon is doomed by a complex of opposites. His very name is a sort of oxymoron: Ireland and England, poverty and wealth, innocence and sophistication. Although the film's dramatic apparatus encourages the belief that Barry brings his fall upon himself, this "fall" is tragically inevitable. Dispossessed from the start, he strives incessantly for completeness, but never approaches the right thing at the right time. He seeks a wife in Nora, who wants not affection but a dashing man of property. He finds a father in the Chevalier, but this is a kinship of outlaws and must terminate when Barry enters society as a married man. He finds a family with Lady Lyndon, but no two characters in the film are less alike, which explains both their mutual attraction and their incompatibility. When we first see her, Lady Lyndon is surrounded by pinched, desiccated, epicene men; Redmond Barry's life with the Chevalier is a fly-by-night, womanless existence. He has warmth and substance, she offers order and acceptance. Their needs draw them together, but their temperaments tear them apart.
Barry worsens the circumstances of this impossible love by trying to make his position more secure. Acting on his mother's advice, he seeks a title so that he will not be helpless should Lady Lyndon die or lose her affection. In pursuit of fulfillment he endangers his wife's fortune and cultivates the acquaintance of people who are unlike him. And he inadvertently destroys his young son by being too loving. His tolerance and indulgence are unbounded, for he becomes the father he has always missed, and so his Bryan is a spirited ungovernable child: directly against his parent's orders, he sneaks off to ride the horse that Barry intends to give him for his birthday; the horse throws him, and he dies.
Barry tries to answer a nexus of elusive needs by grasping at the accouterments of elegance and power, but he cannot escape into that lavishness because gain and prestige are not what he wants. His sense of incompleteness never leaves him, but dogs him throughout his luxuries. His stepson Bullingdon embodies that part of himself which worldly success cannot eliminate. Bullingdon never acknowledges Barry as his father, but persists in calling him "Redmond Barry." Like the older man, Bullingdon is a fatherless outcast, dependent on his mother. He is always visible amid the expensive hubbub at Castle Hackton, haunting Barry's glittering entertainments with his pale, tortured scowl.
They seem to be opposites. Barry is ruddy, handsome, discreet: Bullingdon is pallid, woebegone, awkward. But each is entirely understandable and sympathetic, for their differences are only apparent. (5) If we understand one we must understand the other. Their similarity underlies their mutual loathing, and finally drives Barry to drop his pose of monied complacency and revert to his original personality.
Barry learns this pose under the sedentary influence of Gustavus Adolphus, thirteenth Earl of Wendover, who, from a succession of fine chairs, directs his charge amidst the aristocrats of the royal circle. Under Wendover's tutelage, Barry stops his solitary performing and becomes another spectator in a moribund world, imitating another cold paternal figure, Barry sits near Wendover whenever they dine or chat, but always at a distance: too mush closeness would be considered vulgar in this passionless society. Wendover unknowingly alludes to his own chilled spirit in his anecdote about the "total stranger" who has come up behind his chair and asked, "'. . . Is Lord Wendover alive or dead?' I was so astonished, I couldn't think of what to say! And then I became a bit angry. I looked at him and said: 'He's dead.'" Delivered as a drollery,, the story is full of truth. This is a society of frozen, unencouraging fathers who impart nothing but the example of their own repression. Wendover inspires conformity, which dangerously saps the Lyndon fortune; and Graham, the Lyndon's lawyer, sits and watches Barry try to deal with a dispiriting mass of bills, offering not guidance or advice. (6) Barry craves warm approval from these cool men; Bullingdon always sits brooding a few paces away.
Their conflict cannot remain suppressed. Barry canes his stepson for spanking Bryan, whereupon the weeping Bullingdon vows, "I will kill you if you lay a hand on me ever again! Is that entirely clear to you sir>" Kubrick cuts form a close-up of Bullingdon's angry, tearful face to a close-up of Barry's face. "Get out!" the stepfather says through gritted teeth, as if to exorcise the miserable, white faced apparition. Kubrick them cuts from this confrontation to a group of violinists serenely playing at a musicale, a startling transition suggesting the burial of aggression in refinement: the lords and ladies in the audience distance themselves from violence through aesthetic ceremony, whereas in the rougher world of the British army such violence found expression in the social ritual of the boxing match. Moreover, the transition implies much about Barry's psychology: he tries to smother his sense of loss in the cultivated atmosphere of social prominence. It is in this very atmosphere that his conflict will erupt, ending his hopes for advancement.
Kubrick pans slowly from the violinists to Lady Lyndon playing the harpsichord, to her chaplain, Reverend Runt, playing the flute, to a seated assembly of listening aristocrats, the inert a brilliant men and women of Barry's recent acquaintance. Barry and his mother sit tin the front row, across the aisle from Lord Wendover. Through the door at the back of the room comes Bullingdon in his stocking feet, leading little Bryan, who clumps along in his half brother's oversized shoes. Bullingdon leads Bryan to the front of the room; the music stops. Bullingdon bows ironically to his mother, then presents Bryan as his successor )"Don't you think he fits my shoes very well?"), and delivers a vicious, carefully-wrought diatribe on the "horrible society" of his stepfather, and announces his intention to leave forever. Taking Bryan by the hand, Lady Lyndon rushes out in tears, leaving Barry without his family, seated before a solitary performer such as he had been himself, when, a lonely and jealous intruder, he had antagonized Captain Quin. With terrifying suddenness he leaps from his chair and attacks Lord Bullingdon from behind.
Incapable of preserving a disguise, Barry reverts to the position of passionate outcast in pummeling this image of all that is most destructive in himself. (7) It is a disastrous breach of decorum. His outburst spoils the careful construction of the seated audience, abusing the refinement of the musicale with the brutal pugilism of the army: the blows, like those inflicted on Toole, are loud and ugly; like the boxing match, this assault is shot with hand-held camera. But this show of fisticuffs wins no applause. Nowhere is the resemblance between ourselves and the viewers within the film more explicitly confirmed; we are presented with mirror images of appalled spectators. Kubrick challenges us with this identification. The attack is harrowing, not only out of place but terribly unfair, for Barry attacks from behind, without warning, the young man whose unhappiness he has punished for years. At the same time, however, the aristocrats' response is inadequate. They are dismayed by physical violence in the guarded world, not minding subtler, more insidious transgressions; they fail to attempt any understanding of the disturbing act. They see the beating as nothing more that a gross unpleasantness, offensive to their sense of order. There is no substance to their outrage: a number of men rush to Bullingdon's assistance, but they seem weightless, hanging in a gaudy mass from the attacker's neck.
Barry's impulsive and difficult self-chastisement cannot succeed. He is ostracized, and Bullingdon reappears, after Bryan's death to challenge his stepfather to a duel. This duel with Bullingdon recapitulates the duel between Redmond Barry and Captain Quin. Redmond faced his adversary with nervous persistence, afraid of death but obsessed with honor. "This is not one of my pistols!" he said anxiously when Grogan had handed him his gun. Now Bullingdon reenacts the fretful self-assertion of his foe: he too is tense but resolved, courageously facing an older and more experienced man. "Sir Richard, this pistol must be faulty! I must have another one," he says when his gun misfires. In his mournful dissolution Barry is strikingly handsome, unlike the quivering Bullingdon, who trembles and vomits in his terror. But despite this difference in deportment, Barry stares across at his fatherless rival with as much astonishment as fear, as if recognizing himself, then fires into the ground. Bullingdon takes this curious magnanimity for contempt, and refuses to admit satisfaction. He fires and wounds Barry in the leg. The day is his: he has gained ascendancy over the upstart, whose leg must be amputated, and who is forced into exile on pain of imprisonment for debt. Redmond Barry's disruptive interference with his betters is at an end.
And yet something about the word "betters" is at odds with the spirit of this film, which Kubrick concludes with this epilogue; "It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now." (8) They are all equal in death; and more importantly, they have all been equalized by the camera. Some of the characters in Barry Lyndon are objectionable. we can say that Quin is smug and cowardly, that Runt is a bloodless toady, that Mrs. Barry is harsh and insensitive; but the experience of the film makes any such judgments sound lame. The film transforms life into something arrestingly unfamiliar. We watch it with curiosity and care, until we sense the inexhaustible nuances of every image and encounter. Barry Lyndon incites us to tolerance by preserving the full integrity of experience, which is always more truthful than the conclusions it inspires. We learn to disregard authority and see for ourselves.
Kubrick's films have always been profoundly anti-authoritarian. On one level, they expose the arbitrary danger of detached power in the political realm. The men who work in the state's behalf make themselves inhuman, like the semi-robot Dr. Strangelove. Thackeray shares this distrust of power: whatever Barry's faults, he is no less worthy of advancement than any of the "great," who are as cruel and selfish as he is. AS in his earlier films, Kubrick glances at the unworthiness of the mighty in Barry Lyndon, but his derogation of authority is more than a political concern. It is an epistemological argument: and denial of life's ambiguities in favor of a theory of moral is an act of tyranny. All are equal before the eyes of the enlightened viewer. Only those who judge with ease can separate mankind into fixed categories of handsome and ugly, good and bad.
The epilogue is written. We read it for ourselves, for it could never come from the narrator, who sees only conventional decline and fall when all is finished. As we watch one-legged Barry, his mother at his side, make his way on crutches toward a waiting coach, we are told that he went to the Continent, and that "his life there appears to have returned to his former profession of gambling, without his former success." This is to be expected, but not believed. The narrator is unreliable when he asserts with confidence; now that he admits uncertainty, he is even less credible. On the basis of something like heresy, he condemns Barry to the utter ruin which is the prodigal's lot, ignoring the scene's revelations for the sake of a moralistic formula. "He never saw Lady Lyndon again," he concludes, and, as if all were now at an end, stops narrating.
However Kubrick's freeze-frame of Barry entering the coach plays against the solemn narrative cadence. With his back turned towards the viewer, his performative capacity is nullified; missing a leg, he can no longer stand and act. His missing limb, recalling the Chevalier's missing eye, also suggests that incompleteness which has vexed and directed his life. Furthermore, the action freezes at the moment of Barry's greatest helplessness, when he has just relinquished his crutches, as he stands precariously on the carriage step; his mother and the innkeeper reach toward him to prevent his fall. We see what we have always seen, a helpless actor with nothing of his own, dependent on those who watch him. Once again he is dressed and an Irish youth, and his mother looks as she had looked at the beginning of the film, before she had taken to painting her face. The final moment illuminates Barry's whole experience; he has floated through his painful life without ever gaining a foothold in a world of spectacle.
And life goes on , depressed by his absence. Bullingdon and Lady Lyndon, Reverend Runt and lawyer Graham, the guardians of inaction sit over documents in yet another long, gloomy gallery, as dusk gathers and the music comes to a dolorous close. Bullingdon (now bespectacled, as if to emphasize he spectatorship) places bills in front of his mother so that she may sign them; wordlessly, they tend to their estate. He places Redmond Barry's annuity statement before her, then studies her reaction, appearing to hope that her husband's name will not affect her. She pauses, fixes a gaze of inexpressible loneliness on nothing at all, her thoughts inaccessible to us and to her son. She had stared in this blind, brokenhearted way after Bryan's death, when she had knelt in mourning beside her chaplain at the altar. Now again she defeats the inquisitive viewer with he own unseeing eyes.
The melancholy fit passes. She signs the document. "Redmond Barry" is now no more than a name on an annuity statement marked "Dec., 1789," an ominous date for these nobles and retainers. History will sweep them away. Barry has struggled, with tragic unsureness, for a permanence immune to the flux of states and classes. The hero and his troublesome needs are gone, and without him, there is sadness in that still and costly space.
The critical response to Barry Lyndon may best be characterized as one of baffled disappointment. It's champions are few, and as bewildered as its many attackers. (9) Beauty is evidently not titillating enough to satisfy those critics who have come to look forward to a shock from the director of Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange : the new film has been called unchallenging, static, cold and empty. Such response justifies Kubrick's distrust of the human spectator, but provides not other consolation.
Barry Lyndon is a masterpiece of a director whose films are all extraordinary; it marks a new conception of the art of film. Although based on a novel, it is entirely cinematic, offering and endlessly suggestive vision of reality which is irreducible to verbal formulations. Each shot and cut tells us more than any verbal formulations (including this one) can convey. Like its hero, it seems at first uncomplicated; but it maintains a dream-like coherence and ambiguity throughout, succeeding as a story, spectacle, historical reconstruction, psychological allegory and vision of Western man. And it is about the act of viewing. It betters our ability to watch, and betters us. In an age less interested in ugliness, seen by the viewers Kubrick has helped to create, its greatness will be recognized and its reputation righted.
(1) A whole essay could be written on Kubrick's use of music, a major aspect of his filmmaking since Dr. Strangelove. It is one of the most expressive devices in Barry Lyndon, but its impact is not merely affective. For instance the Hofenfriedberger March" by Frederick the Great dominates the episode of Barry's Prussian service. It is a rousing triumphal piece that would not be out of place in A Clockwork Orange, and it certainly befits the aggressive militarism of the Prussian army. But the fact of its authorship is ironic: it is written by the leader of the Prussians, whose army is ingloriously "composed" of abducted youths, many of them foreigners. Kubrick imposes its proud strains on images of meanness and coercion, and yet never entirely disvalues the piece, for the Prussian army is impressive, as well as devious and cruel. Kubrick comes closest to outright satire on this use of music when he introduces martial melodies into non-military contexts: four drunken Prussians sing Frederick's march in the background at the officer's club where Potzdorf slyly interrogates the naive Redmond, and later, as Barry embraces two prostitutes in a crowded bordello, four drunken Englishmen stand in the background singing "The British Grenadiers," which, played by the fifes and drums of the British army, had accompanied the charge on the French led by Captain Grogan. Translated into these places, the warlike music sounds ridiculous.
As "Woman of Ireland" is Nora's theme, the second movement of Schubert's Piano Trio in E-Flat (Op. 100) is always associated with Lady Lyndon. The film adaptation of this piece repeats the major theme over and over again, never progressing into the passionate middle section for such an increase in excitement would be inappropriate to Lady Lyndon's melancholy restraint: both she and the piece are, in a sense, repressed. Her dejection upon witnessing Barry's infidelity is accompanied by the mournful third movement of Vivaldi's Cello Concerto in E-Minor, which recurs when we see Barry Ostracized after the attack on Bullingdon. The piece is used to convey the sadness of two different kinds of loneliness. Handel's stately, funereal "Sarabande" is the film's main theme: it dominates the opening and closing credits, plays quietly during the duels with Quin and Bullingdon, and accompanies the whole episode of Bryan's death. Played on a single cello, it underscores the events which lead up to the child's funeral, at which point it bursts into the majesty of full orchestral expression, as it does when the film is over. It contributes to the film's tragic aura, for it is always associated with death. (back)
(2) It is worth noting that throughout Alex's notorious bouts of rutting in A Clockwork Orange there is no kissing, just dehumanized travesties of sexual performance. (back)
(3) The kiss suggests a loving willingness to annihilate all distance. When the young Bullingdon refuses to bend down and kiss his seated stepfather, it is a particularly hostile expression of rejection. The child behaves with the loveless uprightness of the Prussians, and so it is oddly fitting (as well as upsetting) that Barry should punish the boy's coldness with flogging, as those cold officers has punished their transgressive soldier. (back)
(4) Kubrick has deliberately and thoroughly beautified the novel's gross picture of life. "I am very dark and swarthy in complexion," says Barry in the novel, "and I was called by our fellows the 'Black Englander,' the 'Schwartzer Engländer,' or the English Devil," which description has noting to do with Ryan O'Neal's appearance. Barry's description of Nora is equally surprising to anyone coming to the novel from the film: "When I come to think about her now, I know she never could have been handsome; for her figure was rather of the fattest, and her mouth of the widest; she was freckled all over live a partridge's egg, and her hair was the colour of a certain vegetable which we eat with boiled beef, to use the mildest term." Gay Hamilton, who plays Nora, is slender, her hair is dark, her features sharp and pretty; Thackeray's Barry describes a Rowlandson grotesque, whereas Gay Hamilton projects the lively charm of Hogarth's shrimp girl.
Kubrick has done more than idealize his character's looks. The events in Thackeray's novel are ugly and the characters unattractive; indeed Barry himself, for all his faults, is the books most sympathetic figure because of his endless energy and his deep love fro his son. Kubrick's film is without the novel's unremitting cynicism. When Grogan dies, his last words are simple, but powerful: "Kiss me my boy, for we'll never meet again!" Barry Kisses his friend full on the lips, then bursts into tears, prostrate with grief across the dead man's chest. In the novel, the event occasions not personal sorrow but satiric bitterness:
When my kind friend Fagan was shot, a brother captain, and his very good friend, turned to Lieutenant Rawson and said, "Fagan's down; Rawson, there's your company." It was all the epitaph my brave patron got. I should have left you a hundred guineas, Redmond," were his last words to me, "but for a cursed run of ill luck last night at faro." And he gave me a faint squeeze of the hand: then, as the word was given in advance, I left him. When we came back to our old ground, which we presently did, he was lying there still; but he was dead. Some of our people had already torn off his epaulets, and no doubt, had rifled his purse. such knaves and ruffians do men in war become!
In the novel pathos is usually mitigated by some disconcerting detail. When Bryan is dying, he makes this surprising remark about the absent Bullingdon: "'Bully was better than you , papa,' he said; 'he used not to swear so, and he told and taught me many good things while you were away.'" Kubrick allows this scene its full emotional force, without any such moralistic intrusion. (back)
(5) They have certain physical features in common. When Barry stands before Lord Lyndon, his rouge and powder make him look disturbingly similar to Bullingdon, who in turn resembles the Prince of Tübingen, the Prussian nobleman, who accuses the Chevalier of cheating. The prince's bright red, protruding lips and dead-white face come to mind whenever Kubrick cuts to a close-up of Bullingdon's face, and when we see Barry confront Lady Lyndon's angry husband. The Prince's face is a mask of privileged decadence, a nightmarish image recurring in moments of confrontation between rivals. Like the similarity between Nora and Lischen, this resemblance is very subtle and suggestive. Another instance involves some of the members of upper-class English society: Lord Hallam, the art gallery proprietor, and Sir Richard (Bullingdon's second at the final duel) all have aquiline noses and built-in sneers. Also the doctor who tends to Barry's wounded leg bears an uncanny likeness to Captain Feeny. Such resemblences, like reoccurring images in dreams, bear no single meaning, but provoke whole complexes of associations. (back)
(6) It is no coincidence that Graham is played by Philip Stone, who has cast to play Alex's weak father in A Clockwork Orange. Godfrey Quigley, who plays the kindly Grogan, also appears in A Clockwork Orange as the prison chaplain: in both films his characters offer sane and right-minded guidance in a dangerous world, although in the earlier film his protectiveness is mush more ambiguous.
Barry Lyndon might help us to understand A Clockwork Orange. Both Alex and Barry are characters deprived of guidance, distrustful by the authorities; each goes through an ordeal that leaves him back at the starting point. Certain scenes in Barry Lyndon recall scenes in the earlier film. When Nora stands before her helpless cousin, who is unable to "look properly" for the ribbon, we are reminded of Alex on his knees before the nude actress, whose breasts he cannot squeeze because of the successful Ludovico Technique. At the end of Barry Lyndon, Graham sits at Barry's bedside and offers the broken man an annuity on the condition he leaves the country, a scene which recalls the final scene of A Clockwork Orange, in which the Minister (Anthony Sharp, who plays Lord Hallam in Barry Lyndon ) offers the bedridden Alex "a good job on a good salary" in exchange fro assistance in generating pro-government publicity. Both men are hurt, and then bought off by those who have done the harm. (back)
(7) Barry is repeatedly transformed into the image of his enemy. As a British soldier, he advances on a long line of white-coated French troops who fire on his column with rifles; as a Prussian soldier, he fires his rifle at t column of advancing French troops. Kubrick shoots the latter skirmish from the Prussian point of view, which is identical to the French point of view in the earlier scene. Both on and off the battlefield, Barry ultimately turns into whatever confronts him. (back)
(8) This epilogue comes from the novel's first chapter, where it is slightly different: "It was in the reign of George III that the above named personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now; and do not the Sunday papers and the courts of law supply us every week with more novel and more interesting slander?" (back)
(9) All of Kubrick's films demand repeated viewings. Given the exigencies of a critic's schedule, therefore, an exhaustive discussion of Barry Lyndon could not have appeared in any weekly column. Andrew Sarris wrote a fine piece for the Village Voice, Vincent Canby's review in the New York Times showed much insight, and Judith Crist's brief article in the Sunday Review was very perceptive, calling attention to Kubrick's complete reliance on natural light, a breakthrough made possible by his use of the new Zeiss f0.7 lens. These three critics were able to write intelligent pieces despite their professional obligation to work in a hurry. (back)