The Shining (1980) – Director: Stanley Kubrick Adapted Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Joe Turkel OSCAR COUNT (0)
“Dick Hallorann: Some places are like people: some shine and some don’t.”
The Overlook Hotel is one of the places that shine. Of all the evil characters among all horror films ever made, the Overlook Hotel might just be the most sinister. First off for the uninitiated, “to shine” alludes to the supernatural. It’s a vague description both in the film and King’s novel. For people, the shining manifests as ESP, telepathy, and vivid premonitions. For places, the term “haunted” might be more appropriate. The Overlook Hotel, is most certainly haunted; it shines to its very core, emanating malevolence, always waiting patiently for its next victims like some ancient enormous vile predator hiding in plain sight.
Now how can a building be so ominous and foreboding? There have been uneasy feelings in certain places experienced by people all over the world, as if some unseen eyes are watching. This is what Stanley Kubrick achieved. Kubrick manifested all of those uneasy fears by crafting the greatest haunted house film of all time. That’s what The Shining is at its essence, a film about a haunted house. The Overlook Hotel doesn’t just want to kill you, it wants to corrupt your mind, shatter your sanity, and strip you of your will, enslaving you to become one of its minions for all time (or what you perceive to be “all time”). What other horror villain is so diabolical? And there is little clue as to why the Overlook Hotel is haunted in the first place. There is little clue as to why the shining is so dark and twisted here. These unknowns add to the horror as we watch in despair, as a loving, caring father becomes a psychopathic murderer.
Jack and Wendy Torrence haven’t had the perfect life, but then few married couples do. They’re a pretty typical husband and wife with their son Danny. Danny however, is not your typical little boy. Danny shines. So with the family down on their luck, Jack takes a job as caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, a grand old hotel that dates back to around the 1900s nestled in the remote Rocky Mountains in Colorado. From the opening shots as they drive to the Overlook, the tension and unease begin, the camera following the car as it winds its way through the bleak and desolate but majestic terrain of the Rockies. While the cinematography is breathtaking, it’s the music played over these images that creates the queasy feeling in the gut.
That’s what makes the Overlook come alive. The brilliant synthesis of the cinematography: the lighting, colors, and framing, and the sounds: music and dialogue, create this real sense that this hotel is indeed alive and wants its occupants to meet grisly ends. From Danny’s big wheel rides to the walks in the hedge maze, to simply moving about the hotel, the camera seems to sweep at the same speed, as if the hotel is always watching, always waiting for the right moment to strike. But then, the Overlook isn’t about dealing swift killing blows. No, the Overlook watches and finds weaknesses to exploit, then uses psychological tricks to ensnare its prey. Once the trap is sprung, its prey becomes the avatar of the hotel, and all hell breaks loose. Jack was the Overlook’s prey, and to put it mildly, it’s quite disturbing watching him loose grip on his sanity. For me, perhaps the most chilling image is the end as we slowly and deliberately dolly into a photo of Jack that he most definitely should not be in. The date on the photo is July 4th, 1921, Jack’s face wears a maniacal grin, a certain devilish twinkle in his eyes, the Overlook Hotel triumphant.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT THE FILM: Stanley Kubrick was nominated for worst Director at the Razzies for his work on The Shining – I’m guessing Stephen King rigged the votes.