The final dueling scene in "Barry Lyndon" (Spoiler)

In Barry Lyndon, towards the end of the film there is a climactic confrontation between Barry and his step-son and arch-rival Lord Bullington. The duel is held in this way: a coin is flipped, and the challenger (Bullington) gets to call it. As he called it heads, and was correct, he is given the privilege of the first fire. In other words, he gets to take a shot at Barry, and Barry just has to stand there and take it. If he misses (which he does,) then Barry gets the next shot, and Bullington has to just stand there defenseless and pray that Barry’s shot doesn’t hit him.

What the hell kind of a duel is this? I have never seen nor heard of a duel being conducted in this way. I was under the impression that a duel traditionally consisted of both parties firing at each other at the same time and whoever is the quickest and most accurate shot wins - in other words, skill is involved. The duel in Barry Lyndon seems totally bizarre; the element of skill is removed and it is instead turned into a game of chance like Russian Roulette. Is there a historical precedent for this? Did people used to actually duel in this way?

Trivia: Lord Bullington is played by Leon Vitali, who also played the satanic priest guy in the red cloak in Eyes Wide Shut. You can’t see his face because he’s wearing a mask, but if you listen to his conversation with Tom Cruise and then compare that to Bullington’s enraged denouncement of Barry Lyndon in front of that huge crowd of aristocrats at the music recital, the tone of the voice is unmistakable.

I don’t know of many duels where the privilege of first fire was negotiated ahead of time, but that would be between the duelists and their seconds.

But if the first firer missed, he absolutely had to allow the other duelist to take his shot. It would be dishonorable otherwise.

Code Duello

In his study of dueling in eighteenth-century London, Robert Shoemaker discovered that the most common form of dueling with pistols was actually that in which the participants took turns, although who went first varied. Duels in which the participants fired together only became more common later. See Robert B. Shoemaker, ‘The Taming of the Duel’, Historical Journal, 45, no. 3 (Sept. 2002), p.533.

That’s a really interesting question, and I never thought about it until now! The funny thing is that unless I’m mistaken – it’s been a looong time since I’ve seen this excellent film – the first duel that occurs early on, with the snotty soldier (played by Leonard “Reginald Perrin” Rossiter), is carried out the more familiar way, isn’t it? I seem to recall both [del]Lyndon[/del] Redmond Barry and the soldier attempting to fire at the same time, rather than one at a time. Of course, this was in rough-and-tumble Ireland, rather than England. Maybe Thackery wanted to depict a more refined, elegant method for Lord B. and the now titled Barry Lyndon.

Man, my sister and I must’ve seen this film in the theater literally dozens of times as kids! What a bizarre movie for two children under ten (I was about eight) to be obsessed by, much less allowed to see, but for some reason we adored it. Though that final duel always creeped me out, especially the bit where Bullington gets sick. Ever since I haven’t been able to tolerate vomiting scenes in movies/tv.

This movie is one of only two, since I was an adult, that I cried at. Remember when Barry’s little son lays dying, and he pleads with his parents to stop quarreling with each other so much? Then it cuts to his funeral procession, with the music swelling up, and his little coffin borne on the goat-drawn cart he used to love to drive. I watched this movie with my (now-ex)husband, and I just put my head down on his shoulder and bawled! Felt worse because I hadn’t felt it coming.

Oh God, the music in this movie…! Mostly Handel’s Sarabande (used in almost every other scene, including the poor kid’s funeral) but also Schubert’s gorgeous Piano Trio in E flat and Sean O’Riada’s sexy Women of Ireland. I’ve rarely been so aware of a soundtrack.

I really do not understand how his son died. He was thrown from his horse…then when he was being carried by the villagers who found him, he was fully conscious, calm, not in pain, and speaking to his father as if nothing had happened. He laid in bed, all the while completely calm and lucid…and then he died (and even literally while he was dying he continued to talk.) He didn’t appear to have any external injuries at all. What exactly did he die from? Massive internal injuries? Head trauma? The first would, you’d think, cause him to be in great pain, and the second would make him lose consciousness…but neither of those things happen. I don’t understand that part of the film.

Given the 18th Century setting, it could easily have been a minor injury that got infected. Pre-pennicillin, sudden and unexplained death was a fairly common occurence. Or perhaps the book explained it, but Kubrick had to leave it on the cutting room floor.

That’s The Chieftains playing Mná na hEireann/Women Of Ireland.

To answer the OP… this is just my WAG, but the duel was designed to be a test of honor and courage, not skill. In fact, it seems to me that the skill element was deliberately minimized. Which makes a weird sort of sense: the point of a duel is not to find out who the better gunman is - it’s to see who has the honor and courage to stand his ground when someone is pointing a pistol at him.

It always struck me as odd, because the film is filled with duels, right from the very first scene (you get the impression that the chief occupation of European gentlemen in the 18th century was duelling), but this is the only pistol duel scene in the film where they seem to be taking turns.
On the other hand, both sides apparently agreed to the terms, so that’s all that counts. I still think that Lord Bullington acted nastily to Barry’s action (although you might argue that Barry really didn’t have a choice – no matter how deep he was in iniquity for assaulting his son, he’d be in immeasurably deeper for actually killing his own son, even in a duel), but his doing so set the universe to rights. In any event, rich or poor, fictional or real, they are all equal now.

I think Barry Lyndon might be the least heroic of any film protagonist who isn’t an outright anti-hero. There’s virtually nothing likable or redeeming about his character. Daniel Plainview came close in There Will Be Blood but even Plainview attained his success from the sweat of his brow; even though he’s a total snake, at least his dedication to working hard is admirable. Barry Lyndon on the other hand just conned his way through life and accomplished absolutely nothing. I don’t know if the movie tries to make the viewer dislike the whiny, bratty Lord Bullington but if you actually think about it, he’s entirely justified in his dislike for Barry. The guy ruined his family, plunged it into debt, cheated on his wife…he was a complete bastard, really.

And he doesn’t even try to pretend to attempt an Irish accent in it either. :slight_smile:

Here’s how the story describes his injury and death:

The explanation I was told after watching the film for a class was that guns in that day were not very accurate, so even if you shot at someone standing still from a few feet away, you were not always going to hit them.

He’s mortally injured, but not in any pain, and he can’t move. Seemed pretty clearly to be a spinal injury.

Reading this, I was reminded of Abe Lincoln’s favorite duelling choice:“shotguns at 10 paces”:smiley:

Better yet was the way in which early English economist Sir William Petty was said to have avoided a duel with a formidable opponent – given the choice of place and weapons, he chose axes, in a dark cellar.

There is almost a duel in The Count of Monte Cristo which was definitely one where they were taking turns. This ended up as a bit of a problem because the Count had weapons that were far more accurate than any others in Europe.