You’ve been waiting for this one, haven’t you?
“I wish we could stay here forever. And ever. And ever.”
I believe The Shining to be a perfect film. By this I mean, there is not a frame out of place. A line of dialogue that shouldn’t be there. An expression, a look, a shot, a piece of scenery that doesn’t work. It is such a genuine pleasure to watch.
Obviously other people feel this way. If you’ve sat through Room 237, you know there are people who feel even more strongly about it than I do (or at least more strongly that it’s about the genocide of Native Americans and/or an apology for the moon landing, etc). I could write you a novel in a blog post about all the things I feel when watching The Shining. Instead, I really just want to talk about this for what it is at its most basic: a haunted house horror movie.
If you ask me, every single one of Kubrick’s movies is horror. His outlook is dismal at best, and he firmly asserts that human nature is evil, evil, evil in every single picture. But this, his plainest attempt at traditional horror, is as picture perfect a haunted house flick as you’re ever going to get. So – let’s talk about The Overlook Hotel, shall we? (I really wish I could do that Wes Anderson thing where Bill Murray says something like, “Let me tell you about my boat,” and then we just pan through the entire Overlook setting in perfect symmetry. How helpful.)
Remember last night when we were watching The Haunting in Connecticut, and I talked about how that was pretty much the way we’ve been doing haunted houses for years?
Note the similarities here:
- House where something bad has happened.
- Special person somehow more connected to the house than others.
- Character with vulnerabilities that the house exploits.
- House as a character itself.
And there are a lot more. Kubrick hits all the bases, and then just does what he does best: ramp up the personalities to 11, shoot the setting so gorgeously it jumps off the screen at you, and get his actors to deliver lines with such delicious irony that you squeal with delight and simultaneously think you may need to walk away and catch your breath for a minute. At least, I feel like I need to walk away for a minute every time Jack says something despicable to Wendy and she just bugs her eyes out at him. Ughhhhhh. He’s so AWFUL.
If you watched Connecticut, then you remember that whole spiel about “amplification” during seances – that an especially good medium could do more than just contact the dead, but present with something physical, too.
In The Shining, this is happening two-fold. Danny is psychic – “the shining,” if you’ve read King’s novel where it’s much more clearly the focus of the story, is a special ability that allows him to “know” all that is happening around him, regardless of time/space/what-is-spoken. Being in The Overlook, Danny immediately senses something is off – he’s even questioning the trip at breakfast with Wendy before Jack gets the job. “The shining,” and Danny, are the psychic presence that “awakens” the house.
Jack, on the other hand, is the “amplifier.” Father to Danny, we can assume that at least one parent has some kind of psychic tendency to pass on that sort of ability. It’s obviously not Wendy (sorry, Wendy), who is truly in denial about so many things. But Jack stirs something in the hotel, too. The difference between he and Danny is that Danny is aware of what he’s doing and is simply looking in. Jack, on the other hand, takes the welcoming nature of The Overlook at face value and interacts with it. The house wants to use him. Jack is happy to let it.
Thus, a perfect storm is created. “Orders from the house” (such a great line!!!!) are that Jack get everything he needs – booze, ladies, time away from Wendy – to get the job done (killing them ALL). Danny, on the other hand, is snooping on that info without even trying (Tony, the adorable best friend who lives in his mouth (!) would really love it if he shut up and didn’t talk about it, for everybody’s sake), and making the house pretty damn angry in the process. Basically, this trip isn’t going to go well. And it’s been predetermined that way from the start.
This is so unfair, because as discussed, this film is only made of great scenes. But this time, I just could not get over the moment in Jack and Wendy’s bedroom when Danny asks his dad, “You wouldn’t ever hurt Mommy and me, would you?” First of all, Jack is telling this kid that he loves him, but has actually put him in some kind of awkward choke hold. And secondly, WE ALREADY KNOW THE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION AND SO DOES DANNY! Danny knows his father would hurt him because he broke his damn arm last year. So the question itself already has a predetermined answer, the fate of everyone living in this hotel is sealed, and Danny and Jack (sorry, Wendy) know it when they’re having this conversation. It’s SO CREEPY. I die. Literally (Gotta love a little millennial-misuse of vocabulary for an accurate descriptor).
Other GREAT things:
You know what, I’m just going to make another little list:
- Shelley Duvall. Shelley Duvall. Shelley Duvall. This is her movie. HER MOVIE.
- The topless posters framed in Mr. Halloran’s Miami bedroom.
- Delbert Grady’s use of the word “differ” in the beautiful red bathroom.
- Delbert Grady’s use of the word “corrected” in the beautiful red bathroom.
- The beautiful red bathroom. That whole scene.
- The phrase “white man’s burden,” used by Jack when throwing back shots of whisky.
- Wendy’s entire wardrobe.
- Oh, and Shelley FUCKING Duvall.
I could keep that going for days. I’ll spare you. But please, do give it up for Shelley. Kubrick notoriously kept her tired, miserable, and abused during the shooting of this film, and her performance is so incredible regardless (or because of it, honestly) it really does deserve all the respect you can give it. There is no other person on Earth who could have played that part any better.
If You Like It, Watch:
There is nothing on the level of this movie. BUT, if you must…
Eyes Wide Shut – if you’re now in the Kubrick spirit, and you haven’t watched his very last film, give it a go. You’ll find Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise to be extremely wooden, but that’s 100% the point. It’s wickedly disturbing.
Session 9 – Some of you seasoned movie watchers are saying “WHAT” right now, but give me a second to explain myself. Another “new millennium” haunted house pic, this one set in an abandoned asylum about as large as The Overlook. An asbestos removal crew gets to work clearing the place out, but start to get real testy with each other about halfway through. It’s well done and psychologically effective.