The Shining: one of the most divisive films of all time

The Shining as a movie has not only become an iconic piece of filmmaking from the legendary director and auteur Stanley Kubrick, but also has over time moulded itself to become a platform of debate, theory, analysis, and discussion from audience members, scholars and critics alike. The Shining provokes a kaleidoscope of opinions that serves itself as one of the most divisive films of all time. Many people credit the film for its scary atmosphere and tone, others criticise it for its cold demeanour and pace. Many strive to extract various forms of the meaning of what the film is about or what it’s overall effect has on the audience. Loosely based on the novel by famed horror author Stephen King, the film has enforced its status within the horror genre and continues to be an endearing film to watch time and time again.

The movie stars in rip-roaring crazy form, Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance an out of work writer who applies for a job as a caretaker in the Overlook Hotel, a site that is built on an ancient burial ground and has seen a dark history. After being warned of possible cabin fever which had previously been endured by the last caretaker, by the hotel’s owner, Jack reassures them and takes the job. His wife Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) and son Danny move to the hotel with them, Danny appears to possess a voice in his head warning him about the hotel. After meeting with the Hotel’s cook Dick Hallorann, he advises Danny unbeknownst to his parents that he possesses a psychic gift called ‘The Shining’ which Dick also possesses. Danny inquiries about a room 237 which Dick advises to stay out and be aware of what may appear. When the hotel is emptied the family make residence and when things begin to feel strange. Both Danny and Jack see visions that the hotel conjures up, twin girls appear and haunt Danny, Jack begins to hallucinate and slowly descend into madness. Room 237 draws Danny Further and Jack begins to see visions of people that seem to know who he is, a butler from years ago called Grady appears to him and reminds that he has always been part of the hotel. As the hotel begins to change Jack, Danny and Wendy Torrance worry for his sake but also for their lives.

Having been adapted by Stanley Kubrick, the adaptation itself seems like the best fit for him and in many ways that are the case but not with all, Stephen King famously declared his hatred of the adaptation, believing it to be cold and not fully spirited with the book. He had said that by distancing the viewer, Kubrick had stripped any emotional connection in confronting the evil of the story. He also noted that by removing the character Jack Torrance’s backstory as an alcoholic, it removes any personal ties with which King had in himself with the character. Adaptations often or not are fitted to a different medium, primarily cinema as the central medium and in the case of The Shining, the loose adaptation works in its favour. Kubrick’s body of work whether it’s 2001 a Space Odyssey or A Clockwork Orange, has long been thought as cold and distant and here it shows.

Establishing shots and images feel planned and calculated, with a burdening slow pace that feels cinematic but crucially keeps the audience away as frightened voyeurs. Danny Lloyd who plays Danny Torrance portrays him fantastically, giving an effective child actor performance that clearly presents the duality between Danny and the Shining persona that warns of the danger. Another criticism spoken by King is Shelley Duvall’s portrayal of Wendy, deeming her as an ‘idiot’ and ‘weak-willed’ when confronting her husband’s insanity. I think the performance works because behind the scenes of this film will show, Kubrick’s constant demand for numerous takes and orders drove Duvall into a state of complete fatigue and worry and so her performance reflects that becoming more frightened and uncontrolled of the situation and heightening the tension. For Kubrick’s cold approach the fact that this is a horror film makes it more effective because it makes us uncertain, who’s there? who’s to trust? and the unravelling of the hotel’s true nature soon makes it all the more terrifying.

What has always been said about Kubrick is each shot or scene that he constructs is done on purpose, in that there is always something with a camera angle, shot or frame which has a meaning behind it. The mention of the Indian Burial ground, Jack throwing around a tennis ball in the lobby or a significant photo in the film have largely provoked ideas and theories that Kubrick meant to relate certain events or imagery to real life stories or themes that have existed before. One instance was the assumption levelled with Kubrick that he faked the moon landing, which has been famous conspiracy theory linked to his making of 2001: a Space Odyssey and if you look closely, Danny Torrance is seen wearing an Apollo jumper, Kubrick perhaps toying with the idea in a humorous way? Initially slow at the box-office, the film gained word of mouth and gradually became more successful as it’s run went on. Garnering a mixed response from critics, the film did get further reappraisal as time went on.

This for me is one of the best horror films of all time and remains a favourite of mine for a long time, the fact that this film proves divisive and theorised makes it more fascinating every time I see it. If I had one criticism at all it is with Jack Nicholson’s casting as Jack. He does give a chilling performance, but it almost feels likes a cheat card, because so much of Jack Nicholson’s familiar ticks, expressions and mannerisms are evoked here, there doesn’t appear to be an arc when Jack Torrance starts off as normal before descending entirely into madness later. I think a subtler actor could have given it more purpose but it’s a nick pick more than anything. Whether you love or hate it, the film is no doubt a fascinating watch for which you can’t ignore, “Here’s Johnny!”.

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Producer: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Joe Turkel
Writer: Stanley Kubrick

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