Genre: Horror, Mystery
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
In an endless corridor, one of many in a hotel isolated from the rest of the world, a young boy is confronted by a set of twins. In ‘Village of the Damned’-esque accents they invite him to play with them, forever and ever and ever. Not to be confused with some wistful ‘CBeebies’ adventure, the scene is interrupted by visions of the girls having been brutally murdered in the same claustrophobic stretch of corridor. But the boy, Danny, connected to the hotel’s dark past by a psychic ability called ‘the shining’, still has worse horrors to face.
Now over 30 years old, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s hit horror novel has been showered with adjectives hailing it as one of the greatest achievements in the genre. However with King himself among the detractors, the film was met with cool reception when released and on first viewing its easy to be repulsed by the overt performances and psychologically heavy narrative.
However what prevails when watching ‘The Shining’ now is the sheer strength of Kubrick’s achievement, much of which emanating from the bold, overwhelming visuals. Starring Jack Nicholson, riding a wave of success from a decade of spellbinding performances, the film is the story of a man and his family (Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd) who move to a hotel to look after it for the Winter. Jack, working on his book, is keen to escape everyday life to relax and find peace in the mountains.
The ominous visuals present from the outlet, as a solitary car winds its way through the mountains, undermine the simplicity of the events on screen. A simple job interview, taking place in front of an architecturally impossible window, becomes a Faustian pact with an unseen evil.
Undeniably eccentric, the film embraces the supernatural to Lynchian effect; constantly relating the increasingly bizarre events to the effect on the human family. With much of the film relating to the young boy Danny, the viewer becomes the innocent child thrust into a surreal, hyperbolic world. With everything at such an epistemic distance, the illogical events become more palatable if still gloriously mystifying.
Duvall, tortured by Kubrick during filming, is a woman on edge and while her character was never intended to have the power of one like Ripley, she is never relatable. Nicholson however excels in one of the most overt performances on screen. Even the ridiculous speed of his descent into insanity, and the inconsistencies in his relationship with the hotel, are forgivable for his precise expression and legendary portrayal of a man in trouble.
The other star of the film is the haunting glide of the steadicam as it effortlessly twists and turns throughout scenes. Creating the same hypnotic dream as the journey across space and time in ‘2001’, the camera, coupled with the grand, repeating corridors, captures terror in a hideously beautiful context.
While many may claim to be stupefied by the ending, or as others are distracted by the famously improvised ‘here’s Johnny’ scene, the only resounding message from the film is the excess of Kubrick’s achievement. Having been overanalysed and drowned in a bloodbath of conspiracy theories, most recently in ‘Room 237’, the film attracts the director’s trademark controversy and incites a plethora of questions to encourage indulgent re-viewings.
A work of glorious excess, this is Kubrick’s finest hour. Experimenting with narrative, performance and camera, the director creates a cinematic event the like of which has been unseen since and likely may never be seen again.
An honourable mention must also go to Vivianne Kubrick’s documentary about the making of the film. Included on the DVD, this documentary gives candid insight into the turbulence and creativity. In one impressive shot, Vivianne shows Duvall rehearsing lines nervously as strands of her hair fall out; Nicholson across the room, pleased to play up to camera and embrace his fame; and Kubrick, who cuts a grand figure sitting at a type writer rewriting the lines being rehearsed opposite him. Meticulously he crafts every line of his script, seemingly aware of the decades of reanalysis that will follow. And he quite rightly, he appears to relish.