Tuesday, March 20, 2012

100 Movies - No. 81: The Shining

81. The Shining (1980)
Drama, Horror, 142 minutes
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd

When I listed my Top 10 horror movies, The Shining took the top spot. I'm not a fan of campy comedy-horror, so the list is dominated by psychological horror. The Shining is that and a whole lot more. It begins like a drama and takes plenty of time to establish its world, and the majority of the film takes place in the Overlook Hotel.

The opening shots are incredible and set the mood. We are shown a car driving along a mountain road. Kubrick sweeps across the countryside so we can see how isolated the Overlook Hotel would be if the only access road was blocked by snow.

Jack Torrance (Nicholson) is a recovering alcoholic and he's applying for a winter job as caretaker of the hotel. He'll live there for six months with his wife, Wendy (Duvall), and their young son, Danny (Lloyd).

What is shining? It appears to be a form of extrasensory perception. We learn that Danny has the ability and so does the hotel's cook, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers). They can communicate without words. Danny's parents know that he talks to Tony, his imaginary friend, but they aren't aware that he has the shining.

I mentioned that the film takes time setting things up. We are shown the hotel in great detail. They live in an apartment inside the hotel and Wendy spends most of her time there. Jack uses one of the large rooms to work on his novel and Danny explores by driving around the halls in his toy car.

The film is 32 years old, so spoilers won't be a problem for most people, but stop reading now if you are about to see it for the first time.

The hotel appears to be populated by ghosts. All three people see them while they are alone, so that suggests that the ghosts really do exist. Another explanation would be that all the events are happening inside the mind of one of the characters, or that the hotel itself is 'alive' and remembering some of the events that occurred within its walls. I tend to believe that the ghosts and everything we see is real. That would explain all of the events, including how Jack escapes from a locked room and why Danny has marks on his neck.

Time is another factor. Some of the occurrences involve one of the characters visiting the past. Wendy sees guests at a party and Jack interacts with Grady and Lloyd. Sometimes the ballroom is filled with people from the past.

Danny's gift is extremely powerful and attracts the attention of Dick when he is 2,000 miles away. Dick's attempts to intervene are significantly different from the story told in Stephen King's book, and Kubrick makes a lot of other changes. I like both versions of the story, but I have to admit that Kubrick's changes played out well on the screen.

The dialogue is sparse, but very satisfying at times. I particularly enjoy the exchanges when Jack is talking to Lloyd and Grady. Nicholson is convincing when he acts crazy and the final act shows him at his crazy best. Is his transformation some kind of mental illness, or possession by the spirits that occupy the hotel?

The black and white photograph near the end of the film shows Jack attending a 1921 party at the hotel. Grady says at one point that Jack is the caretaker and has always been the caretaker. Is this some kind of living hell? Suppose Jack has had a number of families throughout some kind of supernatural existence and he's been bringing them to the hotel without any previous knowledge of those he has brought there before? He mentions at the start that he's experiencing déjà vu and knows what is around every corner.

One shot shows him looking rather demonic. Is he in fact a demon or Satan?

What's your take on The Shining? What's your version of the truth?

If you like The Shining:

Like Alfred Hitchcock, Kubrick effectively builds tension in The Shining. I would recommend two of Hitchcock's movies to horror fans and anyone who enjoyed The Shining. Psycho deals with mental illness and is among the best psychological horror that I have seen. The Birds takes a snapshot of an unexplained phenomenon and puts us right in the middle of the action.

Kubrick's career saw him explore many different genres. My other favorites are 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lolita, The Killing and Dr. Strangelove.

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  1. The Shining is one of few films that I believe are better than the book. That isn't to say the book isn't a great piece of work. I think what Kubrick did was take the book and make his own interpretation of it that created a far better film than if it had been adapted in the way that say Harry Potter or the Twilight films have. It remains not only one of my favourite horror films, but one of my favourite films full stop.

  2. Agreed on all counts, although I did like the topiary animals scenes in the book. I guess special effects weren't up to the task in 1980 if Kubrick even wanted to shoot those scenes.

  3. Great review. I think I need to see this one again.

  4. Thanks Fernando. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

  5. I love the movie, and I'm reading the book right now.

  6. Daniel, the book is quite different. Both work for me though.