Movies & TV / News

Dissecting the Classics – The Shining

September 8, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
The Shining Stephen King

September is here, and for the sake of this column, it’s Stanley Kubrick Month! I’ve wanted to do a themed month for a while, and now that I’ve worked out the kinks on this column, it seemed like the time. This week features Kubrick’s interpretation of Stephen King’s ghost story The Shining, just in time for It to hit theaters.

Welcome to Dissecting the Classics , where I analyze films that are almost universally loved to see what makes them great. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.

The Shining

Wide Release Date: May 23, 1980
Produced and Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
Cinematography By: John Alcott
Edited By: Ray Lovejoy
Music By: Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind
Production Company: The Producer Circle Company, Peregrine Productions and Hawk Films
Distributed By: Warner Bros.
Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance
Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance
Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance
Scatman Cruthers as Dick Hallorann

What Do We All Know?

Few directors are as celebrated by cinephiles as Stanley Kubrick, and few Kubrick films have the pop culture presence of The Shining. While not his best film, it features much of what defines Kubrick’s style; ambiguous narrative, meticulous set design and camera work, and a keen interest in human psychology. It’s also an utterly terrifying film, blending the best elements of a supernatural horror film with a psychological thriller.

Even if you haven’t seen the film, you are probably at least a little familiar with it. Jack Nicholson’s unhinged performance is one of his defining roles, his “Here’s Johnny!” line, the Grady Sisters and “Redrum” are referenced ad nauseum. Sometimes a film with that kind of pervasive impact can be a letdown when you finally see it, but like most Kubrick films, I fell in love with it on first viewing.

What Went Right?

Well, for starters, it’s a Stanley Kubrick film. Kubrick was a visionary director who was a master at assembling shots, making impacting edits, and getting compelling performances out of interesting actors. He also had an uncanny ability to bring his signature style to different genres; The Shining is a fantastic example of both psychological thrillers and horror films. Shelley Duvall plays a perfectly vulnerable protagonist, while Jack Nicholson gives one of his all time great performances as the film’s true monster. Kubrick delivers excellent scenes of both the father and son going mad, providing some terrifying scares along the way. All the building blocks are there for a great film.

Kubrick also isn’t afraid to take his time; we get a sense of dread before the family arrives at the hotel, we get an extensive tour and history lesson, and we know the characters and why they are there. Then things get bad in a hurry; Danny starts seeing increasingly disturbing visions, Jack becomes more and more unhinged, and Wendy feels more lost and more trapped. By the time it’s evident that the isolation and perhaps the malevolent supernatural forces have done their work and Jack is a raving lunatic, the film has earned a grand payoff. And boy does it deliver there. The last half hour or so of this film is white-knuckle tension, and by that point Kubrick has thrown enough creepy stuff at you that you likely to feel as helpless as Wendy feels.

What Went Wrong?

Kubrick tends to move at a glacial pace that doesn’t quite click for everyone. And if I’m honest, as strong as the ending stretch is, it does feel like Danny and Wendy escape the maze a little too easy and that one last attack from Jack might have made an even stronger finish. But maybe that’s just me. It also must be pointed out that Stephen King is not a big fan of this movie, and it’s probably worth reading the book to get the whole picture.

And In Summary…

There really isn’t a ton to unpack in The Shining that isn’t self-evident; it’s a terrifying look at one man’s descent into madness and how it affects his family. And it may or may not have malevolent supernatural forces moving things along, depending on viewer interpretation. And the story is told by one of the great directors of all time, with one of the great actors of all time giving one of his best performances. While not for the weak of heart, it’s one of my favorite horror films and for my money, the best film to ever adapt Stephen King’s work.

Like This Column?
Check out previous editions!
Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Matrix, Batman (1989), Casablanca, Goldfinger, X2, King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Dark Crystal, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Aliens, Casino Royale, Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Batman (1966), The Maltese Falcon, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, 12 Angry Men, Aladdin, The Wizard of Oz, Dial M For Murder, Godzilla (1954), The Hurt Locker, The Breakfast Club, Iron Man

Follow Me On Letterboxd!
I log reviews for every film I see, when I see them. You can see my main page here. Recent reviews include Dunkirk, Wind River and 2011’s Winnie the Pooh.