I’ve never been a fan of the phrase, “Don’t knock it ’til you try it.” This is mainly because I’m picky, not necessarily because I find a fault with the idea behind it. I’ve never liked beans and I never will. Country music’s the same way. Being a picky person has always caused me a little grief, but not enough for me to change my ways, at least as far as my nutritional and artistic preferences go. There are, on the other hand, instances in all of our lives where we are struck by something emotionally or intellectually that we did not expect could possibly have an impact on us.
I had one of these moments over the weekend.
I like to go through famous directors’ filmographies. Whether it be Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, or Woody Allen, I’ve spent a lot of time going through a lot of directors’ extensive bodies of work just to say I’ve seen everything they have to offer. One renowned director who has always caused me trouble, however, is one of the very best Hollywood has ever seen—Mr. Stanley Kubrick.
Don’t get me wrong, Kubrick’s one of the best. Dr. Strangelove is one of my favorite movies and I never stop finding new parts about it that I love. The same goes for the first half of Full Metal Jacket. The last shot of The Shining will forever haunt me and, to an extent, I appreciate the movie for that alone. Whichever film of Kubrick’s you’re looking at, there’s something iconic in it that has imprinted itself in the minds of moviegoers and, generally, in film, for eternity.
There’s a lot about Kubrick’s movies, on the other hand, that I can’t work with. Whether it’s the shockingly creepy tone that’s imbued in the second half of Full Metal Jacket, the unendurable slowness that characterizes 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the bizarreness that Eyes Wide Shut just is, I can’t make it, or at least don’t like making it, through a lot of his films. In a lot of respects, that onus is on me. A lot of these problems, actually, are particular to me.
Looking at Kubrick’s filmography, there’s always been one movie I never dared approach: Barry Lyndon. I never even really knew what it was about before I sat down to watch it. All I knew was that it is over three hours long, is set in the 18th century, and is basically an Irish epic of sorts. These characteristics alone, especially in a Kubrick film, are not too appealing.
On a restless Saturday night, however, I decided for no apparent reason to dive into Barry Lyndon head on. To say the least of my feelings going through the movie, I was shocked. I’ve never seen a more beautiful movie in my life. I’ve often heard about how meticulous a director Kubrick was, but Barry Lyndon took his apparent perfectionism to a whole new level. It took 300 days to film—not to edit and put out, but just to film. Going through the film, this makes sense. The cast and crew probably had to wait weeks at a time just for the perfect conditions to capture some of landscapes that Barry Lyndon holds. Even if Barry Lyndon didn’t have a fantastic story, the movie’s more than beautiful enough to keep a viewer engrossed for its entirety.
That’s just the thing, though. Aside from being a technical masterpiece, Barry Lyndon has some of the most fascinating, captivating, and authentic performances of any movie I’ve seen. Barry Lyndon is an adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 18th-century novel of the same name. The novel focuses on the rise and fall of a lowly Irish nobleman and his associates. For Kubrick to have found a cast that brings such vitality to these characters is truly amazing and is what struck me most about the film. These actors exist in the world of the film. They’re not just there for the brief stint of Barry Lyndon’s running time.
I say all this in an effort to encourage people to finally try some of the movies, music, and television they avoid. Just because a piece of art doesn’t immediately seem like it fits your fancy, don’t run away from it. You might find some of the most beautiful and touching moments in the last vessel you’d expect to hold them. I never would have thought Barry Lyndon would find itself near the top of my ranks of the best films. But here we are.
Featured Image By Warner Bros. Pictures