The Shining

The Shining

The Shining

1980. Directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Loosely adapted from Stephen's King's horror novel, Kubrick's The Shining is a pillar of horror cinema and an enigma that defies universal interpretation.  

Recovering alcoholic and struggling writer Jack Torrance agrees to be the winter caretaker for The Overlook Hotel, a spooky mountain resort with a bizarre history.  He brings meek wife Wendy and his gifted son Danny with him.  Soon after their arrival, Jack's sanity is set upon by the spirits who haunt the hotel and Wendy and Danny find themselves in grave danger.  

One of the interesting aspects of this classic film is its duality.  It's a cautionary tale about the effect of substance abuse and domestic violence on families and a ghost story in which the hotel itself is the specter.  The themes of the film are portrayed chromatically and as the story organically shifts from reality to nightmare, so do the colors.  In the beginning of the film, the Torrance's apartment is spartan and white, a milquetoast facade hiding the abuse.   Jack himself often wears green, perhaps symbolizing his envy for a life he does not have.   Wendy herself is dressed in high collared puritan like dresses, hinting at the lack of passion in the marriage.   Red however, is the most important color.  It signifies not only danger (such as the room key to 237) but also the presence of spirits within the lonely corridors.  As the film nears conclusion, the colors are vibrant red or muted reflections of themselves, overwhelmed by the Overlook's frigid heart.  

Jack Nicholson gives a layered performance.  His take on a self centered alcoholic is so real, you never question his character's descent.  He denies his condition and his actions while simultaneously begging forgiveness, a hallmark of addiction.  Shelly Duvall is equally impressive as an all too real victim whose evolution into protector is clumsy and natural.  Joe Turkel as Lloyd the Bartender is the best of the dark side and his scene with Nicholson is an amazing example of "what's said that is not said" and it sets the tone for the film's final act.  

John Alcott's grim cinematography looms over the central trio, much like the spirits that stalk them.  This is due to Garrett Brown's ingenious swivel camera. The lens picks up not only the stark colors and imagery, but manages to invoke solitude and dread by showing the absence of normality.  One scene where Jack feigns affection for Danny is such an example.  Both are framed in positions that seem normal, but the camera's apathetic capture of Jack's dwindling sanity and Danny's slow recognition is quiet and unsettling.

Everything, from Kubrick's hand picked score, Les Tomkins' nightmarish art direction, and Jack Knight's sound editing are blocks that build The Shining's foundation of chilling isolation.  The entire film is an exercise in restraint.  Even it's finale is slow and methodical and that is the genius.  The true terror of The Shining isn't what you see, it's what you feel.  The positioning of certain spirits opens the door for all sorts of strange interpretations.  The mystery of 237 and the "twins" are never fully explained because Kubrick made a film for the audience and not himself.  You take from it what you bring with you.

Available now for digital streaming rental, The Shining is a slow burn shocker that defines the genre and an excellent starting place for exploring Kubrick.  Highly recommend. 

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