Sunday, August 28, 2016

Barry Lyndon

Year 8, Day 241 - 8/28/16 - Movie #2,436

BEFORE: Ugh, another long film tonight - three hours!  Is it worth it, just to check off another film from the list of "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"?  (Can't I wait until after I die on this one?)  But I'm working towards posting my reviews of "Captain America: Civil War" and "Deadpool", so I think I'll get something of a break next weekend, because those films were previously viewed.  But, strange as it is to say, the road to those superhero films seems to go through Ryan O'Neal, Barbra Streisand, and Meryl Streep.  What possible combination of films with those actors could get me to "Captain America" in under a week?  It seems odd, right? 

Patrick Magee, who played Cornwall in "King Lear" yesterday, carries over to play "The Chevalier".

THE PLOT: An Irish rogue wins the heart of a rich widow and assumes her dead husband's aristocratic position in 18th-century England.

AFTER: I picked this one up 6 months ago, during TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" February marathon.  It was at the bottom of the list for a while, along with the films coming up in the next two days, before I added "King Lear" to the list and noticed the link.  That's how these things go, sometimes films are on my list for years and I can't seem to find a slot for them, and then suddenly I see an actor's in more than one film (I can now conveniently scroll down an actor's filmography with the IMDB app on my phone, and a bright green checkmark means that a film is on my watchlist - any actor with multiple checkmarks represents a linking opportunity) and boom, connections are established.  But with only so many slots to go this year, I have to start turning down some linking opportunities - more on this in a week. 

But I am now very close to having seen EVERY Stanley Kubrick film, I think the only one I haven't watched is "The Killing", and that was so early in his career that I think it may not have much insight to his personal style.  But this film was based on a novel by William Thackeray, who also wrote "Vanity Fair", and...I just don't get it.  Meaning that I get what takes place, because the plot is rather straightforward, but I don't understand what it all means, why it's important to tell THIS story.  Being such a matter-of-fact account of how Redmond Barry travels through Europe, fights for various armies, and slowly ascends the social ladder to become the aristocratic Barry Lyndon, despite his shortcomings, if anything, it reminded me of an 18th century "Forrest Gump".  And we never did figure out how exactly life is like a box of chocolates, if you ask me.  (What, it's full of nuts?  Sometimes you get a candy that you don't like?  The metaphor never really worked...)  

Maybe it's the whole royalty/nobility thing I don't get.  Being raised in the U.S., a country that disposed of the whole aristocracy centuries ago, I understand how someone becomes wealthy, through the wonderful thing called capitalism.  But how does one become "noble"?  Is it through inheritance, like in "King Lear"?  By killing off rivals and rising through the ranks, like "Macbeth"?  Or is it more like a state of mind, a way of life?  Barry Lyndon's fortunes rise and fall, and Thackeray's book (and Kubrick's film) take us along for every single excruciatingly detailed turn of events.  

First he fools around and falls in love with his cousin (that was more OK, back then...) but when she gets engaged to a British army officer, Barry becomes insanely jealous and challenges the captain to a duel - even though the marriage is going to be financially beneficial for his family.  The results of the duel force him to leave town, but before he can even get to Dublin, he's robbed of all his possessions and has no choice but to enlist in the army himself. 

During the Seven Years' War, he deserts the infantry by disguising himself as a courier and heading for Holland.  But the Prussians deduce that he's not who he says he is, and he's drafted into the Prussian army, which is even worse. But with an act of heroism he saves an officer's life and gets a commendation (this is what reminded me of Forrest Gump, saving Lt. Dan's life in Vietnam...) but when the war ends, the Prussian police enlist him to work as a servant for a Chevalier, who's also a gambler and possibly a spy.  But instead of spying on him, Barry turns the tables and joins up with him, together they run a successful gambling racket across Europe.  After a few years of success, Barry decides his life is going nowhere, so he marries a recently-widowed Countess, and even takes on her last name.  

You'd think acquiring a title and marrying into wealth would be the end of his troubles, but that's not the case.  The Countess has a son, Lord Bullingdon (again, I don't get how these titles work...) who can't stand him and acts out, forcing Barry to discipline him, which only deepens his hate.  And when Barry and the Countess have a son together, this sows the seeds of jealousy, and the older son's behavior gets worse, leading to more discipline, etc. etc. 

Meanwhile, Barry is worried that everything is in his wife's name, and if anything should happen to her, he could be left penniless - so he invests in expensive artworks and a horse for his young son.  The drains on the family fortune cause tension, and then I'll stop talking about the plot here, because at some point things just keep getting worse, and eventually, just like in "King Lear", you realize everyone's circling the drain and it's not going to end well for anyone.  

The end title card reminds us that since these people live long ago, whatever they were in life - rich, poor, good, bad, handsome, ugly - they're all equal now.  Umm, is that supposed to be comforting?  Because it's not, really.  I mean, I guess we can all take solace in being currently alive, but it just reminds us that situation is also temporary.  But I'm still left wondering about the overall message of the whole film - is it that we carry within us the self-destructive seeds of our own behavior?  That nothing we accomplish will amount to anything in the end?  That we can try to rise above our stations, but to no avail?  What a bummer.

Also starring Ryan O'Neal (last seen in "A Bridge Too Far"), Marisa Berenson (last seen in "Cabaret"), Hardy Krüger (also last seen in "A Bridge Too Far"), Steven Berkoff (last seen in "Head in the Clouds"), Murray Melvin (last seen in "The Phantom of the Opera"), Frank Middlemass, Marie Kean, Gay Hamilton (last seen in "A Man For All Seasons"), Leonard Rossiter, Godfrey Quigley (last seen in "Get Carter"), Arthur O'Sullivan, Leon Vitali (last seen in "Little Children"), Liam Redmond, Dominic Savage, David Morley, Billy Boyle and the voice of Michael Hordern (last seen in "The Trouble with Spies").  

RATING: 5 out of 10 candelabras  

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