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Subject: 2012 Film Challenge #14: The Shining rss

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Joe Gola
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Details about the challenge are here.

There is something frightening about an abandoned house—after all, what terrible thing could have happened there to cause people to abandon shelter? Hatred? Madness? Murder? A derelict house is almost like a corpse—a still, cold remainder of something that used to be alive. We see the outward signs of humanity, but the spark within is gone, like a ghost. When the wind shifts and it creaks, it is almost as if some grey, clammy dead thing in the weeds has shuddered and twitched.

This creepiness of the simultaneous presence and absence of humanity we've given the name haunted, and the vagueness of that fear has been codified into the idea of the ghost. You see, it is not some intangible thing that bothers us—not our own death, certainly—but rather a discombobulated failure of death; the trace of some specific person remains, unloved and invisible, and perhaps if we solve its riddle we can send it on its way like a lost passenger at a railway station. Why, if we only return the jewelry box to Aunt Martha's crypt this whole spook problem will be solved! What is there really to be afraid of at all, when you get right down to it?

It's true, we humans are adept at dressing up our fears, giving them charm and familiarity and some sort of logical place in our world. We assign rules and codes of conduct to them: vampires only come out at night; a werewolf can be killed with a silver bullet; the devil fears the sign of the cross. So too does the haunted house have its own jolly charm; it is baroque and cobwebby and creaky, and there are black cats and hidden staircases, and somewhere in a back closet when you least expect it and really need to find a can opener there is a grinning white skeleton all propped up and ready to topple.

When he was in the process of planning his own haunted house movie, director Stanley Kubrick even went so far as to tell author Stephen King that the ghost story is essentially an optimistic story, since to believe in ghosts is to believe in the afterlife. And surely we can trust Stanley Kubrick when he tells us that his story is going to be cozy and warm and uplifting, right? So, why not snuggle into a blanket, turn down the lights, and have a little shiver with the biggest, grandest haunted house of them all? Why not check in to the Overlook Hotel—and The Shining.

However, I should mention that from this point on things are going to get very spoiler-y, so if you haven't seen the movie you should probably stop reading now and go track it down. Come on back when you're done. We'll wait.


Okay. All set? Good. So, yeah, sorry, I was kinda jerking you around, and Stanley was too. There's nothing optimistic about The Shining. Oh my, no. There is only the same terrible things we feared all along—hatred, madness, and murder. And death. In spades.

But maybe there's a bit more, and that's where it gets interesting.

What fascinates and frightens me about The Shining is that it is more than just a story about a group of people being menaced by an unseen presence in a strange place. The titillating chill of the ghosts is what brings us to the theater and drives the plot, but perhaps what the film is really about the evil that resides within us, and how a seemingly ordinary man could go bonkers and try to murder his wife and child.

The tension is there all along, if you know where to look for it. Jack Torrance is, of course, played by Jack Nicholson, an actor who exudes an iconoclastic charisma that it is hard not to like. With a too-straight face he informs his employer-to-be that he is a writer, one who is "outlining a new writing project." Of course we believe him; we like successful, creative people, and that's the sort of person we like to see as the hero in our movies. What if we're wrong, though? What if Jack isn't really a writer? What if Jack is actually just a failure?

Maybe Jack's not really even all that charming. Hints of disaffection with his family life can be glimpsed in the Torrances' first scene together as a unit; his responses to banalities of his mousy wife, Wendy—played to cruel perfection by Shelley Duvall—have a hint of curtness and condescension, a tone which spirals downward as the movie goes on. His conversation with Danny has an even more loaded, equivocal tone to it; he speaks to the boy with an attitude that falls somewhere in between parental care, cool snark, and wariness; it is almost as if he were speaking to a much older child, one who he fears might be growing up to be a bit smarter than he is.


There is in this something of real life; our children do get stronger as we decline, and sometimes our children show themselves to be smarter, stronger or more talented than we ever were in our youth. A good man might look on this with pride; an average man might look on this with regret; a weak man might look on this with hatred.

Danny's precociousness and unusual self-possession is, like much else in the movie, intensified by a supernatural element. Danny "shines" with extra-sensory perception, and moreover he has within himself another whole person, the eerie personality known only as "Tony." It is chilling to imagine that this equivocal, crackly-voiced presence is yet another ghost, but we could also interpret this as being another version of Danny—perhaps the Danny that is to come?—and a version of Danny that seems to be much more knowledgeable and intuitive than his unhappy father.

Once in the hotel, Jack struggles to live up to his assertion that he is a writer. Perhaps out in the world he blamed his lack of productivity on distraction and the cares of the day; perhaps he was happy to put off his ambitions just so long as he had a glass of bourbon in front of him. However, isolated in the Overlook, he has to confront a possibility that he has perhaps been avoiding all his life: he might not really be a writer after all. He might really just be a caretaker. Even worse, he might simply be a drunk.

Kubrick takes these everyday demons and family tensions and uses the supernatural to explode them to the scale of a bloody Greek myth, like Kronos devouring his children. The malevolent forces in the Overlook close in and take hold of the weakest of the three; disaffection becomes hatred, and resentment becomes murderousness. Everything goes haywire, and suddenly we learn that it is not just the hotel we need to be afraid of.


Many critics panned the film on its release, perhaps not understanding why the great Stanley Kubrick would be slumming it with a horror movie. Or perhaps they just failed to see the point. "There's something inherently wrong with the human personality," said Kubrick in an interview. "There's an evil side to it. One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious: we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly." Personally I think he also wanted to remind everyone that he was one of the greatest directors of all time by making one of the scariest movies of all time. As far as I can tell he hit pretty close to the mark.


Like most of Kubrick's movies, The Shining also has a weird, mesmerizing quality that gets under our skin and makes us feel like we're seeing the world in a way that we've never quite experience before. Many of the conventions of the haunted house movie are turned on their head; there are no dark, cobwebby corridors or creaky crypts. The Overlook is grand, spacious, and even magnificent. Everything is clean and bright. It is, however, a maze, and there are some passages that it is not wise to travel down alone.

It was also the first film to make extensive use of the Steadicam, and so the camera's-eye-view has an eerie fluidity to it, where we seem to glide through rooms and ooze around corners. Perhaps the most stunning example is Danny Torrance's headlong Big Wheel ride through the endless hallways; the camera races just behind like a wolf about to devour its prey. Another more subtle but terrifyingly effective use of the camera is in the scene when Jack is chopping down the bathroom door; the camera is centered not on Jack, and not on the door, but on the head of the axe, and with each swing it snaps from left to right so that the audience feels the force of every blow.


Over the years the reputation of the film has grown, and now it is viewed as a something of a classic, maybe even as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. If nothing else, it is has stuck in the mind of ordinary moviegoers, lodging within the top fifty of IMDB's popular rankings, and the almost bizarre extent of its adoration is the subject of a new documentary, Room 237.

I tickles me to know that there are crazy-ass fans of The Shining just like me, and that the movie has worked its way into other people's consciousnesses in the same way it did mine. To me it's more than just a ghost story; it is a brilliantly executed piece of film art, an invention of the mind captured with precision on celluloid. It has its surface level, but something lurks beneath as well. Like all the best horror stories, it takes our worst fears and with a magician's flip turns them into a toy that we can hold in our hands. We can look at it and giggle…and shudder….

Netflixxable? I forgot to check. Hulu? No.

Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (1922)
M (1931)
Duck Soup (1933)
Black Narcissus (1947)
The Seven Samurai (1954)
The Nights of Cabiria (1957)
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Psycho (1960)
Yojimbo (1961)
Viridiana (1961)
The Exterminating Angel (1962)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Simon of the Desert (1965)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The Conformist (1970)
The Shining (1980)
Blue Velvet (1986)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Ed Wood (1994)
Boogie Nights (1997)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Spirited Away (2001)
No Country for Old Men (2007)

Bonus Features: TBD
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Erik D
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I've watched The Shining about 3 times and each time I feel the same thing: absolute boredom.
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Rob
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I agree with your assessment of this movie over time. It was initially considered one of Kubrick's "lesser" movies, but has improved in critical assessment. To use a baseball analogy: it's sort of the Jim Rice of horror films.

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My thing about the movie is that Nicholson played Jack in such a way that it was easy to believe that he was crazy all along, and the Overlook just found a way to bring that to the front. In the book, Jack hinted at some darkness within with his doubts, drinking, and violence, but he was basically a good guy, and the Overlook changed him. The Overlook was the antagonist in the book, but in the movie, Jack was the protagonist. It always rubbed me the wrong way. When ABC did the mini-series, it went back to the original story, which made me happy, but it wasn't as well done, which didn't.

I've had to come to terms with the fact that the movie and the book are two different works, and I can appreciate them both having done so. But I admit that I'll always favor the novel, if only because it had the animal topiary scene (which is possibly the creepiest thing King has ever written).
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What do you mean The Shining isn't optimistic???

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Verkisto wrote:
My thing about the movie is that Nicholson played Jack in such a way that it was easy to believe that he was crazy all along, and the Overlook just found a way to bring that to the front. In the book, Jack hinted at some darkness within with his doubts, drinking, and violence, but he was basically a good guy, and the Overlook changed him. The Overlook was the antagonist in the book, but in the movie, Jack was the protagonist. It always rubbed me the wrong way. When ABC did the mini-series, it went back to the original story, which made me happy, but it wasn't as well done, which didn't.

I've had to come to terms with the fact that the movie and the book are two different works, and I can appreciate them both having done so. But I admit that I'll always favor the novel, if only because it had the animal topiary scene (which is possibly the creepiest thing King has ever written).

I re-read the book fairly recently and my take on Jack was different; I didn't see him as "basically a good guy." It's true that we see much more of Jack's nice-guy side in the book, but we also see some extremely dark stuff that is not in the movie. Hinted at in the novel is that

Spoiler (click to reveal)
Jack may have killed a bicyclist in a drunken hit-and-run accident, and when he became afraid that one of his students knew something about the incident he got into a scuffle with the student and knocked him down, which caused the student to get some kind of brain damage.
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Sean Ahern
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The great movie podcast Filmspotting recently did a "Sacred Cow Show" on The Shining. Guest starred Michael Phillips and briefly discusses the Room 237 movie, too. It's worth checking out.
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Gola wrote:
It is, however, a maze, and there are some passages that it is not wise to travel down alone.


The sets are actually constructed in a way a hotel cannot be.

Where you find two doors next to each other in a corridor, when you go in the room, it extends well past where the second door should be. Halls with doors leading to rooms end at corners that go back up the other side in a way that the rooms would only be 6 inches deep. These were all intentional set designs to make some part of your brain register oddities about the place.
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Wendy. Darling. Light of my life.

There could have been zero haunting and this movie would still be terrifying. The underlying unease and dissatisfaction with the life you have ended up with, the pent up anger and frustration, battles with addiction, and the desire to just say "fuck it" and give in to whatever is destroying you is there in almost every life.

I see it as a similar story to John Updike's "Rabbit, Run" with the added dimension of having the desperation and rage magnified by a horrible place that only wants the worst for the inhabitants.
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BeatPosse wrote:
Wendy. Darling. Light of my life.

My favorite bit:

Wendy: Stay away from me!

Jack: Why?

Wendy: I just want to go back to my room.

Jack: Why?

Wendy: Well...I'm very confused...I just need a chance to think things over.

Jack: You've had your whole f***ing life to think things over. What good's a few minutes more going to do you now?
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Gola wrote:
I re-read the book fairly recently and my take on Jack was different; I didn't see him as "basically a good guy." It's true that we see much more of Jack's nice-guy side in the book, but we also see some extremely dark stuff that is not in the movie. Hinted at in the novel is that

Spoiler (click to reveal)
Jack may have killed a bicyclist in a drunken hit-and-run accident, and when he became afraid that one of his students knew something about the incident he got into a scuffle with the student and knocked him down, which caused the student to get some kind of brain damage.

OK, yeah, I had forgotten about that bit from the story.

I still think the Jack from the book tries more to be a good guy than Jack in the movie. A lot of what drove book-Jack's behavior was his drinking, which brought out the violence. Of what I recall from the book, Jack tries to be a good father and husband, but the Overlook drives him to madness.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that without the Overlook, book-Jack probably could have gotten through the winter without going crazy. Movie-Jack looks like he would have wound up in that place whether or not the Overlook was messing with him.

Oh, and:

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Well, Joe, I agree with most of your movie picks, and Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors, but for me The Shining is his very worst. It's still an OK movie, pretty good for a horror movie, but all in all it does not have the depth that his other works have. I mean, even Eyes Wide Shut I prefer over The Shining, and that's saying something.

The direction of the movie is up to Kubrick's standards, and image composition is fantastic. And really, the first 75% of the movie are an excellent study of a man sinking into the depths of depravity of his own mind. The scenes in the bar are absolutely chilling and played out to perfection, with Joe Turkel (as the barkeep) winning the award for the most sinister character ever to touch the white screen.

But then we get to the end of the movie with really stupid paranormal ridiculousness (which Kubrick indeed was a believer of), the ghosts becoming reality instead of just figments of Jack's imagination, big buckets of gore, and Nicholson losing all sense of subtlety in trying to combine humor with horror. The last half hour of the movie was a big disappointment.

From a man who was responsible for such outstanding films as Lolita, Paths of Glory, Dr. Stranglove, 2001, and Clockwork Orange, I had expected better.

Funny thing to note: the lengths of the US version and the European version of the movie differ by almost 20 minutes. The US version (at about 2.5 hours) adds a lot of scenes with Wendy running through the hotel near the end of the movie. Frankly, those scenes add nothing except for some screaming and silly horror spectacles, and should have been cut. No idea why they are in there.
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I am a huge fan of the film and cannot disagree with this at all. It really does deflate towards the end.

Flyboy Connor wrote:
Well, Joe, I agree with most of your movie picks, and Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors, but for me The Shining is his very worst. It's still an OK movie, pretty good for a horror movie, but all in all it does not have the depth that his other works have. I mean, even Eyes Wide Shut I prefer over The Shining, and that's saying something.

The direction of the movie is up to Kubrick's standards, and image composition is fantastic. And really, the first 75% of the movie are an excellent study of a man sinking into the depths of depravity of his own mind. The scenes in the bar are absolutely chilling and played out to perfection, with Joe Turkel (as the barkeep) winning the award for the most sinister character ever to touch the white screen.

But then we get to the end of the movie with really stupid paranormal ridiculousness (which Kubrick indeed was a believer of), the ghosts becoming reality instead of just figments of Jack's imagination, big buckets of gore, and Nicholson losing all sense of subtlety in trying to combine humor with horror. The last half hour of the movie was a big disappointment.

From a man who was responsible for such outstanding films as Lolita, Paths of Glory, Dr. Stranglove, 2001, and Clockwork Orange, I had expected better.

Funny thing to note: the lengths of the US version and the European version of the movie differ by almost 20 minutes. The US version (at about 2.5 hours) adds a lot of scenes with Wendy running through the hotel near the end of the movie. Frankly, those scenes add nothing except for some screaming and silly horror spectacles, and should have been cut. No idea why they are in there.
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Flyboy Connor wrote:
But then we get to the end of the movie with really stupid paranormal ridiculousness (which Kubrick indeed was a believer of), the ghosts becoming reality instead of just figments of Jack's imagination, big buckets of gore, and Nicholson losing all sense of subtlety in trying to combine humor with horror. The last half hour of the movie was a big disappointment.

I remember finding it very spooky the first time watching...you go most of the movie thinking that the effect of the hotel might be all in their heads, and then suddenly it unlocks the larder door for Jack. I felt like there was something very menacing about that. I do understand what you're saying, though.

Flyboy Connor wrote:
Funny thing to note: the lengths of the US version and the European version of the movie differ by almost 20 minutes. The US version (at about 2.5 hours) adds a lot of scenes with Wendy running through the hotel near the end of the movie. Frankly, those scenes add nothing except for some screaming and silly horror spectacles, and should have been cut. No idea why they are in there.

I do admit, I never liked that bit where Wendy runs into the room full of skeletons. That always seemed dorky to me.
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Gola wrote:
I remember finding it very spooky the first time watching...you go most of the movie thinking that the effect of the hotel might be all in their heads, and then suddenly it unlocks the larder door for Jack. I felt like there was something very menacing about that.

That was the last moment that was truly good in the movie. It showed that there was some reality about the ghosts as they were able to affect the real world, in a small but influential way, without actually showing the ghosts. If Kubrick had left their presence in the movie at that, the ending could have been great, I think.
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-Wonderful movie I first avoided for the Urban Cowboy (still a Debra Winger fan since then)

-Never forget the scene in the book where Jack is walking around with a mallet and is recognizable one last time in a goodbye-scene to his son. And then uses the mallet on his face to figuratively and literally to complete the hotel's possession.

-Recently caught up with a Season 6 tv episode of Psych nearly entirely dedicated to the book and Kubrick's filming

-I also see the book and film as two different works.

-Love the soundtrack. I was a music student listening to Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique when I recognized (or thought I recognized) the opening strains of the film. Hmmmm... have to go back and see if I can catch film soundtrack credits.

-Over the years learned a lot about: Scatman Crother's history as entertainers (I love to scat me some bebop myself) and learned my first details of Kubrick's filming style watching the 'Making of The Shining' bonus feature. I'll have to have an in-home Kubrick series one day, for sure.
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Sinister Dexter wrote:
It was initially considered one of Kubrick's "lesser" movies, but has improved in critical assessment. To use a baseball analogy: it's sort of the Jim Rice of horror films.


Are you sure you don't mean Dwight Evans?
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Saw it last night for the first time in decades. And I realize I never saw it in a theater; I must have seen an edited TV broadcast. In any case, a few thoughts:

I think the final scenes with Wendy running through the house, with her seeing visions of horror, were understandable. It showed that even she, the last sane person in the house, was finally losing it. And the house itself was trying to consume her, as well.

According to the network I saw it on, there were two other actors considered for the lead, based on recent work. Robert DeNiro, for Taxi Driver, was not considered crazy enough, and Robin Williams, for Mork and Mindy, was considered too crazy.
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Verkisto wrote:
My thing about the movie is that Nicholson played Jack in such a way that it was easy to believe that he was crazy all along, and the Overlook just found a way to bring that to the front. In the book, Jack hinted at some darkness within with his doubts, drinking, and violence, but he was basically a good guy, and the Overlook changed him. The Overlook was the antagonist in the book, but in the movie, Jack was the protagonist. It always rubbed me the wrong way. When ABC did the mini-series, it went back to the original story, which made me happy, but it wasn't as well done, which didn't.

I've had to come to terms with the fact that the movie and the book are two different works, and I can appreciate them both having done so. But I admit that I'll always favor the novel, if only because it had the animal topiary scene (which is possibly the creepiest thing King has ever written).


Agree. I was a huge fan of the book and ran to see the movie when it came out. I didn't find it scary or good. And yes, the topiary scene!! I kept waiting for it!
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Flyboy Connor wrote:
The scenes in the bar are absolutely chilling and played out to perfection, with Joe Turkel (as the barkeep) winning the award for the most sinister character ever to touch the white screen.

(Jack tries to pay for his drink)

Lloyd: "No charge to you, Mr. Torrance."

Jack: "No charge?"

Lloyd: "Your money's no good here."

Lloyd: "Orders from the house."
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The film is an allegory on America:
* The Overlook Hotel is built on an Indian graveyard.
* They had to repel a few Indian attacks and there were a few casualties.
* The hotel is decorated with Indian art, but there is no Indian to be seen.
* Isn't Wendy wearing some Indian outfit?
* Note the Indian chief on the tin can with bakery powder.
* The previous owners were British.
* "You are the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker." refers to white male behavior.
* "White men's burden".
* The only person killed apart from Jack is a Afro-American.
* There is racist language.
* The way Jack treats his wife and kid.
* The Nazi-Germany produced Volkswagen Beetle. Does that refer to genocide?
* "Keep America clean" says the boy when he entered the labyrinth. What is that supposed to mean?
* The reference to the Donner Party.

This all forms an hidden layer in a clever movie by a brilliant director.
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