Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Shining – review

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Release date: 1980

Contains spoilers

When I reviewed Doctor Sleep, the sequel to the Shining, I did so on the basis that the True Knot, the primary antagonists, are energy vampires who prey on (primarily) children with the shining. However, we are told within the film that the Overlook hotel also fed upon the Shining (making it a vampiric building) and that the ghosts within the hotel feed on it too (making them vampiric ghosts).

Now I’ll be the first to admit that looking retrospectively at the Kubrick film of the Shining as a vampire movie involves using the hindsight provided by Doctor Sleep as you would not necessarily come to the conclusion without the information from Doctor Sleep. But… tough… let’s claim this one for the genre.

the elevator
It is easy to assume that with a film that is so iconic and has implanted itself so deeply into the horror genre’s psyche (with the imagery of the twin girls (Lisa & Louise Burns), for instance, the bleeding elevator and, of course, “Here’s Johnny!”) that every reader would know the story but that is not necessarily going to be the case. It also needs saying that Stephen King went on the record as being disappointed with this interpretation of his novel. It is, perhaps, much more a Stanley Kubrick film than a Stephen king one (not necessarily a bad thing, by the way) – though the filmmakers behind Doctor Sleep did a great job of tying back to both novel (and the later mini-series thereof) and very noticeably this film.

Jack's interview
It starts with a car travelling through countryside, the only sign of civilisation is the road it clings to, as it heads to the mountains. The driver, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, the Little Shop of Horrors), is heading to the Overlook Hotel for a job interview to be the hotel’s caretaker whilst it is shut for the winter season. As the film progresses, we discover that he was a teacher who has decided to look to writing (after scandalously losing his job), that he is an alcoholic with a five-month sober chip and that his current sobriety can be traced back to him dislocating his son’s arm when drunk.

Danny and Wendy
His son is Danny (Danny Lloyd, Doctor Sleep), who is back home with his mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall, the Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers). She talks to him about the opportunity at the hotel but Tony, his invisible friend who Danny says lives in his throat and who he intimates with a finger and croaky voice, doesn’t want to go. Tony is the shining, Danny’s inherent psychic ability that he has personified as a way of understanding his gift. We see his power when Tony informs Danny that Jack has got the job and will ring Wendy. Danny asks why he doesn’t want to go and Tony refuses to answer but then gives him a vision involving the elevator flooding with blood and the twin ghosts. Danny comes around in his bed with the doctor (Anne Jackson) there.

Scatman Crothers as Hallorann
So, the trip back to the hotel and being shown around starts establishing the location and Danny’s gift. The Donner Party is mentioned as they travel to the hotel, referencing cannibalism of course, and they are told that the hotel was built on the site of an Indian Graveyard (the film pre-dating the use of the term Native American to describe the USA’s indigenous population). However, this inclusion, whilst not actually built upon, offers an interesting reading of the film with the hotel representing white colonialism, privilege and disrespect of non-white society. This marries with the hotel being opulent (a place for the jet set before they were called the jet set). Back in the narrative Danny meets the head chef, Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), who recognises (and names) the shining as he is psychic also and speaks to Danny telepathically. He warns him off room 237.

the twins
As the film progresses and the hotel, feeding off Danny and gaining in power, hooks into the darkness within Jack (and there is an element explored in Doctor Sleep of Dan replicating his father’s journey but making the one choice that turns himself around, with a mirror dividing father and son). Danny sees things and his power, as it is consumed, gives the ghosts solid form as well as allowing the hotel to manifest physical objects – Hallorann describes the entities as pictures but they have become solid for both Jack and Danny. Danny encounters the bathtub ghost (Billie Gibson), an old woman in 237, who died in the bathtub and is part decayed, and though we don’t see it she clearly was able to grab and throttle him judging by the bruising to the neck. However, if Doctor Sleep examined child abuse then this does so as well but also, very visibly, explores spousal abuse.

the Overlook
The film is a masterpiece, of that there is no doubt. Kubrick eschewed jump scares for an oppressive atmosphere and a real sense of the uncanny. All the adult actors were superb and though Danny Lloyd perhaps only reacted his presence worked in context. There might be a complaint about Nicholson, in that he was super-creepy from the get go – certainly this was one of Stephen King’s issues with the film. However, I think that worked, Jack’s darkness was visible to the audience from the get-go and it became a question of when he would succumb not if. 9 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon US

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon UK

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