THE HORROR IS DRIVING HIM CRAZY.
Ten years ago, a friend of mine and I had a nerdy contest where we decided to crown the greatest horror movie ever made. After plenty of heartbreaking comparisons and heated discussions, we agreed on one candidate that we both could accept as the scariest film ever made. Detractors may have found it a tad incoherent, but this is still one of the best. You shouldn’t think too hard about it, just surrender to its unforgettable horror sequences and its wintry, chilling beauty.
The Shining is still very potent and shows Stanley Kubrick proving to his younger colleagues at the time that he was the master, even when it came to ghost stories.
A new caretaker at the Overlook Hotel
Writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is hired as the new caretaker at the remote Overlook Hotel somewhere in Colorado over the winter but the manager also feels compelled to tell Jack about Charles Grady, the former caretaker. The hotel is completely isolated for several months and Grady went nuts, killing his family and then blowing his brains out. Jack is not deterred; isolation is what he’s hoping for as a writer. He brings his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to the hotel where they meet Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), the head chef. As he shows the family the kitchen and all the stored goods, Dick realizes that Danny shares his ability of seeing and feeling things other people can’t experience. When they’re alone, Dick explains this gift to Danny and calls it the “shining”; Danny tells him that he can sense that something is not right at the hotel.
When the Overlook Hotel closes for winter the Torrances are left alone. Jack tries to write, but can’t come up with anything good. As the atmosphere at the hotel begins to have an effect on Jack’s mind, Danny has violent visions of blood and murder; the past events at the hotel won’t let anyone forget.
Classical music for the right, uncomfortable mood
Kubrick starts his film with helicopter shots of a single car driving on a road that snakes into a mountainous landscape; the scene is accompanied by mysterious and frightening music based on Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”. The director cleverly uses various kinds of classical music (particularly by Penderecki) to get us in the right, uncomfortable mood. The Overlook Hotel and its maze are basically one huge set, if you can believe it; the overwhelming interiors almost take on a life of their own. Some of the visions are startling to say the least; the blood gushing out of the elevator, the murdered twins, the alluring woman who turns into a rotting, laughing corpse in Jack’s arms.
Stephen King admitted that there was much in this film that would be remembered but he hated the choices that Kubrick made. The movie can’t make up its mind if it wants to be a ghost story or a depiction of mental illness; it wants to be both, and honestly few people have ever considered that a problem. I like the director’s playfulness, the way he fuses fiction and reality; there’s a terrific scene where Jack stares at a model of the maze and suddenly you can see his family walking inside of it. Nicholson is amazing to watch, but his burning charisma also leaves few doubts about where he’s headed; he goes crazy too soon, too obviously.
I’ve been to the hotel where King began writing the book. It doesn’t quite look like the Overlook, but it has similarities. As you stand in front of it, facing the beautiful Rockies, you can’t help but think of the indelible images Kubrick and King both had part in creating. Even if they disagreed on how the movie turned out.
The Shining 1980-U.S. 142 min. Color. Produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson. Novel: Stephen King. Cinematography: John Alcott. Production Design: Roy Walker. Cast: Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance), Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrance), Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrance), Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Joe Turkel.
Trivia: European version runs 115 min. Robert De Niro and Robin Williams were allegedly considered for the part of Jack. Followed by Doctor Sleep (2019); remade as a miniseries, The Shining (1997). The film was analyzed in the documentary Room 237 (2012).
Last word: “I’ve always been interested in ESP and the paranormal. In addition to the scientific experiments which have been conducted suggesting that we are just short of conclusive proof of its existence, I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of opening a book at the exact page we’re looking for, or thinking of a friend a moment before they ring on the telephone. But ‘The Shining’ didn’t originate from any particular desire to do a film about this. The manuscript of the novel was sent to me by John Calley, of Warner Bros. I thought it was one of the most ingenious and exciting stories of the genre I had read. It seemed to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural in such a way as to lead you to think that the supernatural would eventually be explained by the psychological: ‘Jack must be imagining these things because he’s crazy’. This allowed you to suspend your doubt of the supernatural until you were so thoroughly into the story that you could accept it almost without noticing.” (Kubrick, interview with Michel Ciment)