Friday, August 17, 2012

The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick
1980 • 142 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Color • English • Warner Bros.

Cast:  Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd
Screenplay:  Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson based on the book by Stephen King
Producer: Stanley Kubrick
Cinematography: John Alcott

Awards and Honors

American Film Institute
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills: #29
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains: #25 Villain
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes: #68 "Here's Johnny!"

The Essential Films

Some places are like people: some shine and some don't. 


Jack Torrance is a struggling, alcoholic writer that takes a job as a caretaker for the Overlook hotel during the winter season.  He feels that the isolation and solitude will help him get over his writer's block while also making a little money, taking along his wife and his psychic son to keep him company.  Soon the hotel is snowed in by a massive snowstorm and Jack's frustrations and the hotel's haunted past slowly starts to drive Jack into a murderous psychotic state.


The Shining, by far, is one of the most legitimately terrifying films of all time and its influence can still be seen to this day.

Heeeere's Johnny!

The highlight of this film is clearly Jack Nicholson.  Nicholson has often been criticized as sometimes going over-the-top and being hammy.  I can't disagree with that. However, one could not criticize him overacting in this film.  At least, not until the climax... but by then a bravura performance is earned and, frankly, needed.  The whole film rests on his performance.  When we first see Jack Torrance, he is reserved, a little charming and slightly awkward.  The plot reveals that he is a struggling alcoholic who may have been abusive in the past. What we see at the beginning of the film is subtle... a man trying to keep his demons in check, and trying to be normal.  As the film progresses, and Jack's writer's block continues to frustrate him and he is cut off from the outside world via the snowstorm... slowly but surely you see his madness start to emerge.  The fact that the hotel is haunted also doesn't help matters either and the cracks in his psyche become giant fissures.  When he snaps, and boy does he SNAP, it's completely earned as the film has brought both Jack and the viewers to this madness.  It's perfectly executed filmmaking and acting here.  Perhaps it wasn't all acting, however, as Nicholson has stated in interviews that the script would change constantly, frustrating the actors, specifically Nicholson on a daily basis.  Interestingly enough, Robert DeNiro, Harrison Ford and Robin Williams were all considered for the part, but were rejected by author Stephen King.

Terrifying Shots

One of the main reasons the film is so genuinely terrifying, in addition to Nicholson's performance, is the way the film is shot. The cinematography by John Alcott sets the mood immediately.  Once the staff leaves the hotel and just the Torrances are left... the film just looks like something bad is about to happen.  Obviously Kubrick's vision guides the look of the film, which has some of the greatest and iconic horror movie shots of all time.  The most infamous obviously is of a deranged Torrance shoving his face through a hole in a door that he just busted open with an ax and screaming the famous (ad-libbed) "Heeere's Johnny!" (That scene, by the way, used a real door because Nicholson, who had experience as a fire marshall, tore down the fake door too quickly.) But there's also the reveal of the Grady twins standing in the hallway as Danny rounds the corner on his  big wheel (which used the revolutionary Stedicam technology).  Elevators of blood. Labyrinth chase in the blizzard.  All of these shots are engrained in your memory for years to come.

Setting is Everything

The Overlook Hotel is one of the scariest places ever shot on film.  It is a remarkable accomplishment in set design.  While it may seem like a static location, it has an undeniable presence.  It feels menacing by just existing.  It feels like it has been around forever, it feels like it does have a haunted past.  The film doesn't need to show us the ghosts for us to feel that it is haunted.  The use of mise-en-scene works to give the hotel its dominant presence, and even though it is a huge space, it feels claustrophobic and threatening. 

Interpretations (Spoilers Ahead)

Many thoughts are abound as to the ending of the film. Is the hotel haunted?  Is Jack just psychotic?  What about the photograph at the end of the film? Was Jack Torrance "absorbed" into the evil of the hotel? Or was he a reincarnation of the evil of the hotel?  Questions like this is what make the film re-watchable and enjoyable on many different levels.  The Shining, over 30 years later, remains a horror masterpiece.