the shining stanley kubrick jack nicholson poster

The fourth entry in our Week of Horror series is The Shining, a classic 1980 film directed by Stanley Kubrick.

The Shining is a fine example of Steven King’s novels being perfect candidates for the transition to film.  Despite a great number of changes from the book, The Shining’s story remains mostly intact:  Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson in one of his greatest roles ever) and his family are the caretakers of a massive hotel during the winter season in Sidewinder, Colorado.   Exploring the psychological and physical toll that this responsibility takes on the family is the primary focus of the story, but the hotel itself is where the really interesting part comes in.

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Like most of Kubrick’s films (and to a lesser extent Steven King’s stories), The Shining has a wide variety of interpretations from a social, psychological, and storytelling standpoint.  Is the hotel really haunted/cursed?  Is Jack just going insane?  Is his family going insane while he remains grounded?  There are many hints that point to these and other possibilities, but the greatest thing about this film is that it’s entirely up to you.  An entire conversation can revolve around individual scenes, much less about the entire film.  There are some clues about certain aspects of this film, but most of the answers are nowhere to be found; much like the Torrance’s have no way of knowing what is really going on, neither does the audience.

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Marking Kubrick’s first use of the Steadicam, this film is well known for its long, sweeping shots and static angles.  Production on The Shining was a long and very complicated affair, with a well known documentary chronicling the effort.  Disputes on the set between the actors and Kubrick were numerous, and script changes were frequent.  Kubrick’s demand for perfection was the driving force behind many of the problems, although as this film will show you the man knew what he was doing.  Pushing his actors to the point of exhaustion, their performances were enhanced by their inescapable frustrations with the ever changing requirements on set.  Had Kubrick not pushed them, their delivery may not have been so convincing.

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The acting in this movie is top notch.  Nicholson’s portrayal of a man who watches his sanity leave him (or does he?) is by far one of the top performances of his career, feeding off the energy of production snafus and his co-stars.  Shelly Duvall plays his highly neurotic wife, who unlike Jack, is terrified at the increasingly bizarre and creepy situation at the motel.  Their son Danny, played by Danny Lloyd, is the subject of the title.  His “shining” grants him abilities similar to psychics, enabling him to pick up on and view things hidden from view to others.  As a six year old with little to no acting experience, Lloyd provides an entirely convincing character of a young boy who isn’t quite sure about what to do with everything he is experiencing.  The legendary jazz musician and actor Scatman Crothers plays a supporting role, providing an external viewpoint on the situation at the hotel.

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Kubrick provides a great sense of scale to the large hotel, with camera angles slowly getting closer to the action as the film goes on.  This provides the audience with a sense of claustrophobia similar to what the characters in the film are experiencing, as if the hotel itself is getting both smaller and larger at the same time.  Impossibly long hallways are rendered pencil thin, with huge great rooms that seemingly reach towards the heavens.  Colors are defined yet muted, adding a dream-like quality to the presentation.  Sound design is superb; there are many sound effects in this film that would be instantly recognizable by just about anyone who has seen it.  The music is equally effective, amounting to not much more than sharp noises and long, sustained notes.  The music definitely ups the creepy factor, and adds a huge amount of depth and emotion to the film.

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I suggest watching the film before reading the novel, as part of the enjoyment of the first time viewing stems from not having all the answers.  Reading the book after seeing the film, however, explains a lot…and in some ways, asks more questions than it answers.  It would be nigh impossible to find another film that compares to the experience of watching The Shining.  Superb acting, great pacing despite a long running time (146 minutes), an unsettling atmosphere, and more quotable bits than you can shake a stick at encompass only the beginning of what this movie accomplishes.  If you have never seen The Shining, find a copy and watch it asap; it is a piece of cinematic history that everyone should be a part of.