My Favorite Movies – The Shining (1980)

13 Oct

By Tanner Smith

Whether you find Stephen King’s book “The Shining” scary or not, you have to admit the story involving the character of Jack Torrance is a fascinating albeit tragic one. Here’s a guy looking to redeem himself after his alcohol addiction severely hurt his son, and now he’s alone with his son and wife to look after a secluded hotel for the winter season. Something in the hotel feeds his inner psyche and causes him to go insane. What saves his soul and his family’s life is one last act of redemption that puts a stop to the haunting, but even that has a horrific tragedy to it.

And you could say the 1997 miniseries adapted from the book (by King himself) captured that very well. But when it comes to scares, we all remember the excellent 1980 Stanley Kubrick adaptation, “The Shining”…because it was scary as hell!

But first, let me address the two huge elephants in the room. One is the horrid directing tactics Kubrick was known for, particularly when it came to directing Shelley Duvall, who plays Jack’s vulnerable wife Wendy. If you watch the making-of documentary (directed by Kubrick’s daughter Vivian), you get a taste of just how cruel Kubrick was to Duvall and how exhausted Duvall was as a result. (Kubrick was a master director, but if you looked up more about him, you’d realize…he was kind of an ass too. You can’t get away with this stuff today.)

And the other is…King hated the movie. He’s warmed up to it a little since then, but in adapting his novel, King felt betrayed by the different vision Kubrick had come up with. He referred to it as “like a big, beautiful cadillac with no engine inside it.”

One of his biggest problems with the movie was the character of Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson. He felt that Jack was crazy from the moment he entered the film and got crazier as the film continued.

And that, to me, is what I find interesting about this version of “The Shining.” Whereas the novel and the miniseries are more stories about redemption, the film is a straight-up horror story about a psychopath who has a chance at redemption and, instead of taking it, ultimately loses himself to the madness. He IS crazy from the moment he takes the job at the hotel, and we do hear of the incident in which he hurt his son Danny which caused him to quit drinking. We can sense that he’s hurting inside and it’s a different kind of withdrawal process, different from the original story, that is causing him to want to break out of his shell. The hotel uses THAT against him, acting as a poison working through Jack’s defenses until he has nothing left to shield himself from them and he fulfills what feels like his destiny. And Jack has no chance of saving himself by the time things go from bad to worse.

At least, that’s how I see it. There are a lot of intriguing theories people have come up with after seeing this film countless times. (I wonder if any of those people were the ones who hated it originally because it didn’t explain everything that was on its mind…)

The film looks great. It’s the kind of otherworldly feel that only a master like Stanley Kubrick could bring to the screen. The cinematography is top-notch and the production design is utterly impressive. And it feels cold–so cold that you feel uncomfortable all throughout the film and yet you keep watching because it’s so effective. It especially works because the real fear is open to interpretation. Nothing is spelled out for the audience.

Oh, did I mention that Kubrick and Duvall for nominated for Razzie Awards for this film? As if you needed another reason to not take the Razzies seriously!

Critics didn’t quite know what to make of “The Shining” when it was first released. Audiences were even more confused. But since then, it’s gotten people talking about how strange and metaphorical it is, and now it’s considered a classic in the horror genre. And every time, I watch it, I get chills running up and down my spine.

I think much of the reasoning as to why has to do with the final shot: a photograph that says much and yet says nothing at the same time. What does it mean??

The moment that gets under my skin each time I watch it is late in the film when Wendy discovers what Jack’s been writing this whole time. You think he’s been working hard on his new novel, but instead…it’s just this line repeated on hundreds of pages: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” That doesn’t merely cement Jack’s “crazy” status…instead, it shows us how long he’s been going crazy! (“How do you like it?” “AAHH!!”)

On its own, “The Shining” is a masterpiece regardless of its source material. It takes you on a bizarre trip into madness and forces us to observe as someone slowly but surely loses what was left of his sanity. In the process, we get many scary details, such as creepy ghost twin girls, axe murders, and a chase through a snowy hedge maze…

“REDRUM!” “Here’s Johnny!” “Come play with us, Danny. Forever…and ever…and ever.”

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