An object of widespread derision when released in 1975—anyone remember the Mad magazine parody, “Borey Lyndon”?— Stanley Kubrick’s magisterial Thackeray adaptation now stands as one of his greatest and most savagely ironic films, not to mention one of the few period pieces on celluloid so transporting that it seems to predate the invention of cameras. At first Ryan O’Neal, then Hollywood’s reigning male ingénue, seems too contemporary a presence for Barry, the 18th-century Irish scoundrel who marries into fortune after a string of picaresque wartime adventures—all rendered with the director’s usual high regard for military posturing and institutional bombast. But O’Neal’s gauche inability to fit into the surroundings ultimately suits the role, especially as Barry’s circumstances take a severe and irreversible turn. With a god’s-eye omniscience, Kubrick uses slow reverse zooms to move from the human dramas at the forefront, long discarded by history, to recreations of the landscape paintings that endured. The film’s greatness can make a viewer feel like a speck in the cosmos.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 15, 2007