Despite deviating from Stephen King’s source material, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a cinematic masterpiece that has stood the test of time. A flawless piece of psychological horror with a list of hidden meanings, mysteries and easter eggs so long that it still fuels discussions, debates and documentaries to this day.
Spoilers for The Shining below.
The story, at surface level, follows the Torrance family who head to an isolated hotel for the winter. Things start to go awry fairly quickly as a sinister presence influences Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) to become increasingly violent, meanwhile, his psychic son Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) begins receiving confronting visions of both the past and future. Right from the opening sequence when that iconic score kicks in with the first few notes, the gradual descent into madness begins and you are locked in thanks to an almost instantaneous, ominous and mysterious tone. In the first act of the story, Kubrick sets the stage for everything that’s to come in an act of foreshadowing and setup so immaculate it’s incredible the rest of the film is able to deliver a satisfying payoff. Between Danny’s initial discussions with Tony, Wendy’s (Shelley Duvall) conversation with the doctor and Jack’s meeting with Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) it’s all gearing towards a confluence of events that will end in tragedy.
Kubrick is a master when it comes to building tension over time. Whether it’s through the more subtle eerie dialogue, the tracking shots of Danny riding through the mysterious hallways or the rather confronting visions of the hotel’s past, everything is cleverly designed to bring you closer and closer to the edge of your seat. The entire film is shrouded in claustrophobia, every shot feels like you’re trapped in the hotel with a man unravelling at his core and you can’t do anything but watch. The way Kubrick takes this increasingly stressful atmosphere and places you in the thick of it is fantastic. As the film reaches its climax, it’s like a pressure cooker that has been pushed to its limit and shit hits the fan. Everything begins to unravel 10x quicker than it came together as the film heads towards an iconic final shot that takes everything you just saw, flips it on its head and commands you to watch it all again. When it comes to pacing, tension and crafting a story that has you hooked from A-to-Z, Stanley Kubrick is one of the best to ever live and this is his magnum opus.
The haunting performance from Jack Nicholson is beyond incredible. He completely disappears into the role of Jack Torrance and depicts a man going to the depths of insanity in what is his most captivating performance. Behind-the-scenes footage shows Jack going to some quite terrifying lengths to wholly embody his character and it pays off. He commands the screen whenever he is there and is the driving force of this movie. Shelley Duvall is great at selling the fear and sheer terror of being trapped in this hotel and this marriage where things really aren’t going well. But she’s outshone by the young Danny Lloyd who has what you could say is the most important role in the film as Danny. Danny is the one with the shining, he receives all the visions and in a way, it’s he who ends up thwarting his father’s plans in the end. His performance as Danny and Tony throughout the film is deeply engaging and impressive for such a young actor.
Despite only having a very limited presence in the film, Scatman Crothers makes a memorable impression as Dick Hallorann, the chef of the Overlook Hotel who also shares the same powers as young Danny. He’s a part of the mystical elements of the film from the beginning, so his identity is engrained in the rest of the film whenever something odd starts happening. Even Joe Turkel, who only appears a handful of times and only to Jack Torrance, makes a lasting impression as Lloyd, one of the creations of the Overlook. Such a talented actor, he makes such a minor character just as memorable as the leads with his chilling delivery of very few lines.
The Shining really is a cinematic masterpiece and a shining example of phenomenal cinematography and how so much emotion can be conveyed through cleverly framed shots and eerie sweeping shots. But even more, it’s a film that raises questions that have many possible answers, the biggest being what the deal is with Jack Torrance in the photo of the Overlook Hotel dated 1921. Well, my theory on this is as follows:
Basically, anyone who has entered the Overlook Hotel in the past has become trapped in the hotel, perhaps not in the physical sense but definitely in terms of their soul.
Way back in the early years of the hotel, one of the caretakers by the name of Delbert Grady was driven mad and killed his wife and kids, from this point on, the Overlook Hotel has reincarnated its old staff, luring them back to the hotel and corrupting them to also kill their wife and kids. First, it reincarnated Delbert Grady as Charles Grady who also killed his wife and kids in the hotel in 1970. Now, it has reincarnated the staff member in that old photo as Jack Torrance and lured him to the hotel to do the same. They’re my thoughts on the matter, but whether they’re right or wrong, who knows.
In the end, The Shining is and will forever be one of my favourite films of all time. It’s a timeless masterpiece that will remain an iconic piece of cinema forever. Now it’s time to see if the upcoming sequel, Doctor Sleep, will prove to be a worthy followup and emulate a similar tone to this classic.