Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is less an adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling horror novel than a complete reimagining of it from the inside out. In King’s book, the Overlook Hotel is a haunted place that takes possession of its off-season caretaker and provokes him to murderous rage against his wife and young son.
Kubrick’s movie is an existential Road Runner cartoon (his steadicam scurrying through the hotel’s labyrinthine hallways), in which the cavernously empty spaces inside the Overlook mirror the emptiness in the soul of the blocked writer, who’s settled in for a long winter’s hibernation.
As many have pointed out, King’s protagonist goes mad, but Kubrick’s Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is Looney Tunes from the moment we meet him–all arching eyebrows and mischievous grin. Both Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, as Torrance’s wife, reach new levels of hysteria in their performances, driven to extremes by the director’s fanatical demands for take after take after take. The Shining is terrifying–but not in the way fans of the novel might expect.
When it was redone as a TV miniseries (reportedly because of King’s dissatisfaction with the Kubrick film), the famous topiary-animal attack (which was deemed impossible to film in 1980) was there–but the deeper horror was lost. Kubrick’s The Shining gets under your skin and chills your bones; it stays with you, inhabits you, haunts you. And of course, unlike the Overlook Hotel, there’s no place to hide.
This atmospheric thriller is sure to creep you out with its pacing, eery editing and cinematography (those tracking shots are highly effective), and Jack Nicholson’s powerful performance as Jack Torrance. Horror films often tend to divide audiences into genre fans who follow the gore and those who laugh in the face of so-called scares, insisting their own resiliancy to cheap thrills and lamebrain plotting.
Fortunately, “The Shining” doesn’t make you take sides, because its chills come from plotting and character study as much as they do from odd sights that will make you jump. It may stray from Stephen King’s book and not all of it may make sense, but “The Shining” has so much going for it that you won’t mind. It’s a gripping and satisfying film experience, and in my opinion, one of the best films of the ’80s.
Character to watch: Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?