Barry Lyndon (1975) – 5/5 – MASTERPIECE

I don’t use the word “masterpiece” very often when describing a film, hardly ever actually, and have been in the past disappointed by films long considered masterpieces that were merely great, or sometimes just good.

This film, though, is an exception. This is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. One of the few true classic films, and probably one of the best made. This is film at its finest; a living, breathing painting. A “Mona Lisa” of motion picture. It achieves a level of greatness only a small handful of films in the history of cinema ever have, one I frankly had forgotten existed, and should stand as the set example all filmmakers should strive for, or, better yet, surpass.

Brilliant isn’t a strong enough word for this film. It is a perfect example of all that is possible in the art form, from cinematography, to direction, to writing, to scenery.

Everything here is top notch, particularly the cinematography which is some of the best made. Every scene is beautiful. Every single scene. And don’t even get me started on the scenes lit entirely by candlelight. Kubrick had to apparently have a camera specifically created to be sensitive enough to capture the low light, and it looks gorgeous. Why don’t more people use this technique?

And the performances are just brilliant. Kubrick’s hand is in everything here, but the acting is a great example of just how significant a director’s influence on the actors can be when done well. There’s this cynical, almost malevolent coldness to all the characters that I loved. It speaks of a bitter, selfish world built on lies and emotional deception. Rarely have I seen a film from a director who manages to so brilliantly capture such a specific world view on film.

Everyone is just slightly off, even the protagonist who starts off somewhat likable in the first half, then takes an almost 180 degree turn in the last half and becomes a total prick. Yet you still sympathize with him, especially by the end. And that brilliant duel scene, oh man. Talk about great editing and staging.

This is a film made up of some truly unforgettable images. The carriage scenes, particularly when Lyndon blows smoke in his wife’s face, are inexplicably disturbing despite nothing much of importance taking place in them.

There’s just something about the framing and lighting and the deadness in the eyes of the characters that just makes these moments so unnerving, as though they’re all just zombies going about their lives because they have to, because life in all its forms is little more than a burden made up of deception and pain, and they have no choice but to live it, or die. It is a cruel, godless, uncaring world, and there’s nothing they can do but suffer through it.

I also think of the scene when Lyndon gets robbed, and the guy with the two pistols and that look on his face as he’s saying all these relatively terrible things to him in such a polite manner. And Lyndon’s desperate pleas of mercy. It’s just so twisted, even though it’s not even remotely graphic. He just gets robbed. But there’s something in the criminal’s eyes and mannerisms that speaks of a world where such things are all too common, a giddy malevolence in committing the deed, knowing he won’t be caught, and expecting to do it all again to someone else at a later time. I can’t quite describe it.

Overall, this is a brilliant film, suffice it to say. It does things I didn’t think possible in cinema. It makes you see things you’ve never seen before, and presents them to you in ways that’ll change the way you look at the world, and, more likely, filmmaking as a whole. It’s just that good. It’s a true masterpiece, and ought to be displayed in museums right along other works of art like Michelangelo’s David or the painting at the Sistine Chapel. Of course, that probably won’t happen, but it should.

This is a must see for any film lover. Anyone who wants to know what the medium of film is capable of ought to see this film. There is a composition to this that I didn’t think possible in cinema; the strong, confident hand of a master working his craft to perfection. I know I don’t say this very often, but this film is a masterpiece. I really can’t recommend it enough.

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