The Shining, 1980, UK/USA
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall & Danny Lloyd
''Your son has a very great talent. I don't think you are aware how great it is. That he is attempting to use that very talent against your will.''
If I was Stephen King, I’d be pissed off too. I mean this man put so much time and emotional investment into his novel ‘The Shining’ and this Kubrick fellow comes along and makes a movie and then King’s book merely becomes a footnote in history. King has (endlessly) voiced his bitterness and frustration at Kubrick largely ignoring his source material and taking the story of the Torrence family and the Overlook Hotel in his own direction. Then again, no matter how many times King scorns Kubrick and despite making his own miniseries adaptation, the man can simply never take the shine of Kubrick’s perfect beast.
Troubled writer, Jack Torrence and his family are hired to become caretakers of the luxurious Overlook Hotel, a place with a haunting past and, possibly, an even more terrifying future.
‘The Shining’ is without a doubt my favorite film of all time. I have recounted the story of how I first saw the film, numerous times and it’s still something I get sentimental about. This is the film that changed my life in that it was the one that truly kick started my love for film. It’s maybe because of this that I continuously refer to ‘The Shining’ as the greatest film of all time, but I like to believe in my heart of hearts that I say this because I truly believe it. To me, ‘The Shining’ epitomizes a ‘perfect film’. The film has an incredible plot, thanks in part to King’s novel as well as Kubrick and Dianne Johnson’s script. The film unravels with mystery and constant intrigue. The film is also perfect in all the technical elements, incredibly well filmed with some of the most unique and awe-inspiring cinematography I’ve ever witnessed, as well as some rich and thoughtful set pieces and mise-en-scene. To top it off, the film features larger than life performance by one of Cinema’s greatest icons, as well as being constructed by Cinema’s greatest son. There is a consensus amongst uninformed folk that the horror genre is nothing more than masked , lunatic killers slashing moronic teens films being thrown together with little (if any) care or artistic thought. Informed viewers though will know this is (mostly) not true and this film is a ‘’shining’’ example of that. It’s a film that defies the term ‘horror’, it challenges the expectations of the genre and showcases the absolute best the genre is capable of.
Has there ever been a film that has been so thoroughly De-constructed and examined over the years? I don’t think so. The hundreds of web pages, Youtube videos as well as films such ‘Room 237’ and ‘The Shining Code’ is proof of that. Whether or not you believe that Kubrick is indirectly addressing the genocide of the Indian American, the Holocaust or he is leaving clues to the fact that he himself staged the Apollo 11 moon landing, you have to acknowledge that this is a testament to power of both Kubrick and ‘The Shining’. Kubrick made films that reward audiences upon re-watches and there may be no greater example of this than with ‘The Shining’. It’s incredible at the amount of things that you may miss on an initial viewing , that becomes evident on repeated viewings , even for someone who has seen the film approximately 10 million times (like myself) still find new little details with every visit to the Overlook. ‘The Shining’ is a masterful example of set design and the richness of even the smallest detail.
One of the most renowned things about Kubrick’s film is its timeless and terrifying imagery. I think it’s damn near impossible to suppress images such as the river of blood flowing from one of the elevators, the apparition of the twin girls (and their grizzly fate), The woman in room 237, the mirror image of ‘’REDRUM’’, Lloyd the mysterious bartender and of course possibly the most famous image from the film, Jack Nicholson’s face peering through the axe broken door and delivering the ‘’Here’s Johnny’’ line, these images and more are some of the reasons for ‘The Shining’s long lasting impact. It’s also a testament to Kubrick’s keen eye for photography , Cinematographer John Alcott and Garrett Brown’s revolutionary steadicam filming, the few scenes in which Danny rides his try wheeler through the hotel, is an incredible example of building suspense through such simplistic means.
I have no hesitance in referring to Stanley Kubrick as the greatest filmmaker in the history of cinema. The man just understood more about film than most could possibly dream of. While you may argue that ‘The Shining’ isn’t Stanley Kubrick’s greatest cinematic achievement (but with a filmography like his, its damn near impossible to choose) I would argue it’s the one that shows his completeness as a filmmaker. From the opening, sweeping shot of the lake, it becomes clear that you are watching Kubrick’s film and every single aspect of the film you are about to see is there because Kubrick wants it to be. Few Directors can really become this kind of enigma, sure there are the likes of Hitchcock, Scorsese, Bergman and Fellini but I don’t think there has ever been a filmmaker with the presence of Kubrick. The man makes films his way and isn’t willing to flinch for anyone or anything. Kubrick also didn’t make films for people who weren’t ready to think or those who weren’t willing to invest brain power. If you go into ‘The Shining’ expecting a run of the mill horror picture, you are going to have a very rude awakening.
As a ghost story, ‘The Shining’ has no equals. No other film has been able to portray the paranormal like this film does. Kubrick took the cliché of ghosts that wore white bed sheets and said ‘’boo’’ and made them into what they should be, apparitions of former living beings. The ghosts that haunt the Overlook Hotel are some of the most terrifying I’ve seen on film, even the least harmful entity, Lloyd, is still a haunting and fearsome character. It was a genius move by Kubrick to include mirrors in the entire scene which Jack interacts with ghosts. It subtly hints at the characters insanity or ‘’cabin fever’’ without beating audience over the head with it. These tactics result with what is my favorite scene of the entire film (although I love them all), the bathroom scene which see a confrontation between Jack and Grady. The scene is phenomenal in the way it builds tension through sheer dialogue and powerful performances from Nicholson and Phillip Stone. It’s so simple in its approach yet so effective in its results.
One of the film’s most iconic aspects is the performance by Jack Nicholson. In what may be his most famous role, yet still under appreciated, Nicholson gives a larger than life showing as the increasingly devilish, Jack Torrence. The reason I refer to it as ‘’under appreciated’ stems from a theatrical showing of the film I attended with some friends; there was much instances of audience members laughing out loud at Nicholson’s performance. I guess I can understand it during the scenes where Jack interacts with Lloyd but there was also laughs during the climax where Jack is attempting to murder his son in the hedge maze, I even heard someone say ‘’This is stupid’’, which was disappointing to know that Nicholson’s performance wasn’t having the impact on them that it did on me. Nicholson’s casting was another aspect of this production that infuriated Stephen King, he was hoping for someone who was more of an everyman type, not an actor who had already flown ‘Over the Cuckoos Nest’. In my opinion, Nicholson gives an incredible performance here, he manages to both captivate and terrify with a mere rise of his eyebrows, that’s talent! Shelly Duvall’s performance in the film is one that it frequently criticized, but I think she is fantastic, Duvall gives the exact performance that I would expect from a person in the situation, her emotions are very convincing and I think she does a great job. The rest of the cast excellent, Danny Lloyd does an incredible job as Danny, it’s bizarre to me that he didn’t continue pursuing acting. Scattman Crothers is also terrific as Dick Halloran and does a good job of bringing a human element to the story. Bit players such as Barry Nelson, Phillip Stone and Joe Turkel also give iconic showings.
This was not really much of a review, reviews tend to require a certain amount of criticism and to be honest I could never bring myself to say anything negative about Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece because to me it is simply perfect. ‘The Shining’ will be my favorite film till the end of time.