Monday, 8 December 2014

Review: The Shining

Figure 1: Theatrical Poster (IMDb)

  • Native Title: The Shining


  • Primary Language: English
  • Format: Colour
  • Year of release: 1980
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Budget: est. $19,000,000
  • Film Length: 142 minutes
  • Production Company: Warner Brothers


  •     Another Kubrickian classic based on a novel of the same name by Stephen King  The Shining is a dark, surreal and supenseful look the maddening effects of isolation along with maybe-or-maybe not supernatural atmosphere.

        The film starts off feeling like a King setting - mountains and pine forests in rural Colorado cut by a ribbon of asphalt as we see a Volkswagon beetle drive up to the magnificent-looking Overlook Hotel. A huge 1920s neoclassical hotel building built on the mountain slopes. After passing though it's doors Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) talks about a job offer he recieved as winter caretaker. The interviewer telling him of an unpleasant event that, according to Jack, his supervisors neglected to mention.

        When Jack agrees to the job, we cut to Danny (his son, palyed by Danny Lloyd) looking in the mirror talking to "Tony", an entity Danny claims lives in his finger that tells him things. And by "tells him things" the film means either Danny talking to himself in a raspy voice... or experiencing visceral images via hard-cut with the occasional jump to see Danny's reaction. All in all very disturbing thing for a child to expereince. We get a further glypse of this power when Dick Hallorann, the head chef, telepathically asks him "Do you want some ice cream, Doc?" Dick asks him later and Danny agrees, and we get more exposition - as Dick and apparently Danny are capable of "shining", a form of wordless communication between two people. Kubrick's version of the tale has less of a supernatural element to it than the original King novel so it could be that Dick is describing one possible interpretation of the kind of close bond some people form where discussions can be performed with expression and emotion rather than words, in a sense "knowing" what the other person is thinking based on how much you two know each other.

    Figure 2: Jack's reaction to Wendy accusing him of hurting
    Danny sells well that the family is breaking down and things are
    getting very strange. (Portilla, 2012
        Like with Beauty And The Beast, the film protrays the supernatural quality of certain moments with little flair to them; sudden transformations, telepathic acts, even the hotel's ghosts are all more tricks of the eye than some magical element due to the lack of overt special effects. "[Kubrick's] adaptation of The Shining, Stephen King's pulpy haunted-house novel, keeps forcing reasonable — or non-occult — interpretations on the behavior, variously bonkers and bloody, that his camera records with its customary elegance" (Schickel. 1980). There are still some very surreal moments thanks to camera and editing trickery: In one scene Jack walks over to a scale model of a maze outside, looks down and the camera closes in on what appears to be his wife and son as they reach the centre, as if he is seeing his family arrive at the centre of the tiny maze. This isn't magic but it is one example of what hallucinations are really like and Kubric does well in presenting hallucinations as real physical moments. There are even some moments that raise the question of whether or not one of these hallucinations was a real event. For instance, one midway scene shows Danny about to explore Room 237 (where Dick told him to avoid). We next see him walking into the main hall bleeding from scratchmarks his tweater torn at the shoulder. While Jack's wife Wemdy (Shelly Duvall) accuses him of hurting Danny despite the fact Jack was in the hall and with Wendy for a good amount of time beforehand, which brings up the question of "how did he get so badly injured?". Jack's clueless expression probably sells the confusing situation best


    Figure 3: One of Nicholson's...less terror-inducing crazyfaces.
    (Fan M, 2013)
        At it's heart this is a psychological horror the ghosts of the mansion's past tug at the trings of not just family unity, but personal sanity which - in a development method Kubrick is famous for - looks quite convincing even if a bit silly at times. "Jack played a very interesting role. "The crazier Nicholson gets, the more idiotic he looks. Shelley Duvall transforms the warm sympathetic wife of the book into a simpering, semi-retarded hysteric." (Variety Staff, 1979) As he progresses, Jack's increasing unhingement can be seen in his facial expressions, some frightening, some rather funny, while Shelly Duvall descends into a gibbering wreck begging for mercy from her crazed husband as she limply swings a baseball bat to keep him away. While some critics argue that Wendy was turned into a blubbering hysteric whe nthings started getting bad. Due to Shelley's experiences of Kubrick's method, it is possible that she gave a more authentic portrayal of trying to cope with a murderous husband in an isolated environment than is often shown in similar films; As mentioned Kubrick pushed his actors to breaking point with endless retakes and sneaky tricks to strain the cast, and we as humans can become very different when our minds are strained and we are pushed to the brink of what we can handle which is what exactly happened. Rather than trying to guess how the characters would behave under stress Shelley's and Jack's performances stem from a real feeling of stress, frustration and torment brought on by Kubrick's signature technique for making films.

    Figure 4: Four months in an empty mansion? Even a jerk like
    Dilbert Grady would make good conversation by then.
    (Cinematheia, 2014)
       At the barebones the film might not be that special when who made it is taken into account; Kubrick continued his pedantic desire to make things perfect, Jack Nicholson plays a guy losing his mind and the film is swelling with symbolism and metaphoric imagery. However it is a solid example of a film adaptation of a book done in a creative and interesting manner. Thanks to Kubrick's talents the descent into madness that Jack Torrance experiences in the original novel is portrayed in a more down-to-earth and very convincing manner, with most of the film indicating ambiguity on whether it's the house or the situation driving him insane as In the beginning for instance, the manager Jack talks to assumed the previous caretaker's homicidal rampage to be the result of cabin fever, a psychological condition caused by prolonged isolation and lack of stimulation in an interior environment. In the film's case I'd say "five months in an empty mountain hotel with downed phone lines and just his wife and daughters for company" could bring such a condition on. Anxiety, irritability, restlessness and distrust of others are common symptoms which Jack himself just so happens to end up suffering. While the film does return to the supernatural near the end, there's still some question as to whether they ar really being haunted or if their creeping mania is blurring what is real and what is a hallucenation. Maybe the appearance of the former caretaker was a combination of what he was told about Grady, what he thought about him, and a subconsious desire to interact with someone other than his wife and son?

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    1 comment:

    1. :D Another thoughtful review.... good stuff!

      ReplyDelete