Director Stanley Kubrick
Writer Stanley Kubrick
Lead Jack Nicholson
Box Office $44.4m
The most disturbing film I’ve ever seen.
As I was born in 1992, my knowledge of The Shining growing up was mainly through pop culture references, mainly that Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons. I vaguely remember my Dad saying it was a pretty dark movie so I had some pre-warning. The film ranked high on my Dad’s internal spook-o-meter, ensuring the film’s reputation stayed with me for the rest of my life.
It stayed there for over a decade. My interest in Film and TV grew, and as I studied more, The Shining was always there, always being referenced by various film critics. It was clear The Shining was regarded as a pivotal and iconic film.
As my interest in movies grew, so did my interest in Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick is often recognised as the best ever, the mac daddy, the creme de la creme. I was working my way through his films in no particular order knowing The Shining awaited me, like Jack Torrance’s descent into madness, it had a sense of inevitability that already filled with me dread.
The thrilling A Clockwork Orange, the mesmerising 2001: A Space Odyssey, the hard hitting Full Metal Jacket, the pitch black comedy of Dr. Stranglove and the immersive oil painting Barry Lyndon had all been appreciated first, all rollercoaster rides in their own right, but it was time for something darker, the demonic lure of The Overlook Hotel had finally won…
I’m immediately unsettled, the film opening with a demonic soundtrack as the Torrance’s car makes its way towards The Overlook, tribal chants seemingly luring the family to their cursed fate. The soundtrack establishes itself from the first frame and is a driving force, putting the viewer on edge throughout, at times it builds to a crescendo that makes you certain something is about to make you jump but nothing happens, putting you further on edge and making the twists and turns even more unpredictable.
The pacing of the film also adds to the inevitable dread, with time-cards between sections of the film becoming increasingly frequent. The film’s intensity and Jack’s drop in sanity accelerate as the film plays out, we start with “The Interview” followed by “Closing Day” followed by “A Month Later” then “Monday” “Tuesday” “Thursday” “Saturday” “Monday” “Wednesday” and then “8am” and “4am” – we’re get closer to Jack Torrance’s breaking point and its arriving quicker as the film progresses.
Jack Nicholson leads the film with his character Jack Torrance, the man who takes on the task of looking after the hotel in the close season, as he attempts to write a novel during this time, he slips into a state of insanity. However it’s his son Danny, who also has “The Shining” and who provides the sub-plot and indeed sub-text to much of what The Shining could really be about, narrative layers and themes that go beyond that of a conventional horror or physiological thriller (the two genres this film best fits into, though it is hard to define).
The lore of Kubrick’s films and the worlds he creates is what makes him so appealing to me. If you take his films at face value they are great, if you look a little bit deeper, they are astounding.
The Shining certainly doesn’t disappoint in this aspect, on the surface its a chilling thrill ride, underneath it has aspects of political and social commentary that reach into themes such as paedophilia (Jack potentially abusing Danny), white guilt (the hotel is built on an Indian burial ground and various pieces of native american decoration and furniture exist in the hotel), media influence (Danny is surrounded by Disney bear type figures and a man in a bear costume is later submitted to performing a sexual act), US political history (The Gold Room) and much more.
You can also spend hours looking into conspiracy theories surrounding the film, most notably the theory that Kubrick is admitting he filmed the Apollo Moon Landing footage.
The Shining lives up to its reputation, and with its dark status you’re already primed for an unsettling experience before you even start watching it.
Once there you’re captivated, the music and setting pulling you in, disorientating you (the set for the Overlook hotel was designed to be an impossible building to navigate) and getting under your skin. For me a weakness of horror, especially todays, is that it lacks substance, it is there simply to give you a couple frights in a 2 hour space of time and thats it. The Shining is more than that, it stays with you and gets richer and more disturbing with every viewing. Jack Torrance is immortalised in a photo on the hotel’s walls at the end of the film, but what’s worse is the feeling that you yourself will never shake the grim hold of The Overlook Hotel.