The Shining (1980)

17 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Who can be truly trusted in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining?” There are three central characters taking up the screen most of the time and they all seem to be going crazy, even though two of them end up running from another one who is wielding an axe. Those two aren’t exploited as possibly losing their sanities but when the movie is over, you really have to think about it. Did we see what we really saw? Did we hear what we really heard? Did we rely on the right central character?

“The Shining” could be considered a ghost story. It features a creepy hotel that appears to be haunted. We get glimpses of ghostly twin sisters and a whole party in the hotel bar that was supposed to be closed for the winter. I wouldn’t call it a ghost story because of what is never quite explained. But there are many elements of a ghost story within “The Shining,” and a lot more to it than that so that I wouldn’t call it a ghost story. What it is, however, is downright frightening.

Who else but Stanley Kubrick would want to make this movie? He always wants to take chances and with “The Shining,” he takes the chance of changing King’s original novel into a story with no reliable narrator and that really makes wonder. But his biggest strength is his direction, which is great here. We get long hallways inside this hotel, long panning shots in which the camera follows one character from one room to another seemingly from the wall rather than behind the character, nicely done steadycam shots (the best of which features a little boy named Danny riding a tricycle through a long hallway—that scene alone is creepy, especially when he goes around corners because we think he might see something disturbing around that particular corner or the next one, and also when the wheels make a rumbling sound on the hardwood floor but is muffled when riding on a carpet), and a great sense of isolation. This is a hotel high up in the mountains. It is closed for the winter. Novelist Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is hired as the caretaker while it is closed. He brings along his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and five-year-old son Danny (Danny Lloyd).

The first scene of “The Shining,” in which Jack is interviewed, recalls some great formality in the dialogue. Jack and his employer make some small talk but then unexpectedly, the employer tells Jack about the original caretaker of the same hotel—he went insane with cabin fever and chopped his family into little pieces. Jack takes this rather well, “That’s not going to happen to me.”

We then learn that Jack is a recovering alcoholic and seems like a nice enough person to his wife and son. Wendy is rather meek and follows her husband wherever. Danny, on the other hand, is a special case. He has an imaginary friend named Tony, who is described by Danny as “the little boy who lives in my mouth.” Is Tony real? Well, even when Danny is alone, he uses his finger for Tony to talk. And Tony shows Danny visions of what could happen at the hotel. These visions are terrifying, one of which features what appears to be blood filling up an entire hallway. The most disturbing is a shot of two men huddled together near the end of a bed (one of which is wearing a bear suit—huh???) Later on, those visions prove accurate…

There is another person that shares Danny’s gift called “shining.” This character is probably the only trustworthy character in the movie—the hotel’s original cook Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers). He is away from the hotel but there are small scenes in which he grows concerned about the family being all alone in that hotel.

He has reason to be concerned. Things go wrong as the family spends months at the hotel. Jack starts to get grumpy and Danny is seeing terrifying visions of ghosts and past events. Wendy is just trying to adjust and keep the family together but when she notices Jack’s odd behavior, she can’t help but be concerned. What can she do to help? Later through the movie, Jack’s grumpiness turns to insanity as he talks to ghosts in the hotel bar. The cabin fever has certainly gotten the better of him. Much later, it becomes clear that Wendy and Danny’s lives are in jeopardy, beginning in the movie’s most shocking revelation in which Wendy discovers how long Jack has been going crazy—by finding out what he’s written, as a novelist, in the past few months they’ve been at the hotel (I will not give it away). But when you think about what these characters are seeing, you start to wonder if Wendy and Danny are going crazy as well. If that’s the case, who can we rely on in this story? There’s a revealing twist at the end that I would dare to give away but it really made me question the entire movie, which is very frightening.

Jack Nicholson is one of the best actors…period. He is phenomenal as Jack, calm with his assuring voice, grumpy when possible, and absolutely crazy and powerful in the second half of the movie. Shelley Duvall is doing what she is supposed to be doing—sane in the first half, hysteric in the second. I believed her when she was scared practically to death.

I believe I should also mention the long hedge maze near the hotel. The way Kubrick directs characters walking through this giant maze is fantastic, really giving us fear and a sense of entrapment.

“The Shining” needs to be watched and then interpreted. Take every plot element piece by piece and try to come up with your own analysis. I can’t say I “enjoyed” “The Shining.” But I definitely can’t forget it either.

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