The Shining (1980) Director: Stanley Kubrick
Notably entirely different from the Stephen King novel (1977), and despised by the original author, Kubrick’s The Shining is one of the greatest cinematic horror achievements. Kubrick entirely disregarded King’s screenplay, which Kubrick called “weak.” King was frustrated and disappointed with the choice of Nicholson, as well as the narrative decision to minimize Jack’s alcoholism (a personal demon of Stephen King while writing the novel). It explores classic horror tropes, without exploiting them, and delivers a dizzying and shocking production. It was intended to be Kubrick’s follow-up to his unsuccessful film, Barry Lyndon in 1975.
The title of the film and the novel was originally inspired by a song off John Lennon’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’ – “Instant Karma”, in which he sings: “we all shine on.” The title refers to the extra-sensory abilities of the hotel’s head cook, O’Halloran, and Jack’s son, Danny. They both have an ability to communicate telepathically and to see visions. The film is a disorienting trip into the isolated Colorado wilderness, with allusions to the Donner party and a hotel built upon an Indian burial ground. Jack Torrance and his family, Wendy and young Danny, travel from the east coast where Jack was a teacher and a writer, to this remote hotel in Colorado which is a successful ski resort for part of the year until the winter, when it closes down due to the roads being blocked by heavy snow.
The plot is simple, yet the film lasts over two hours, indicating the slow pace of the tension as the family’s descends into chaos. In the film the frozen and echoingly silent hotel, “The Overlook” plays just as much a role in the creepy plot. (Note: the winding carpets were inspired by Native American motifs and were later used as the carpets for the evil child named Sid at his home in Toy Story). Jack becomes compelled by the vague demons that haunt the hotel who urge him to kill his whole family. In the end, he chases Danny through the hedge maze and winds up freezing in the snow while Danny and Wendy escape. The film closes with a peculiar photo from the 1920s which clearly shows Jack as a waiter at the hotel. Apparently, he has always been at the hotel.
Some favorite fan theories include that the premise of the film is a metaphor for the holocaust or the genocide of the Native Americans, or a theory that Room 237 is a reference to the distance from the earth to the moon, further confirming the conspiracy theory that the moon landing was faked and filmed in Hollywood by Stanley Kubrick (who had a somewhat cozy relationship with NASA with 2001: A Space Odyssey). Other theories suggest the film is a mirror for Western imperialism or the dangers of alcoholism on a family. Kubrick’s longtime assistant dismissed some of these theories.
Kubrick insisted on shooting the entire film in chronological order, and it was shot in various places between England and Oregon (further disappointing Stephen King). The long filming process was exhausting for the actors, and they grew extremely frustrated with the constant script revisions and long working hours. Kubrick was known for treating his actors terribly, especially Shelley Duvall, who suffered a nervous breakdown on set (as captured by Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian Kubrick, in her short documentary, The Making of the Shining).
The Shining is an excellent film, avoiding the pitfalls and expected clichés of a standard horror movie. The true horror of the film lies in the exposed natures of each character. In total isolation, at the mercy of nature, as well as the unpredictable supernatural forces, the characters experience the fear of a callous natural world along with a intentionally harmful supernatural world, as Jack is revealed to be a weak-willed man, a killer overcome by an addictive personality; Wendy is typically a subordinate, docile woman but in this situation she gains strength; and the audiences constantly wonders if Danny will be overcome by the spirits haunting the hotel and turn evil, though he never does.