The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)


Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance), Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrance), Scatman Crothers (Dick Hallorann). Screenplay by Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Rating: 18. Running time: 142 minutes.

There has never been a film that uses music and cinematography quite like The Shining. The pounding screeches that make you apprehensive of forthcoming horror when often it materialises to nothing. The focused zooms that tell us very little, and then span out to reveal a lot more. The tracking shots following the characters from the front or moving way behind them, either way ensuring we don’t know where they are headed. We always see their panic-stricken reactions first, and we see them for a long time. Indeed, sometimes we are tricked into being scared, but we never stop thinking that one time the dread will be legitimated. That takes a long time to be the case, but its sparing use means that when it does arrive, it is, with no exaggeration, utterly shocking.

That’s what I take from The Shining. More than anything else, for me, it is about how well it creates its horrifying environment in a way that only a film can do when the medium is used to its full potential. It has other virtues, of course, no less than Jack Nicholson. The smirks and hints of madness underlying everything he says means you lose trust in him from the film’s very first quarter. The story itself, so riddled with ambiguities as to make it eternally unsolvable, is yet persistently intriguing even after your tenth viewing. Kubrick uses King’s book to throw a lot of scenes into his film that are left completely unexplained. The point is, of course, to completely alienate. But these signs of The Shining being meaningless are outnumbered by its moments of carefully crafted confusion. The final scene is the main culprit: we see a picture that seems to throw everything in the air. In short, as the caretaker of a hotel over a long, solitary winter, Jack Torrance ultimately turns senile and attempts to murder his family. The question is, at first, whether history tempted fate and replicated itself (we are told something similar happened some years ago). But this evolves into whether history goes further and actively tries to replicate itself (through, of course, supernatural capabilities). And then, finally, it is perhaps whether the replication isn’t a replication at all, and whether it is instead a reenactment. These questions will make much more sense post-viewing, but the answers will remain just as elusive.

It doesn’t bother me. I’m really not sure why, but it just doesn’t. I’m still intrigued, even after all these years. But they leave me in due course a few hours after rewatching the film. I’m left, instead, with the music, and the masterful use of the camera. Anyone wanting to make a horror movie should be given the following advice: use The Shining as your benchmark and Bible.

2 Responses to “The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)”

  1. 1 Joshua Dixon

    Agreed. If I had to pick five films to show people how to direct a film, the first one I’d think of would be The Shining.

  1. 1 Academy awards: what will win and what should. « jacob williamson | thoughts on film

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