Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Shining is back, and it’s twenty four minutes longer with the release of the extended American version. For those who have never watched The Shining, it will resolutely change the way you see the horror genre. For everyone else who has already watched it and thinks they are done with it, think again. Every shot, so many of which have invaded the memory bank of our cultural psyche, is as fresh to watch as the first time. Unlike simple-minded blood and guts films such as the likes of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, it is the psychologically-driven horror films that give the longest running spook.
The plot is straight forward enough. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is an aspiring writer who has been working blue-collar jobs, much to his disgust, in order to support his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). At the film’s opening, we see him being interviewed for a caretaker position in an isolated hotel, the Outlook, which closes for the long winter months due to the snow. With the aim of using this solitary time to begin writing seriously, Jack takes the position despite the history of the hotel and its past caretakers, one of whom killed himself and his family when suffering a bout of severe cabin fever. Cut to his son Danny, eerily speaking to himself, or more specifically his alter ego Tony who lives in his mouth and communicates in a most pantomime way; through Danny’s wagging index finger. Danny already feels a sense of foreboding closing in on him, and so too does the audience as Danny’s powers are quickly accredited when he predicts a phone call between his parents. During the rest of the 142 minute long film, the dark mystical ‘traces’ left behind in the hotel goad Jack’s violent streak into extreme action. Watch in abject terror, or at least tension, as both the haunted house and isolation lead to the disintegration of a family.
There are so many rich features in the film it is impossible to touch upon them all, which is another reason why the film deserves to be re-watched. The superbly named Scatman Crothers resonates quite powerfully on screen, as does the cook Dick Hallorann, even though he has limited screen time. His relationship with fellow shiner Danny sums up the good supernatural force in King’s novel in a succinct and heart-warming way. Many critics and viewers have also commented on the elusive but constant presence of the Native Americans and the issue of race and domination at the beating heart of the film. During the interview Jack is told the hotel is built on an old Indian burial ground, and during building they had to stave off tribal attacks. The grandest rooms of the hotel are designed with Navajo patterns. While Jack seems to brush off the hotel’s history, his allusion to the ‘white man’s burden’ in the hotel bar in the midst of his delusions echoes back to this haunting presence. While Jack, the quintessential racist white man may think of the hotel as a fortress of sorts, the hotel beats to a different drum. In a grisly revenge, it captures and consumes him.
Cultural commentator Isaiah Berlin stated that genius can be defined as anyone who changes their chosen field of work forever, no matter the way. Kubrick most certainly creates his own filmic language in The Shining, which is not outdone by his often more critically lauded works such as Dr. Strangelove and 2001: Space Odyssey. The screen bleeds with colour even before the hotel elevator doors open and a river of blood thrashes out. The innovative camera work, which saw the introduction of the steadicam (another Kubrick favourite) in the much loved and feared shots of Danny cycling down the inhabited hallways. Though some critique Nicholson’s performance as charicatural, it is him at his best, amped up and veering for a head-on collision. He is credible as both the slightly irascible writer who truly believes everything is copacetic in the Outlook, and as the later bull of a man. Duvall shines as the wide-eyed misfortunate, as does young Danny, who beckons to something as fascinating as the haunting; a benevolent clairvoyance. It is by no means a facsimile of the book, with Stephen King even stating he disagreed with it completely, but instead Kubrick did mould it into something original of his own. The Shining will go down in the annals as one of the greatest horror films ever.