Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The Shining (1980)
The Shining (1980)
The Shining is one of those quintessential movies. So many things from this movie are referenced, quoted, or even outright copied. This is largely because it is an exceedingly successful horror film. Its ability to build suspense is such that, before bad things even start happening, you are utterly terrified. This film is a wonderful piece of horror, and certainly one of my most favorite movies of all time.
The story of this film is very interesting. Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson is an unsuccessful writer who is traveling to the Overlook Hotel, deep in the Colorado mountains for a job interview – he is going to be the caretaker for the Hotel during the winter. During the interview, it is revealed that weird things have happened to caretakers, who are driven insane by the solitude. The previous caretaker hacked his wife and two kids to pieces, and then killed himself. The film then cuts to Jack’s family, who are having breakfast. Later on it’s revealed that the son, Danny, has some form of ESP, and tells the future through the use of an alter ego, who he calls Tony (he describes him of as the little man who lives in his mouth). Tony sends various images to Danny, telling him that “the blood goes to the hotel”, causing him to pass out. A doctor is called, and it’s revealed during the checkup that Jack was an alcoholic, but had recently given up the stuff, and there had been cases of abuse in the family. The family then travels to the hotel, and are given a tour of the place, Danny meets a cook who has similar powers to him (which the man calls “the shining”). The man feigns ignorance, but gives the sense that the hotel is very dangerous. The family is eventually left alone, and, after a month of nothing, things begin to get weird. Jack begins to get touchy, and is easily irritated. Meanwhile, Danny starts seeing strange things, such as two twin girls, and rivers of blood flowing through the hotel. Eventually, Jack begins going insane, and, by the end, takes an axe and starts actively trying to kill his family, egged on by hallucinations he begins interacting with.
This film is stupendously acted. Jack Nicholson gives an absolutely amazing performance. He plays insanity incredibly well, and his lines are very well delivered. This film also features great performances from the mother and the son. The directing is also very good. Stanley Kubrick does an excellent job, and features many great shots. The film has a lot of still shots, and one of the most incredible things the film does is to contrast a lot of still, serene shots with behind the back shots with a lot of movement. The most memorable of these is the contrast of Jack sitting quietly in his study writing, with the over the shoulder shot of Danny riding his tricycle through the halls. This is extremely disorienting, and creates a lot of tension which builds nicely throughout the film to the climax, which is one of the most memorable in film. Another very famous scene is when Jack takes an axe, and begins battering down a door. When a hole gets cut into the door, Jack sticks his face in, and yells, “Here’s Johnny!”, which is perhaps the most memorable scene in the film.
Another thing I particularly like about this film is the mother, Wendy, who is played by Shelly Duvall. She plays a good and very intelligent survivor in this film, and is unusually “genre savvy” for a horror film. This is best exemplified during the climactic axe scene, where Jack has cut a hole in the door. He reaches his hand in to open the door from the inside, and Wendy grabs a knife and stabs his hand. The other thing I like about this film is the ambiguities. Throughout the film, it’s hard to say whether Jack’s insanity is through some supernatural force which possesses him, or whether it’s cabin fever and solitude. Even to the end the film isn’t exactly definitive.
This film is on the list because of its effect on culture and the horror genre. There are so many things in this film which are referenced constantly in popular culture. For example, the twin girls in dresses holding hands, the tricycle scene, REDRUM, “Here’s Johnny” (which itself is a reference to the Johnny Carson show). When I watched this film I was really quite surprised how many things in this film I had seen elsewhere. The pervasiveness of this film in pop culture is really striking. Moreover, this film is a great example of what horror should be. The film sets the exposition very well, and builds anticipation, and anxiety really well to a point at which, when Nicholson finally does get the axe, you are ready to jump out of your chair. The thing I like about this film is, while there is blood, there really isn’t a whole lot of gore. One person dies in the whole film. It’s just further proof that for a film to be scary, you don’t need explicit scenes of arms being pulled off, and people being disemboweled.