Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day 114: The Shining

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #49
Year: 1980
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall

Well, this didn't go according to plan. Originally, I was going to write about The Exorcist tonight. I had a pretty nifty idea, too, analyzing my views on the film across the three distinct parts of my life that I had seen the film – way too young, way too religious, and now, as an adult atheist. Alas, I didn't get a chance to rewatch it as time ran out, so I'm falling back on another horror film to complete the Halloween double feature. The Shining, in my humble opinion, is the greatest horror movie – and one of the five greatest movies period – ever made. It is the best film by a brilliant director with a half dozen masterpieces, and it contains the best performance by one of the best actors of all time. It is without a doubt a horror movie, but its appeal goes far beyond the traditional bounds of the horror audience. It's what people who don't think they like horror movies should watch if they want to get scared. It's psychologically harrowing, but it's also visually impressive, and its script boils a sometimes impenetrable Stephen King tome (and aren't they all?) down to just its essential salts. To drop an overused term, it's a true tour-de-force, and an absolute convergence of everything going right in every possible way.

The Shining is a movie composed of scenes. This sounds like it should be a given – aren't all movies composed of scenes, after all? – but it really isn't. Some movies work in extremely long sequences, some impress you with dialogue or visuals, some use similar filming techniques throughout the movie that don't lend themselves to distinction among scenes. The Shining is two-and-a-half hours of great scene after great scene, each completely unique, and each incredibly memorable. If I wanted to, I could retell the movie scene by scene in this very blog entry having not seen the film in several months. Almost every scene has solidified itself as a famous, classic scene, too. "Redrum," the little girls in the hall, and "Here's Johnny!" at bare minimum have become part of the national consciousness, and at least twenty more scenes are completely brilliant and memorable as well – I'm partial to the scene where Wendy (Shelley Duvall) runs through the Overlook and sees bizarre things including a man in a dog suit giving oral sex to a man in a tuxedo and blood pouring into the hotel lobby.

Of course, The Shining's scenes wouldn't seem so brilliant if they weren't tied together so brilliantly. Stanley Kubrick is a master of composition, and in the history of cinema there is perhaps no movie more perfectly paced than this one. Sometimes it's slow and methodical, sometimes everything moves terrifyingly quickly, but always it is exactly what the material demands. Even though Stephen King apparently doesn't like Kubrick's take on his book, his material is made so much stronger by the steady hand of the master director. This is one instance where the movie is absolutely better than the book, even if the book is pretty damn great in its own right.

The Good: I'd rank the scene where Wendy discovers Jack's manuscript (hundreds of pages of "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.") among the five scariest movie moments of all time. From that point on, shit just endlessly goes down.

The Bad: It's one of my five favorite films ever; I don't think it has any flaws.

The Skinny: See above.


  1. I look forward to Thanksgiving Break, so we can sit down and finally watch this.

  2. That little boy's voice when he does the finger stuff? Gives me chills every time.

  3. This is probably my 3rd favorite from Kubrick, behind Clockwork and Paths of Glory. I guess if I liked horror genre as much as you do, this would be definetly higher, cause this is the best fcking horror movie I have seen.

    Kubrick is genious.