Certificate – 18
Country – USA
Year – 1980
Runtime – 116 mins
Director – Stanley Kubrick
Cast – Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
It seems the year 2013 is becoming the year of snow. Snow is dominating the skies and as we approach April, it feels almost sinister that the frost is refusing to yield. Perhaps this sinister feeling is inspired by the many snowy landscapes which have become cinematic legend, and so, when I think of snow, I think of footprints in the labyrinth of the Overlook Hotel.
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a filmmaking masterpiece, as well as one of the most notorious horror films ever committed to celluloid. The combination of Stephen King’s original story, Kubrick and Diane Johnson’s script, Nicholson and Duvall’s performance and the overall artistic fingerprint of Kubrick himself have given us a film which has truly imprinted into the consciousness of modern society.
The film tells the story of the Torrance family as they arrive at the Overlook Hotel in the hope that father, Jack (Nicholson) will secure the job of ‘caretaker’ and be trusted to look after the building whilst it is closed for the winter.
This may not appeal to everyone, but Jack hopes the empty building will provide the perfect environment for to continue with his writing. He brings with him his devoted wife, Wendy (Duvall) and young son, Danny (Lloyd). In his initial interview Jack is told of the strange goings-on which have given the hotel a bloodthirsty reputation, but these quickly vanish with laughter. Unfortunately for the Torrance family, it is not long until the hotel’s past begins to repeat itself once more and Jack becomes victim to the hotel’s hysteria.
Visually, like all Kubrick films, The Shining is unforgettable. This doesn’t mean the visuals are breathtakingly otherworldly or even jaw-droppingly realistic. Instead The Shining burns into your retinas and each colour, face and shape is locked in your memory. The hotel set which was painstakingly crafted at Elstree Studios, UK, presents a place which is like no other. The concept of looking after an empty hotel is a strange one in itself, but once the Torrance family are settled within the vast building, the idea of being left in such a place is instantly terrifying. The patterned carpets and painted walls become a bizarre catacomb in which only the most sinister of activities could ever make sense. If you were to walk into any of the rooms without reason, you would instantly recognise your surroundings as those from within the film, which is a quality unlike any other. Kubrick is so obsessed with detail, that it would be possible to identify the film from almost any still.
The characters within the set are just as memorable and will haunt you long after the final moments. Nicholson’s performance as Jack is one of the finest of all time. His possessed nature appears welcome and he is never the ‘everyman’. Instead Nicholson portrays an abusive father, an alcoholic, a frustrated artist and a lost soul. Opposite him is Duvall as the doting mother and wife who wants nothing more than to see her husband happy, but instead only works to make things so much worse. There is a wonderful line where Wendy proclaims with a smile that all Jack has to do is get back into his writing again. Jack replies: ‘Yeah. That’s all it is.’ Duvall’s sheer ignorance and persistent happiness makes her appear constantly out of place within her new surroundings.
In the frantic closing segment of the film, Duvall’s performance is staggering. Her casting is perfect due to her wide-eyed structure and so it seems like you have never truly seen horror until it is written on Shelley Duvall’s face.
And then there is Danny, the little boy who has the talent of shining and speaks to his imaginary friend Andy who takes residence in the finger on his right hand in the creepiest voice he can muster. It is Danny who first asks what is in room 237, and so even a young boy cannot be a totally innocent party to the events which later take place.
Finally, in terms of what makes The Shining such an unforgettable classic, the sound design is without a doubt the best in horror history. As the hotel seeps its nastiness into Jack, the sounds which accompany his surrounding become violent and exaggerated. There are moments where the actions on screen appear ordinary, but the sounds associated with them send a jolt through your spine. It is another layer to the film of mistrust. Kubrick ensures the visuals are distorted, the characters untrustworthy, the story bizarre and even the sound is out to get you.
The Shining has been written about at great length by those with much more academic clout than myself. The theories which branch from Kubrick’s filmmaking are immense and if you are a fan of the film, Kubrick or just conspiracy theories, you should definitely also watch the recently released, Room 237 (2012) which gives an insight into some of the bizarre theories audience members have founded over the years since its initial release (including that The Shining is Kubrick’s confession he faked the Apollo moon landings…) Ultimately these theories are so interesting because when you watch Kubrick’s cinema there is a part of you which knows there is so much more below the surface of the picture. It is hard to let go of the images he provides and he will never fully explain his intentions. The final image of The Shining is a perfect example, but I won’t ruin that for anyone.
So, if you’re stuck somewhere due to the snow over the coming weeks, why not visit the Overlook Hotel and stay in Room 237? I dare you.
Besides, you know what they say about all work and no play…