Stephen King’s book was my favourite novel of all time for quite some time. It’s tense, atmospheric, has great characters, and simply draws you in. It’s about a man turned bad by an evil hotel. The movie is not like this and not about that. The movie is something completely different, but that doesn’t stop it from being completely brilliant. Stanley Kubrick obviously knew what he was doing because for every part that’s not faithful as an adaptation, it is pitch perfect as a creepy cinematic sequence. Years later, King would have a telemovie adaptation made by Mick Garris and though it would be faithful it would never quite shock like Kubrick’s vision does here.
You need to watch The Shining and not know any of the garbage around and behind it all. Just sit back, turn the lights off, open your snacks, and try not to get the chills. Kubrick is a man who, I believe, never made a perfect movie, and yet he managed to leave a classic in nearly every genre. The Shining is iconic, depressing and completely perfect in its own way. There are so many sections to pull apart and glorify that when you put them together though they may not make a complete whole, you still have to marvel at the creature they do become. They are terrifying separate and together.
Jack Nicholson is great in this movie even though he’s not perfect for the role. He’s showing us a man as he descends into madness even though ol’ Jack looks pretty crazy within the first few scenes. It’s not the greatest match yet he’s still incredibly watchable throughout the entire movie. He’s just an id let loose and you can’t help but become transfixed as he yells at his wife and threatens her. Jack is pure menace and in this becomes one of the great slasher’s of horror even though he’s supposed to be a tortured soul. Instead, he’s now the embodiment of pure male aggression.
Shelly Duvall was cast as the wife and you could not think of a more poorly cast lady to fill the role of Mrs Torrence, yet Kubrick had his genius in this choice. He picked the hyper-neurotic and annoying Duvall to fill the role of the wife who would become the fixation point of her husband’s malice and eventual murderous rage because, as Kubrick put it, she’s the sort of lady you’d actually like to kill. It actually makes a lot of sense and makes me laugh every time I think of it.
I always loved the idea of going to a hotel in winter and caretaking it. Just getting to be isolated, having plenty of space and time, and being allowed to do whatever you wanted. Sure, you’d need to fix the odd window or remove a wasp nest but otherwise you could write and wander naked the halls to your heart’s content. It would be pretty cool, so long as you didn’t get cabin fever. Oh, and throwing that tennis ball against the wall, genius. It’s those little things, inside the big things, that make The Shining what it is.
That the boy is the one with the titular ability to shine gets a little lost in this movie. It’s really Jack’s show and we see him deliver some acid lines that really chill. When he has his wife on the stairs it’s one of those perfect killer moments. He’s absolutely charming in his venom, like watching a snake or spider close up. He’s perfect in his own way.
The twin girls are creepy as is the lady in the bathtub. I dare you to watch either scene alone in the dark and not get the chills. Kubrick certainly knew how to set up a scene and play it completely for the intended reaction from the audience. That he manages to do this will other, more simple, scenes is just testament to his ability. Watching the boy ride his bike around the corridors quickly becomes a study in hypnotism.
Overall, The Shining is one of those movies that once you’ve seen it you don’t really forget it. It sticks with you, like rancid meat between your teeth, and no amount of picking will get it out. There’s elevators full of blood, and creepy bartenders full of terrible suggestions, and lots of long haunting shots that actually mean something.
Check out this flick if you want to see how to make a horror movie actually seem smart. It’s not the book so if you take it purely on its own measures you’ll find it’s pretty damn superb. It shocks, it amazes, and it pulls you right in. This is a film about atmosphere not so much as it is about anything at all. Kubrick creates the ultimate feel of the horror movie, even if he misses on so many other counts. But he does it so well that you have to admire his creation nonetheless. There’s talk that the film is about the massacre of the Native American people, or that there are no ghosts as Jack always has a mirror present. Maybe this was Kubrick’s intention, we don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he littered plenty of things into the subtext of his movie without actually having the complete reason why in hand. He’d let others sort it out because he was about making something great. Why it was so is up to us to decide.
I give The Shining 9 of Nicholson’s best performances out of a possible 10.
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