In The Shining, the winter caretaker of an isolated hotel goes crazy and tries murdering his family.
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a recovering alcoholic, gets a job as the winter caretaker for the sprawling Overlook Hotel in Colorado with the hopes of writing. Despite warnings that the previous caretaker went crazy and murdered his family, Jack will be taking his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd). Danny learns that he has telepathic powers from the cook, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), at the Overlook that he calls ‘the shining’ and has visions of horrific things while at the hotel. When isolation in the huge hotel begins to set in, the Overlook begins looking for ways to tempt Jack into murdering his family.
I have left my synopsis of The Shining intentionally vague because I’d like to briefly discuss some of my theories about the film. Spoilers throughout for those of you that haven’t seen the film yet.
I believe that the most important scene in The Shining is when Dick Hallorann is speaking with Danny about the hotel and the shining. One specific thing of note is that he says some buildings can shine just like some people can. During Jack’s initial walk-through of the Overlook, he is told by the Ullman, the manager, that the hotel was built on top of an Indian burial ground. I know King has derided Kubrick’s vision of the film for lacking the motivations for Jack’s insanity (whether or not it is from ghosts/spirits or just from Jack going crazy) but I think it is pretty clear that the Overlook can shine and preys on the weak mind of an abusive alcoholic father that was already on the edge before getting to the hotel. We know there are strong forces at work because *something* lets Jack out of the pantry. While there are obvious tones of dysfunctional relationships in the Torrance family, the Overlook is the catalyst here.
The Shining as Stephen King envisioned it is a ghost story (note – this is just from what I have heard, I am reading the novel now to form my own opinions) and Kubrick turned the story into something more intangible, but there are definitely ghostly things happening. The beauty of The Shining is that it holds mysteries much like the Overlook itself. We do not fully understand what is happening all the time, even after repeat viewings. I know some may see this as a deficiency but I see it as genius, though frustrating at times. While Kubrick obviously had a firm vision of what he wanted, some of his choices are not clear so a little trust must be given that everything serves a purpose in some way.
I cannot write a review of The Shining without spending some time talking about the cinematography, so allow me to get this out of the way. A few years before The Shining, cameras were not really used as handhelds, they were mounted on tripods for stable shots or dollies for tracking, but Garrett Brown came along and invented the Steadicam. The Steadicam uses gyroscopes to allow a camera operator to move but keeps the camera steady. This device allows amazing one-point perspective tracking shots following the actors in close proximity, especially Danny in his big wheel, and gives the viewer a sense of actually following the character. In the vast corridors and rooms of the Overlook, it is truly a work of beauty.
To me, The Shining is a perfect horror movie and its one that completely mesmerized me the first time I watched it and every single time since. It firmly has a place in my top films of all time. The Shining is the film that not only sparked much of motivation to learn more about movies, but it sparked my interest in Stanley Kubrick, my favorite director. The film is just as mystical as the hotel it takes place in and that allure keeps drawing me to The Shining time after time.
I give it 5 “Things could be better, Lloyd. Things could be a whole lot better”s out of 5.