The Shining is no doubt a masterpiece from the visionary director Stanley Kubrick. Out of all the films I’ve seen I always return to this one when i’m looking for terror and incredible film-making. I credit this film for the reason why I have become so interested in cinematography and the way sound can manipulate the audience. It was released in 1980 to some harsh criticism and the film was labeled a dissapointment. Over the years, the film is ever growing in pop culture, critical acclaim, and conspiracies. The Shining will continue to fascinate and dominate Top 10 Horror list for many years to come.
As we fly over an immense lake to the peculiar score, we follow a yellow car through the winding roads. We arrive at The Overlook Hotel and are introduced to Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson). He is a former teacher and alcoholic, who is looking for a place of isolation with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) so he can pursue writing. Jack drives to the hotel alone for an interview with Mr. Ullman (Barry Nelson). Despite Mr. Ullman’s warning of a former caretaker murders of his wife and daughters, Jack reassures Mr. Ullman that he won’t succumb to any sort of cabin fever and that his wife will love to hear about it because of her fascination of Ghost and horror films. The family drives up to the Overlook Hotel before the snow blocks all access and exit from the Hotel. Danny meets the chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) and recognizes that they both have the ability to “shine” or in better words the ability of telepathy. He explains in short The Overlook’s past and that something happened there a long time ago, and it’s presence still lurks the halls. Danny ask him about Room 237 but is sternly warned by Hallorann to not go near or even think about that room.
As the family interacts once they are alone in the hotel, tension begins to rise between Jack and Wendy. His mental state begins to deteriorate and he can’t gather enough rest. Wendy continues to pester him which causes tempers to flare. Danny is preoccupied exploring the hotel on his tricycle or wandering around the Hotel’s land with Wendy. As the weeks go by, the days become longer, and the more tension builds and surreal occurrences arise. Wendy and Danny push Jack to his limits everything starts to terribly wrong within this family and leads up to a massive climax
The acting here is great on all three fronts. Jack Nicholson gives an intense performance with unforgettable cold stares, and verbal abuse he gives to Wendy. Razzie Award nominated Shelley Duvall puts in a massive contribution to this film. It’s easy to become over shined by the incredible acting of Nicholson, but for her to receive so much stick is unfortunate. Duvall had to spend a massive amount of time being spoken down upon by Jack, and having to pull in all these emotions from fear to despair. Duvall looked legitimately terrified when Jack was Axing his way into the bathroom to murder her. If Duvall’s performance was actually bad I believe it would have hampered the effectiveness of Nicholson’s actions. Danny Lloyd gives an interesting performance considering the fact he was unaware that they were filming a horror film. As a child actor I was impressed because he was able to keep things realistic for the most part. It’s a shame that he didn’t make it in the industry. When all three characters interact in this isolated hotel things just grow in suspense. Jack starts seeing ghost lurking throughout the hotel, and a former caretaker influencing his actions. Danny is almost isolated himself from his family. He starts seeing two little girls, and encounters something that causes his imaginary friend’s persona to take over. Wendy doesn’t know how to care for Danny, while she’s trying to comfort Jack during his struggles with writing. For a while she doesn’t see any ghost either, but when she does it’s outrageous, and makes you question if she’s lost her mind as well.
The aspect of this film that I love is the way it was shot. The inventor of the Steadicam Garrett Brown, brings marvelous shots of Danny wandering around the hallways of the Overlook Hotel. We follow him as if we are also on a tricycle trying to keep up with him. The look of these shots are amazing in it’s own right, but the sounds even give the images more depth. The sound of the wheels on the hardwood floor, switching to carpet, and back to hardwood is mesmerizing. Brown uses the Steadicam in the hedge maze sequences as well. Sequences of shots sweeping each corner unaware of what lies around each turn. Every single shot in this film is carefully planned out and executed to perfection.
The Shining has an uncontrollable amount of symbolism ranging from ideas that the film is about the genocide of American Indians, An abusive alcoholic father, or a Kubrick’s way of confessing to faking the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The list goes on and the film is so rich in symbols and underlying meanings you can essentially become trapped in your own theories. You begin to make twist and turns in your thought process and have to stop and retrace your steps much like Danny in the film. It can be interpreted in many ways and after seeing the film around 4-5 times and watching the documentary Room 237 I believe Kubrick mixed in fact a whole bunch of symbolism intentionally and unintentionally. While watching the film you have a great story and camera movements on screen, but when you choose to look deeper into things the film begins to appear as a message about the past horrors of human society. The one in particular is the genocide of the American Indians, and the film has pictures, cans, and imagery scattered throughout the hotel. Ullman even mentioned how the The Overlook Hotel was built on-top of an old indian burial ground. Mr. Grady even mentions “white man’s burden” and the word burden means a great worry or stress. This could represent how the white mean now stress about their former actions or can even be looked at as the characters are frequently stressed out and worried. What I thought was interesting in Room 237 was one person suggested the elevator that has blood flowing out could be the Indians blood. He described it as the elevator comes from up from below the surface of the Hotel where the Indians are buried and their blood is carried through the elevator and spilled out. I could go on and on about all these interpretations that can very well be looking too much at detail and forgetting the bigger picture but it’s enjoyable and adds to the fascination over this film.
What is clear about the film are themes of cabin fever, abuse, and the supernatural, however Kubrick leaves it rather ambiguous and open to interpretation. Each time I watch the film I look for little hints to which effect is taking the most toll on Jack’s mind. I’ve found that it’s all three of them and then some. Jack is a troubled man, and the ending of the film doesn’t help on figuring out why this man has gone mad, but makes you even more confused.
This is currently my second favorite film of all time, but to others this film is slow, confusing, and lacks horror. In recent years commercial horror films have become rather comical and lack substance. These films have short run times and spend a lot of time on picking off insignificant character. That’s not to say all new horror films are bad, for example James Wan’s The Conjuring, and my guilty pleasure of the Evil Dead reboot were great. The Shining takes it’s time with the story and creates an unbelievably creepy atmosphere. It doesn’t feel like it’s a family gone crazy in empty hotel, but more so a hotel that’s come to life with a terrible secret hidden within the walls. The time is spent developing the characters, which allows you to recognize their change as the film progresses. This slow burn approach leads up to a final thirty minutes that will be one massive climax where the true horror is unleashed. The film is difficult to get through if you have any sort of distractions around you. It’s easy to lose focus on the slower parts and peer over at your phone. I think to gain the full effect you must pay attention to the story, and allow the creepily effective sounds manipulate you.
Having solid run time of 146 minutes, The Shining delivers a slow burn of suspense and horror. Kubrick’s direction over the film is impeccable, and creates his own version of Stephen King’s novel. This film will continue fascinate, scare, and on some occasions bore a few people, but no doubt will remain Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece.
Rating: ★★★★★ / ★★★★★
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
IMDb 8.5/10 – Rotten Tomatoes 92%
Won Saturn Award – Best Supporting Actor
Nominated Saturn Award – Best Director, Music, Horror Film
“I dreamed that I, that I killed you and Danny. But I didn’t just kill ya. I cut you up in little pieces. Oh my God. I must be losing my mind.”