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Film Review: The Shining

Updated on October 31, 2016


In 1980, Stanley Kubrick released The Shining, based on the 1977 novel by Stephen King of the same name. Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Phillip Stone, Joe Turkel, Tony Burton, Lia Beldam, Billie Gibson, Barry Dennen, Lisa Burns, Louise Burns, and Anne Jackson, the film grossed $44.4 million at the box office. Nominated for the Razzie Awards for Worst Actress and Worst Director and the Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film, Best Director, and Best Music, the film won the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor.


Alcoholic writer Jack Torrance takes a job as the winter caretaker for an old and luxurious hotel known as the Overlook Hotel which becomes completely snowed in every winter. He brings along his wife Wendy and son Danny as well. However, as time passes, Danny discovers he has psychic powers and receives odd visions and at the same time, Jack becomes more and more unstable.


While not entirely all that faithful to the book, The Shining is still a fantastic film, detailing Jack’s descent into madness. What’s fascinating is the film suggests that he’s not entirely all together to begin with, considering his establishing scene, where he’s being interviewed for the position, shows him as having stilted interactions that don’t come off as entirely genuine. Even after the audience learns he’s a recovering alcoholic, the film continues to show that he has some discontentment with his life and family while on the car ride to the Overlook. When talking to them, his mannerisms give the feeling like he’s making an attempt to be a good father and husband, but all he really wants to do is be left alone. Yet it’s after the three of them are left at the hotel for the winter when he really starts to deteriorate. During his time at the hotel, Jack is seen succumbing to the effects of the hotel. He combines dissonant quietness with sinister stares, can only seem to write one single line of text over and over again and at one point even says he’ll sell his soul for a drink only to be met with an appearing bartender. It goes all the way to the end of the film where he’s not hiding any attempt at sweetness towards Wendy anymore when he says he’s going to kill her with the iconic “Here’s Johnny” scene showing just how far he’s gone over the edge. Even in the end, when he’s chasing Danny through the hedge maze, he’s so far gone that he can’t even make words anymore and resorts to bellowing like a wild animal.

Contrast all this with Danny who is able to channel the Overlook’s evil through his Shining sense. He’s able to see the apparitions and while it terrifies him, Danny’s able to understand that something sinister is afoot. Before even going to the hotel, he has an idea that something is going to happen as he has visions of two girls together and blood coming from the elevator. Further whenever he taps into the Shining, the sense speaks as Tony through his finger in a gravelly voice that at one point is loud enough to wake Wendy and alert her right before Jack starts hitting the door with an axe. As a whole, the hotel affects Danny in the complete opposite way it does Jack. The boy stays sane because of his power, even though what he’s seeing is terrifying him while it takes Jack’s sanity away from him. Wendy just happens to be caught in the middle of it all and is just the recipient of Jack’s insanity until the end where she realizes the evilness of the hotel.

One notable aspect about the film is that Kubrick made the hotel itself into a character and the implications thereof have been hotly debated ever since the film was released. It does hint that the hotel has elements of being able to warp reality and its own architecture as the layout doesn’t make any sense, such as there being angles inside that aren’t there on the outside and windows where there shouldn’t be. What’s more is that it keeps itself like a maze, making it easy for all the characters to lose themselves. It’s interesting to note that the ghost butler of Charles Grady tells Jack that he’s been the caretaker forever and the final shot has a photo of the 1924 Fourth of July party with Jack in it. This seems to imply that not only was Grady correct in that he’s been the caretaker forever, but that the hotel absorbed his soul and he continues to be reincarnated only to find himself in charge of the hotel forever.

5 stars for The Shining


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