Barry Lyndon is part of "my canon," a totally arbitrary and subjective list of my 100 favorite movies. For reviews of other movies on this list, look for the Top 100 category on the right sidebar.
Barry Lyndon begins with a killing—the murder of Barry’s father in a gentlemanly pistol duel. Observed in a static long shot that sees the minuscule characters dwarfed by an awe-inspiring landscape, this opening scene is a perfect encapsulation of the film to come. Barry’s father is killed as the result of a disputed horse sale, a narrator dryly informs us—a seemingly insignificant motivation for murder that suggests the “civilized” violence of 18th-century Britain, as well as the cruel twists of fate that lead to either wealth or ruination. As we’ll see, this opening pistol duel also foreshadows the climactic standoff between Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal) and his stepson, Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali), as the sins of fathers are cruelly revisited upon their sons. Finally, the distanced, impersonal vantage point of this opening duel seems to corroborate the common claim that Stanley Kubrick was a cold formalist indifferent to the characters who occupy his frame—though this often wasn’t the case, and certainly isn’t true of Barry Lyndon.
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