The Set-Up - Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal) has been challenged to a duel by his step-son Lord Bullington (Leon Vitali).
Our first look is a close-up of one of the pistols being loaded.
The rules of the duel are explained.
The coin flip to determine who gets first shot. Lord Bullington wins it.
The two men take their positions. What a great location!
Trembling, Lord Bullington fires his pistol by accident. He asks for a replacement…
…And is told that Lyndon gets to take his shot first.
Bullington takes his position.
Overcome by fear, he vomits.
He retakes his place, and Lyndon fires into the ground. It is now Bullington’s turn again.
This time he gets the shot off (on the count of two, not three), and wounds Lyndon.
This sequence is memorable for the way Kubrick pulls the rug out from under us. Lyndon has spent the film climbing to the top, seducing Bullington’s mother, and squandering their fortune. We want to see him get what’s coming to him.
The duel puts a twist on things, however. Bullington is portrayed as a sniveling coward, and Lyndon as the calm, brave one. When Lyndon gets the chance to kill Bullington, he elects to waste his shot, probably hoping that by doing so the matter will now be over. No such luck – Bullington still takes his shot and ends up permanently crippling Lyndon. Bullington has failed to kill his enemy, and has been humiliated because of his fear. He comes out of the duel a lesser man, while Lyndon, in a perverse way, is vindicated.
This scene also begs for recognition for Kubrick, cinematographer John Alcott, and production designer Ken Adam. Kubrick doesn’t rush to the payoff in this scene. The duel is a decidedly formal affair, and is treated as such. The building itself is marvelous. It’s barren and cold, but not without it’s own elegance. It’s like a stately meat locker.