GREAT MOVIES ESSAY: The Shining (1980)


The genius in The Shining – and indeed, all of Kubrick’s work – is the fact that Kubrick never gives anything away. The Shining is a mystery. A void of confusion. A paradox of unexplainable events. The film’s final shot reveals the fact that Jack Torrance has been at the hotel all of this time – or has he? Questions are posed throughout the film, mainly concerning the issue of whether the events did actually happen, or just occurred in one of the character’s minds. Did Danny actually ever see the two twins? Is Grady a real person? Or maybe, to delve even further, did any of the events actually ever happen? The Shining is shot in such an objective and distanced manner; it’s as if the spirits of the hotel (the hotel is build above an old Indian burial ground) are watching the events unfold. Are the spirits presenting us a false representation? Or are all the events true? Or is everything just a figment of Jack’s imagination? Who knows.

Has Jack Torrance always been at The Overlook?

Has Jack Torrance always been at The Overlook?

To truly solve what actually happens is impossible, and this is one of the many delights of the film itself. After all, nothing is more interesting, engaging (and indeed, scary) as a mystery. Especially an unsolvable one.

The Shining is also a film of outstanding technical brilliance. It’s Kubrick’s most well-made film, next to 2001. The dazzlingly cold opening shot is faultless and impressive. It’s a helicopter shot panning over an enormous river, and it’s done so perfectly: the image on screen looks like a painting, the water doesn’t move or ripple, it stays perfectly still, even such a subtlety as this creates the atmosphere of the film, we instantly know that something isn’t quite right. Indeed, this atmosphere maintains throughout the entire movie, and due to Kubrick’s well-used slow-pacing: a creepy build-up of dread and tension is created. Even in the interview scene, there are awkward pauses, and Jack gives fake smiles, and seems a little shocked about what he’s being told. He then says the second most-quotable line from the film (I’ll leave you to work out the first): “Rest assured, that won’t happen to me”. He tilts his head, opens his eyes and mouth in glee and raises his eyebrows. Something ain’t right.

"...that won't happen to me..."

"...that won't happen to me..."

The Shining never relies on cheap gimmicks to provoke a reaction, there is no gore, blood, intestine, or a shot of three people connected mouth to anus (sorry Human Centipede fans). Instead, Kubrick relies on well-crafted dolly and tracking shots, surrealism and atmosphere to disturb and shock his viewers. It has often been commented upon that the tricycle scenes are the most disturbing part of the movie. Indeed they are. We get a feeling that something is going to happen as Danny turns around the next corner. Of course, it never does. I must point out, I have seen The Shining numerous times, and even though I know that nothing is around each corner, the tricycle scenes still maintain a high amount of tension to it. Surely that makes The Shining something quite of an achievement in the horror genre?

The Shining - making you scared shitless of hallways since 1980

The Shining - making you scared shitless of hallways since 1980

The use of sound in the film is also effective, the high-pitched shrieking violins, the melodious opening soundtrack creates tension and a hell of an atmosphere. Perhaps I’m over-analysing here, but even the different sounds that the tricycle makes as it glides from wooden floor to soft rug in the  living area of The Overlook is oddly quite chilling and disturbing, I’d go as far as to say that this was intentional, and knowing Kubrick’s perfectionism, wanted to get the timing perfect between the tricycle moving from wooden floor to rug just right.

I think Jack Nicholson’s performance has been frequently touched in reviews and analyses of this film. But it really is one of his best performances (next to his stunning one as McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Shelley Duvall’s performance is also excellent, she cries in almost every scene without becoming tiresome or unbelievable, she really is turly terrified, and becomes increasingly more terrified as Jack becomes increasingly more insane.

One of Jack Nicholson's greatest performances

One of Jack Nicholson's greatest performances

In fact, everything in The Shining works, it literally does (scuze the cliché) tick all of the boxes.

Perhaps I’m just fanboying over Kubrick or Jack Nicholson’s performance, or all of the gorgeously composed shots. But I don’t think I am, I find this film terrifying, and it is the only horror film to make me literally feel my heart pound in my chest, to make me sweat and shake in terror.

Sod The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, watch The Shining instead.


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