Journal Article

‘Utterly Baffled and Beaten, What Was the Lonely and Brokenhearted Man to Do?’: Narration, Ambiguity, and Sympathy in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon

Marc Napolitano

in Adaptation

Volume 8, issue 3, pages 330-344
Published in print December 2015 | ISSN: 1755-0637
Published online April 2015 | e-ISSN: 1755-0645 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/adaptation/apv005
‘Utterly Baffled and Beaten, What Was the Lonely and Brokenhearted Man to Do?’: Narration, Ambiguity, and Sympathy in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon

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  • Literary Studies (18th Century)
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Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon is regarded as one of the most aesthetically beautiful films of all time, though its painterly cinematography is counterbalanced by the harshness, coldness, and melancholy of the onscreen narrative. This divergence is evocative of traditional narratological debates over the reliability of narrators: a narrator’s unreliability is typically measured by his concurrence or divergence with the implied author. Such debates are essential to any discussion of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and its literary source, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Luck of Barry Lyndon: while Thackeray’s Barry epitomises the traits of the unreliable narrator, Kubrick’s third-person narrator has proved a controversial figure, with numerous scholars debating his reliability based on his concurrence (or conflict) with the onscreen narrative. This paper argues that the fundamental reliability of Kubrick’s narrator is not simply based on his relationship with the visual narrative, but also on his serving as a manifestation of the voice of the novel’s implied author. This convergence between the authorial voices of Kubrick and Thackeray through the voice-over narration ultimately supports the onscreen narrator’s assessment of Barry’s rise and fall but simultaneously promotes sympathy for both incarnations of Redmond Barry.

Keywords: Stanley Kubrick; William Makepeace Thackeray; Barry Lyndon; adaptation; unreliable narrator; narration.

Journal Article.  6771 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (18th Century) ; Film ; Television

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