Stanley Kubrick’s enigmatic milestone in cinematic history continues to intrigue, frighten, engage, and piss off to this day. The Shining is, for the most part, a thought provoking, psychological horror film starring Jack Nicholson’s eyebrows and Shelley Duvall’s lack of acting skills. Nicholson is at his creepiest as struggling writer/former schoolteacher Jack Torrance who moves his family to an isolated Colorado hotel for the winter as he oversees the grounds of the seasonal inn while attempting to perfect his written work.
Though based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the film is a labyrinth distinguishably designed and erected from the mind of director Stanley Kubrick. The director is able to truly wear and tear at the minds of his audience in the maze-like Overlook Hotel, just as his characters’ psyches deteriorate simultaneously. That said, The Shining is easily one of the slowest horror films in movie history. While frequently effective, many scenes can gradually drag into incoherence, seemingly for the sake of incoherence. Some of the film’s thrills are genuinely frightening while others fall flat or come off as just plain gross. Nicholson is the film’s saving grace as a truly disheartening and severe Jack Torrance. Nicholson loses himself completely in a decently written role that could easily come off as laughable in the hands of a lesser performer.
In the film, Scatman Crothers’ character Hallorann describes the term “shining” as one’s ability to converse without opening their mouth. Similarly, director Stanley Kubrick was a mastermind auteur who could communicate greatly through aesthetic elements of his films aside from the dialogue of his characters. Kubrick gave the Overlook Hotel a pulse. The director was able to depict the hotel as just as much a living, breathing entity as Jack or Wendy. The blatant symmetry of nearly every physical aspect of the film (with the exception of Shelley Duvall’s face) adds to the increasing paranoia of the Overlook Hotel. The sweeping views of Colorado landscapes accompanied by ominous synthesizer tones create an undeniable sense of looming despair. Pioneering usage of the Steadicam adds to the subtle yet sinister atmosphere of the Overlook Hotel’s isolated corridors.
Today, Danny Lloyd is a college professor in Missouri. Think he’s called “Doc” all day?
Despite Nicholson’s unforgettably chilling performance as theTorrancepatriarch, the hardly believableTorranceclan comes off as a distractingly bad 1950s T.V. family impression. Jack Torrance is the stern father who rarely addresses his son using more than a few words, and Wendy Torrance is the clueless housewife who frequently condescends to her eerily mature son, played by Danny Lloyd. The ‘Razzie’ nominated Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance is as miscast as can be. Duvall surpasses her character’s required amount of naivety to a point where the performance comes off as cartoonish. It is easy to recognize that something is wrong when the female lead of a film is out-acted by a little boy’s clairvoyant finger.
A face for the radio and acting chops for literature.
In the end, The Shining is merely a ghost story. Based off of Stephen King’s deeply personal bestseller, the film could have been much more had it borrowed more from the source material’s primary plotline of Jack’s increasing alcoholism and the weight it held on his family life amidst a five month long period of being unable to escape each other. Arguments can be made about the film’s themes involving a tortured individual’s refusal or inability to embrace the American dream, a masculinity crisis, or even commentary on American abuse and destruction of Native American culture. However, such themes take a backseat to the primary “haunted house” aspect of the film, which subsequently limits the film’s potential.
The film is an effective, and at times frustrating, depiction of the confrontation between tortured ghosts of the past and equally tortured souls during times of extreme mental and physical entrapment. That’s all. It’s a ghost story made memorable by its direction, courtesy of the brilliant Mr. Stanley Kubrick, as well as a goosebump inducing performance by Jack Nicholson. The Shining is a beautiful, horrifying, bewildering, draining ghost story.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: any time someone is wearing red, white and blue.
Take a Shot: whenever Jack Torrance uses his typewriter.
Take a Drink: any time Danny has a vision of the past, present, or future.