Barry Lyndon (1975): Kubrick’s Oscar-Winning Masterpiece, Starring Ryan O’Neal

Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s quasi-obscure novel set in the eighteenth century, represented a bold experiment at adapting a novel to the screen.

Endowed with a breathtaking visual vision, the film won four Oscar Awards, one for John Alcott’s distinguished photography.

The film is marked by Kubrick’s meticulous attention to detail, deliberate pacing, and above all, modernist-parodic approach to Thackeray’s picaresque novel through vice-over narration.

Unfortunately, the movie was panned by most critics when it was initially released, in 1975. Some criticized the saga’s lengthy running time, claiming that it was overindulgent, while others faulted the film for its lack of dramatic momentum and excessive reliance on a fractured, episodic narrative. Even Ryan O’Neil, who was nominated for an Oscar for the schmaltzy “Love Story,” in 1970, failed to get credit for a much more audacious and original performance.

Nonetheless, seen from today’s perspective, “Barry Lyndon” is nothing short of a masterpiece, a brilliant film from start to finish, in which every single frame is gorgeous to watch and savor.

Some art historians, who have studied the film extensively, have been able to identify no less than 271 individual paintings, which had inspired the visual conception of Kubrick and his team of designers.

Defining Attributes:

The film is an advanced experiment in cinematic narrative structure and design

Contemplative pacing

Extraordinary images

The movie tested Kubrick’s commercial position as a director able to get backing for such an unusual project.

Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by Stanley Kubrick
Director: Kubrick
Screenplay (Adapted): Kubrick
Cinematography (color): John Alcott
Art Direction-Set Decoration (color: Ken Adam and Roy Walker; Vernon Dixon
Costume Design: Ulla-Britt Soderlund and Milena Canonero
Original Song Score: Leonard Rosenman

Oscar Awards: 4

Art Direction-Set Decoration
Costume Design

Oscar Context

The most-nominated film in 1975 was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which received 9 nods, and won 5, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress. “Barry Lyndon” was the next most honored film, with 7 nominations, followed by Dog Day Afternoon,” with 6, “Nashville,” with 5, and “Jaws” with 4.