This is one of the most well-known compositions from Kubrick’s period piece, Barry Lyndon. The movie isn’t widely known, though those who have seen it are usually quite mesmerized by the painterly, colorful photography. In this scene, Barry is preparing for a duel for the hand of the woman he loves, his cousin, which in that day and age was considered acceptable. He is firing off against a General, whose swooped up his cousins heart right before his eyes.
In an interview with Kubrick’s assistant, he says that this scene was the most difficult. At one point, pigeons fly across the frame, and choreographing it all resulted in a lot of irritable crew members as they were barraged with bird poop from above. He said they studied many books about the formalities of a duel in those days and it definitely shows. The scene is expertly crafted for realism, a true commodity for the acclaimed director, Stanley Kubrick.
This is one of the final shots in the film, ‘White Heat’, and is as much an expression of character as it is of the film’s brilliant set-design. It’s frightening and enthralling: with a cluster of police below, the only thing Cody Jarrett wants to do is amaze and astonish. Going out easy is not his thing.
Kubrick deliberately set up a shot with fleeting emotions matching insane flailing of the arms and legs. These apes are terrified, but also expressing their own power. Jumping beneath the cliff, they bark about at the mysterious floating monolith.
The Joker has just failed to fear Gotham’s citizens into killing each other. He is a lone demon hanging from the building of his hell-bent city. Batman tosses him off the building top, which seems to be a subtle ode to Tim Burton, since his Joker fell off a building too, but Is wound back up by Batman. “You just couldn’t let me go, could you?” pests The Joker. Batman stands for true justice: he will not kill criminals no matter how far they torment him.
The director slowly turns the camera view from seeing him upside down, to seeing him straight. He is in mid-air, yet we see him as if he were standing on air. His laughter doesn’t cease; his face and voice strangled from being upside down, he continues to philosophize about his nature and the duality between the Batman and The Joker. Maybe this shot wasn’t as effective to others, but I thought It was frightening and had a strong reality-bending quality to it. Like a dream. Cue the Inception music.