What’s real? Who can I trust? Does it matter? Stanley Kubrick’s , The Shining , dives headfirst in its examination into the inner workings of the human mind. This story of an isolated family, forced to man and take care of an otherworldly hotel, tackles issues associated with violence, dependence, and isolation-making sure to weave a narrative that highlights each of the above in nuanced and diverse ways.
The first shot sets the tone and really drives home how isolated the main environment of the movie, the Overlook Hotel, is from society. As we follow Jack Torrance’s, played by Jack Nicholson, car driving up the long, winding, mountain road we get to see he how far away the area is from the rest of society.
As he enters the hotel we’re greeted with one of many “timeline” narration cards. I loved how they were used frequently to give a sense of progression of time in the movie, but more interestingly, they made the movie feel more like a novel. I haven’t read the Stephen King novel, this adaptation is based on, but the structure of the acts and their respective lengths made the movie feel like a visual book, as opposed to a normal movie. Almost like it wanted to convey the sense of progression and growth a book can do. The effect felt really impactful in highlighting character progression/regression. Furthermore, the use of one-point perspective for a lot of the scarier and more visually striking shots helped the more intense moments of the movie feel haunting. I couldn’t avert my gaze, and a lot of the times, the “lead up” to the eventual reveal was as if not more intense than the final image, due to the amount of tension and anxiety it created.
The family dynamic present between him, his wife, and their son serve as the catalyst for a lot of important plot points. Paying attention to their interactions at the beginning of the movie, you can tell despite the initial strain, there’s an attempt at kind of coming together and connecting. But as more information gets revealed, the faces slowly reveal fear and paranoia, and a fuller picture of the family comes up. Watching Wendy’s (played by Shelley Duvall) expressions to her husband’s continued eccentricities was simultaneously engrossing and petrifying. I did find it interesting that despite being most intimately connected to the “shining,” Danny (played by Danny Lloyd), doesn’t play as big a role as I thought he would. He was believable in the sequences he was in though, and I enjoyed his other voice/performance.
However, any discussion of the acting in the movie would be remiss if it didn’t go over Jack Nicholson’s performance. He stole the show here and really helped sell the mood and theme of the whole movie. From the moment we meet the Torrance patriarch, he seems like a man on the edge of a see-saw, almost like he’s teetering on the edge of madness. From his facial expressions, to his responses to scenarios he feels like an volcano, ready to blow. As the events of the movie progress, we see him desperately try and maintain a sense of control-of not only himself, but his grasp on reality.
Thankfully, for Jack , Kubrick wants the audience to join him, by casting doubt about everything. Characters say things that contradict previously understood information. Then something happens to confirm the contradiction. Then something happens that maybe throws that previous thing out of the water. Or maybe not. That’s the beauty of the movie. It leaves a lot open-ended, but it does so in a way that feels earned and not sloppy. Camera angles, transitions, and brief still images constantly kept me on edge, wondering if I really did have a grasp on what was going on.
TLDR: The Shining is a haunting tale of the effects of isolation and dependency. By using an already strained family as the main characters and splashing in elements of the supernatural, it takes its themes and questions to some of their most interesting destinations.
Final Rating: 10/10 Beautifully paced, shot, and executed. I’ll be thinking about the ending for a while and who was actually telling the truth
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!