Wednesday, October 22, 2008
#101: The Shining
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson (based on the novel by Stephen King)
Released May 23, 1980
Having crossed the century mark with Something Wicked This Way Comes, I wanted to celebrate with one of my all time favorite films, the absolutely unnerving Stanley Kubrick classic The Shining. If you were constructing a short list of movies to watch on Halloween night, this one has got to make that list. Hell, if you just upgraded to a high-definition TV set, there are few movies I could imagine that would be better to break in your new system.
The Shining, possibly even more than the original The Haunting, is the ultimate "haunted house" movie. It's just that in this case, the "house" is a massive hotel. The opening shots, which have the audience soaring like a vulture over massive Imax-style landscapes, immediately set the tone for the entire movie. I've seen this flick dozens of times and still watched these opening shots three times tonight before moving on.
When it comes to stunning imagery that is going to stick with you for years, The Shining is pretty much the high water mark. They way Kubrick composes his shots... the incredible steadicam work, revolutionary for its time, by Garrett Brown... the patience the film makers take it lingering on shots to make them unsettling as possible... this movie is a fucking masterpiece before you even consider other important elements like story, acting, editing or music. Just keep your eyes peeled for scenes like the elevator doors, or the sequence where Danny Torrance (played by Danny Lloyd) rides his Big Wheel through the halls of the hotel.
Speaking of Danny, I suppose we should get to the story. You know all those modern Horror movies where they use the weirdo kid who may or may not have supernatural abilities (like The Ring) as a creepy kind of protagonist? The Shining's Danny is like the template of that whole character idea. We find out early on that Danny has a strange psychic sense, along with an invisible friend who "lives in his mouth" who speaks to, and through, him.
This power really begins to manifest itself when Danny, joined by his mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and father Jack (Jack Nicholson, in a role that would come to define the rest of his career), move into a Colorado hotel to help with maintenance during the hotel's 5 month off-season. What seems like a simple job to Nicholson's Jack Torrance becomes slowly complicated by what goes on within the confines of the not-so-empty hotel. Unfortunately for Jack, who initially spends his days trying to write the book he intended to complete during the snowy winter, he soon becomes consumed by the strange draw of the hotel and its "inhabitants."
Unfortunately for Danny, he can see what the rest of his family can't. Unfortunately for us, we can see it, too. There's a particular scene with a woman in a bathtub that has been in my head since I saw it as a child. When I saw that I was nearing the scene during this viewing, I pondered skipping it or even stopping the film completely.
If there's a small weakness to The Shining, it's in the fact that Jack's descent into madness doesn't take very long. Stephen King was never a fan of Kubrick's choice of Nicholson as the father because he felt there were more sympathetic actors who would make Jack's character arc more tragic. In this case, King was maybe half right: Nicholson's Jack never really shows any warmth toward his wife and son. Hell, it's Nicholson we're dealing with, so it's like he's gone insane weeks before we even join the events of the movie.
In another regard, Nicholson still delivers a hell of a fucked up, crazy performance. The scene where we find out what Jack has been writing is one of Horror cinema's greatest reveals, and Nicholson eats up the screen in every shot he's in. And really, if you were paying any attention to those opening shots I was talking about, you'd know that Kubrick isn't trying to sneak up on us; he was sharpening his knives before the title of the movie had hit the screen. Who am I to quibble about how Kubrick chooses to tell this story when he does it so unbelievably well?
Sorry Mr. King. I see your point (and I'm sure having Kubrick fuck you around during the screenwriting process didn't help matters), but complaining about this would be like Bob Dylan complaining about the foot pedals Jimi Hendrix used when recording his version of "All Along the Watchtower."
NOTE: If you buy the DVD, make sure you get a version that includes the "Making of The Shining" documentary, filmed by Kubrick's wife. It's incredible behind the scenes footage, including some great stuff where Danny talks about how he couldn't wait to see what his parents were going to buy him with the "5 or 600 dollars" he thinks he's making, and the scene of Scatman Crothers brought to tears talking about how happy he was to be involved with Danny and the other actors on the film.
Plus, watching it is a great way to come down after having the shit scared out of you by the actual film.
For more on The Shining:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- A pretty interesting FAQ about the movie and Kubrick.
- Buy the DVD, or the BluRay DVD. Both are insanely cheap.
The awesome alternate trailer for The Shining: