Stanley Kubrick’s adaption of the cult Stephen King thriller ‘The Shining’ is an intense, epic, gothic-horror masterpiece. It’s stylish and beautiful, and is a work of horror that, while it distances itself from the constant blood-letting and gore that was common in the more exploitative horror films of the time, is still very effective till this day and still remains one of the greatest and most influential movies in the history of cinema.
Stephen King’s source material is altered dramatically in Kubrick’s adaptation. With the aid of co-screenwriter Diane Johnson, Kubrick moved from the conventions of traditional horror films, replacing them with his own symbolic images and motifs. As you will see, most of the frightening scenes are shot in wither wide open spaces, or brightly lit areas instead of hiding behind the dark and avoid using the tired scare gags commonly found in horror pictures. These scenes create a feeling of a constantly present dread that slowly builds into a sensation of paranoia and terror.
The paranormal is also a huge theme in the Shining. But it’s not ghouls or ghosts that present a threat here, but the ghostly character in the film is the classic haunted house itself – a gigantic, isolated Colorado mountain resort hotel, entitled the Overlook. It poses the question – is this building really haunted? Or is Jack just loosing his mind? Early in the film, it is stated that the building was built on an Indian burial ground. It’s even stated that upon construction, they had to fend off Indian attackers. Meaning the Indian tribe whose land was being desecrated by the white man was still alive and well while they watched their homeland be destroyed.
The first, and most frequently seen of the ‘ghosts’ is the river of blood that floods out of the elevator shaft, which presumably sinks into the Indian burial ground itself. We never hear this rushing blood, for it is a mute nightmare. This could be a metaphor for the blood to which this nation was built upon. Or, in this case, the Overlook Hotel was built upon. The tribe that sacrificed their land for the white man is making a strong presence. Indian artwork appears throughout the hotel, yet we never actually see an Indian. Yet through these images and this idea, we are lead to believe that what possesses this hotel is the Native American spirits lost upon its construction.
Jack Torrance (a tour de force performance by Jack Nicholson, perhaps the best of his career) is the proud father of Danny, and the happy husband of Wendy Torrance. He is takes the job of managing the Overlook in the harsh winter months as a way of desolating himself from civilization as he pursues his intentions of becoming a writer. Perhaps the most note-worthy scene of this film is it’s climax, when Jack has completely lost his mind and, with an axe, smashes down all the doors standing between him and his family – who he wants to carve into little pieces. While this is quite the memorable scene, among my favorites, I found his downward spiral into insanity to be much more interesting.
From the start of the film, you get the impression that Jack likes to distant himself from his family, but you never find that he has the intention to kill them. Because he doesn’t have this intention, neither did the previous caretaker of the hotel – who slaughtered his family, and committed suicide several years prior. The idea of sane men loosing their sanity is the expression of how the American white man is weak in spirit. They are easy to manipulate and control. The spirits, or whatever lies behind the walls of the hotel, taped into their subconscious and caused them to convert to their inner self, causing them to lash out in an uncontrollable animalistic manner.
The Shining is unlike any other movie of its genre. It’s Stanley Kubrick, a master of this trade, exploring the dimensions of the genre to create the ultimate horror film. He takes the simple idea of a domestic tragedy, and expands it to over two hours in length, and packs it with enough intensity to keep your emotions running wild. To some, this is considered Kubrick’s best, to others just another one of his masterpieces. Either way, you’ll know your in for one hell of a thrill ride.