The Shining (1980) (R)
Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" redefined horror for decades after its release. Today it still remains one of the most beloved movies of the 1980s. Perhaps it's Jack Nicholson to credit for the film's success—after all, he did improvise the famous "Here's Johnny" line. Or maybe we should applaud Shelley Duvall for her endurance of the infamous "bat scene" which Kubrick rigorously made her do again and again. The credit could also fall to Danny Lloyd whose back of the throat voicing of Tony and repetition of "redrum" gives the movie the child's view of horror it needs. But I think that most people would tell you that "The Shining" succeeded because of Stanley Kubrick—whose perfectionistic tendencies cooked up a pot of boiling madness.
I'll confess that the first time I saw "The Shining", I did not like it. Even after the second time, I'm not a fan. But what struck me about the movie (please note that "The Shining" is considered to be one of the scariest movies ever) was how non-horrific it was. There are moments that are gross and creepy, but "The Shining" doesn't have the kind of terror that leaps out and makes you scream. It slowly builds and builds and then is released in an incredibly famous end sequence.
What makes this movie intriguing is the mystery surrounding it. The end shot of the movie still leaves viewers asking themselves questions.
This movie is based on the Stephen King work of the same name. I read the book as well, and have to admit that I wasn't blown away by the novel either. Essentially the book is about a hotel that makes a man go crazy. For the hotel is alive in the sense that it can influence your judgment. In the book, much of the actual hotel grounds come alive and chase characters around. In the movie, it's much more psychological—the horror is mostly mental.
"The Shining" isn't really a ghost story, although the beginning sets it up to be just that.
Jack Torrance is looking after the Overlook Hotel for the months that it will be closed—October to May. The hotel is situated up on a mountain and the only access to it is via a long winding road that, once snowed in, is impassable. To cut down on expenses, the hotel closes for those months and has one man or family look after the hotel. It sounds ideal, like a very long vacation But there are warnings: a cabin fever sensation could set in. The manager, Stuart Ullman, tells Jack that there was a man who went crazy in the hotel once and killed his whole family before disposing of himself. Jack considers the story and the audience believes that the hotel is "haunted" which would not be necessarily true.
The hotel is enigmatic, it's not haunted, but it is disturbed. The reason that "The Shining" is not a ghost story is because of the logic with which it is shot. Wide, sharp angles and tracking shots cement the film in reality...and then, things start to happen.
Here's what doesn't work about the film—it's too long. Like most Kubrick works, I found myself bored with his need to drone on. I kept feeling like I was missing something because of the long shots and long pauses in dialogue. Was some great truth about to be revealed? Was there a twist that I missed? I don't know, but I certainly didn't see anything like that.
Kubrick is so deliberate with these shots that I kept thinking that they were infused with a deeper meaning, but finding none—found them boring.
The music of the film begins with a heavy synthesized soundtrack similar to "A Clockwork Orange". Then it transitions into a string screech-fest which makes up most of the middle part. And finally, when the action starts in the last half hour, the percussive instruments create a beating heart sound that pumps until the end.
The music is symbolic of the three acts of the movie: the introduction, the buildup, and the finale.
Again, I differ with most people because I really don't care for the movie and don't see what's so classic about it. The dialogue is never really naturalistic enough to make me believe that these are actual people going through a weird set of circumstances. Also, the actions of the characters are just bizarre. When Jack is going crazy, it's plain to see. There's no big surprise, yet it's not until near the end of the film when his wife begins to suspect anything. So maybe she's just a simple girl—not so. Many comments are made on how cunning and inventive she is.
Scares are actually in small quantities in this movie. Stephen King himself hated the adaptation of the book, thinking that Kubrick did not make the hotel eerie enough and on this—I have to agree.
The hotel is massive, which I guess could be imposing. The 60s design of the carpet is fascinating and intoxicating and all the colors (mostly red) are bright and unforgiving. Yet, all I could think about was how amazing a game of hide-and-seek would be in a place like that. Yes, in some ways, I am still a child at heart.
The hotel needed to be even bigger, and yet once inside, small. You have to be convinced that around every corner there is a pair of creepy twins or a door that leads to a room filled with horror. This is not conveyed in "The Shining". The music is plenty creepy enough for us to assume that something is going to happen, but nothing does. There are few moments in which the music accompanies something of substance. Most of the time it's just discordant nonsense.
Jack Nicholson is insanely over-the-top in "The Shining" and I found that it seemed like he was playing to the camera.
The film could be about how we are haunted by our pasts, but I think it's more about the supernatural. The unexplainable is what "The Shining" is famous for and this is where Kubrick makes a copout. It's easy enough to say that these weird events happened because of the supernatural. It's harder to give reasons.
The hotel is hellish in construct and ideology.
I can see why "The Shining" is popular—I don't understand why it's classic.
Instead of being trapped by the Overlook Hotel, breathlessly eager to escape and horrified at the way people change—I was able to breathe easily because I didn't feel confined. In fact, my breathing was very deep. "The Shining" is a soporific film for me.
Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones