Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Plot: When a writer gets a winter caretaker job at an isolated hotel, he is consumed by madness as his psychic son sees terrifying visions of the past and the future.
Career-defining roles are generally easy to identify. These are the characters that you instantly think of when a particular actor or actress’ name is mentioned and an obligatory quote is required. Anthony Hopkins’ mesmerising performance as the menacing Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs is one such example. “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti” would be most people’s riposte when reminded of this most famous of fictional serial killers. For Jack Nicholson, “Heeeeers Johnny!” is arguably his most recognisable quote from a career that has many roles in which he has taken on characters from many different genres.
The Shining, adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name, stars Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a struggling writer who takes an off-season job at The Overlook Hotel, a grand but lonely building that sits among scenic mountaintops. He takes his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) with him, but is warned by the manager, Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson), that a previous caretaker went insane and bludgeoned his wife and two daughters to death. Danny has an imaginary friend called “Tony” – this is all part of his ESP which reveals a terrifying vision to him of the hotel. As the Torrances are being shown round, they meet chef Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) who appears to have a psychic connection with Danny and talks to him about telepathy which Halloran calls “shining” and warns him to keep out of Room 237.
After a month alone all appears well, until Jack starts to behave strangely, getting frustrated that his work is not progressing. Danny has more frequent visions, seeing two ghost girls in the corridor (apparently the daughters of the former caretaker) and is drawn into Room 237, after finding the door open. Jack has a nightmare and is comforted by Wendy, but then Danny appears having been injured and she blames his father. Jack’s madness is by now overwhelming and he goes to the mysterious hotel room to investigate and encounters the ghost of a woman – not only that, he also sees visions of a bartender and the caretaker who killed his family. It is only a matter of time before Jack’s state of mind becomes a threat to the lives of his wife and son.
Psychological horror, if done well, needs to stay with you for long afterwards – The Shining certainly does this. With its mixture of weirdness, brilliant acting and a cavernous set which puts an even scarier spin on the haunted house formula, director Stanley Kubrick has fashioned a film that is as disturbing as it is a head-scratcher. Stephen King reportedly hates this adaptation of his work and many readers of the novel will note how many aspects have been chopped and changed way too much in order to satisfy the cinema. On that score, it perhaps fails, but as a stand-alone movie there is a very unsettling mood which is compounded by the distinctive incidental music by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, along with the memorable sound of Danny’s tricycle alternating between the wooden floor and the carpet.
There are so many themes and metaphors here, that it would take a thesis to explain them all. Many of the strange characters we meet in the hotel and the bizarre images (such as that revealed in the final reel) can be interpreted in many ways. What is certain though, is the fact that after repeated viewings of The Shining, you’ll probably have changed your mind countless times about how everything fits together, which just goes to prove the genius behind filmmaking such as this. Nicholson, Duvall and Lloyd form a superb central trio, especially our Jack whose facial expressions are tailor-made for the role of his namesake.
Horror film fans will lap up Kubrick’s masterpiece and although his films may not be to everyone’s taste, The Shining stands out as an unforgettable experience, which will make you fear hotels with long, quiet corridors and child twins dressed in similar clothes.