You let that crazy shine on through, Nicholson!
Aspiring writer Jack Torrance has been paying the bills as a teacher, but he longs for more time to write. After kicking booze due to a nasty incident where he injured his child, Torrance accepts a position as the winter caretaker for The Overlook Hotel. He packs up wife Wendy and son Danny and heads for rural Colorado, where they soon get snowed in. It doesn’t take long for the paranormal weirdness to start affecting Torrance, though.
The Shining is one of those horror movies that always pops up on Top 10 Horror lists and is cited by many folks as a movie that scared the hell out of them. There’s a good reason for that. If you watch The Shining, it’s a relatively bloodless movie, especially in comparison to some of the other movies I’ve watched recently. Kubrick conducts a damn master class in suspense. Most of the movie is actually build-up, rather than anything really happening. And the scene that always freaks me out the most is the scene where Wendy (Shelley Duvall) discovers that the “book” Jack is working on is actually just page after page of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” typed over and over again.
It’s odd because I’m not a huge Stanley Kubrick fan, but the sense of isolation and growing dread he subtly infuses is just genius. The Shining is just the story of a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic patriarch filtered through the paranormal lens of The Overlook Hotel. Even before Nicholson takes up residence in The Overlook, he already has the look of a man teetering on the edge of complete psychosis. And Shelley Duvall porrays the poor put-upon wife, Wendy, so well as a woman desperately trying to re-weave the last tangled threads holding her family together.
The Shining wouldn’t work half as well if not for the spooky score and brilliantly constructed sets. It’s a long movie, for sure, but an effective one. Even with the creepiness of Room 237 and the scary looking twin girls, it was always Jack’s conversations with Mr. Grady, the previous caretaker who went nuts and chopped up his wife and twin girls with an axe, that bothered me the most. There’s one conversation in particular that stems around “correcting” family behavior that’s eerie.
The concept of being snowbound with an insane family member, one you thought you knew very well a that, is scary enough, but when Kubrick adds in the specters and tricks The Overlook plays on its inhabitants, as well as the trauma sustained by Danny, Wendy and Jack’s psychically sensitive son with fanatically fine-tuned construction and planning, The Shining becomes a movie that shockingly transcends its source material.
That’s a big statement, considering Stephen King is probably the most popular American author living. I refuse to give Dan Brown any credit, since King can actually write. And most King adaptations have either been middling or just plain crap, with a few exceptions. (Even King himself disowned the atrocious Lawnmower Man.) Even though Kubrick’s version of The Shining deviates in major ways from King’s book, it’s actually all the better for it. I think Stephen King disagrees with me, but The Shining is one of the few movies that feels very close to being pitch perfect.