FWIW, some comments I posted to the OnFilm discussion list (one of A&F's precursors) back in 2002
Then, a few days later, I watched _Barry Lyndon_ (1975). I had seen it once before, as part of the Cinematheque's Kubrick series in 1995, and IIRC, they showed a 16mm print, which is definitely *not* the way to see this fantastically photographed film. Kubrick may or may not have cheated in some scenes, but I believe he shot the entire film in natural light -- either outdoors or by candlelight -- and the result reminds me of the silence he imposed on the space scenes in _2001_; the technique is true to the science of the era depicted in the film, yet it is somewhat striking to us because we are so used to seeing films that make the past and the future seem more familiar through more conventional techniques.
The first thing that strikes me about this film, after the cinematography, is the narration. In _Clockwork_, Malcolm McDowell's narration has the effect of pulling us into the mind of his rather deranged character. But in _Barry Lyndon_, the narration, which is provided by an actor who does not play any of the film's characters, has the effect of pushing us away from them. I don't think any of Kubrick's other films used narration, except for maybe a brief prologue in _Spartacus_ (which was just a director-for-hire job anyway) and perhaps to smoothe over the segues in _The Killing_ (and even that, I'm not sure about), so it's quite striking to compare his use of it in these two back-to-back films from the 1970s. The film is named for the main character, but it does not force us to identify with him; we find ourselves observing him from a detached distance, as he tries to climb the social ladder of 18th-century England, and this studied neutrality reaches its climax in the final title card, which tells us that all the characters -- whether beautiful or ugly, rich or poor -- are "all equal now". That is, they are all dead now.
I like this film's neutrality. It is so common for Hollywood movies to portray the rich as snobs and the poor as noble and virtuous -- just think of _Titanic_ -- but _Barry Lyndon_ doesn't exploit the usual prejudices this way. Barry is a poor Irish lad who, about halfway through the film, marries the widow of an English nobleman and becomes a de facto guardian to her son, but he knows there will come a time when his wife will die and his stepson, who hates him, will assume control of the family wealth; so Barry tries to secure a title for himself, so that he and his own son will not be without some sort of security. The striking thing here is that Barry is, indeed, guilty of the sins which his stepson holds against him, and when the stepson sneers that Barry is a "common opportunist", he is absolutely right; and yet, throughout Barry's life, we see how the upper classes grind his nose in the fact that he is a no-good commoner (even during the ceremony in which Barry is decorated for his bravery in battle, the colonel disses him and tells him he will come to nothing), and we sense that he *is* the victim of systemic oppression. Everyone in this film is acting out of base, selfish motives ... and yet, I think Kubrick has a strange compassion for these people, nonetheless. (Not all of them, I'm sure, but certainly some of them, at least.) Anyone who thinks Kubrick was an unemotional filmmaker needs to see the scene where Barry kisses one of his fatally wounded benefactors on the battlefield, or the scene where Barry and his wife cry bitterly on opposite sides of their son's deathbed, or the look of panic and terror on the faces of the men who face Barry in duels at the beginning and end of the film.
Which brings us to one of the film's recurring motifs, namely, ritualized violence. People settle their disputes through socially accepted forms of violence -- pistols at dawn, swordfights, fist-fights -- and Barry rises as high in the ranks as he does because he is particularly adept at these forms of "civilized" violence. Barry also spends much of the early part of his life as a soldier -- he even tells his son bedtime stories about himself and his fellow soldiers cutting off the heads of enemy troops, IIRC -- and he also beats his stepson repeatedly, in private, with a cane, ostensibly to discipline him, but also to get revenge for those moments when his stepson shames him in public or spanks his son in private. (It is typical of this film's ambivalence that we can share the stepson's pain, trapped as he is in a house with a wicked stepfather, yet also see the stepson for the vindictive, immature, snobbish brat that he is.) Barry's downfall begins when he impulsively attacks his stepson through a socially *unaccepted* form of violence, in the presence of guests at a recital he is hosting; the rare use of hand-held cameras in this scene conveys the chaos of this attack and the breach of social norms which it represents. _2001_ and _Clockwork Orange_ both hinted at how violence lies behind much of our technological superiority and social stability, and _Barry Lyndon_ explores this theme at greater, subtler length.
I haven't got much else to say about this film at the moment, except that I really, really like the music and the severity with which some of it is played; I've been playing Schubert's Piano Trio in E Flat a fair bit lately, and it's become a favorite. At first, it kind of annoyed me that we heard that Chieftains love theme so often in the film's early scenes, but then, the whole point of the music is to show how persistent first love can be, to the point where it *does* become rather annoying.