The Shining – 1980 – dir. Stanley Kubrick
Stanly Kubrick, master visionary and meticulous cinematic craftsman, was so diligent in his details that his career only reached a culmination of thirteen films. Despite this fact, when watching a Kubrick film, you can see where his detailed precision, mastered camerawork and lucid editing take hold. Kubrick was one of the rarest breeds of filmmakers; his craftsmanship places him among the select group of auteur that holds a heavy grasp in defining motion picture history. It’s best to distinguish the film version of The Shining as a separate entity from Stephen King’s novel, as Kubrick takes liberties in order to mold the story around his own particular vision. What is left is a fantastic perspective into the horrors of isolation, frustration and ultimately, madness.
Jack Torrence, (Jack Nicholson) former alcoholic and child abuser, (still recovering from injuring his only son) takes the job of caretaker for the Overlook Hotel during its off season. The massive hotel in the mountains is the perfect place for Jack to escape his former addiction and work on his novel. However, the hotel’s grisly past is lurking around the bend, staking claim in Danny’s pseudo-psychic ability, known by the long-time chef as “the Shining.” The important part really is the location, for not only does the hotel serve as a pendulum for Jack’s unbeknownst demons, but also as a fantastic arena for Kurbrick to practice his playbook of mastered camera techniques. One scene for which The Shining is held in particularly high regard is the long rolling tracking shot down the hotel halls, to the edgy movement of the steadi-cam, where twin girls wait when the shot finally comes to a frightening halt. This scene in particular still serves as a landmark in contemporary horror.
What Kubrick really does is illustrate the cerebral web of suspense. Jack isn’t writing, but meandering around the halls of the hotel, bouncing a tennis ball to battle his procrastination. Detachment from his wife and son continues to alienate the failing writer. The music, a composite of classical crescendos and scored fills, becomes a sort of Shining in itself, signaling to the audience that something is about to snap. (Stay away from room 237). For the moment does indeed arrive when Jack finally is served a drink (by a bartender apparition, “Lloyd”) culminating the madness that soon cascades onto the screen with an unstoppable force of unhinged aggression. Jack’s desperate attempt to massacre his family is tormenting, but the delivery is all too perfect. With the eerie music and unwavering air of uncomfortable frustration, the Overlook hotel becomes a crock-pot of closeted skeletons.
Although Kubrick’s direction and music certainly create the perspective, Nicholson comes out with a strategic force that completes the director’s visual style. Jack teeters on the edge of anger in a way that tempts the viewer to presume his character’s ultimate dismay. The ambiguity left in the story frustrated audiences at the time, while Nicholson’s performance kept The Shining alight in the mainstream. In such a serene, yet malicious cleanliness to the hotel, Nicholson hollers, and the thud of his tennis ball resonates well throughout its empty halls. The voices of the ghosts aren’t too far off – only an actor with enough intensity as Nicholson could fill the void of the Overlook. Jack’s wife (Shelly Duvall) also feeds the screen with her hyperventilating fear of slaughter at the hands of her wayward husband. Between the two of them (and the lively ghost party down in the ball room) the Overlook is not kept quiet for too long.
Ultimately Stanly Kubrick’s, The Shining, stands as a monumental work in the genre of horror and suspense, not only for its technical ferocity and strategic perspective, but also for its unrelenting essence of suspense. Every shot wields a coming force that once released will bring the film to an erupting finale. With Jack finally getting himself lost in the maze of his own madness, Kubrick brings together an artistic envisioning of fear only then spoken through the words of a page. (Though it should be noted that Stephen King later released a television version more loyal to the original tale). As any film buff knows, basically anything Kubrick envisions is something to be reveled at, in one way or another.