Films of Shame chronicles my impressions of movies I should have seen before now, but haven’t. I’ve already covered Citizen Kane and aim to watch Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver and Annie Hall after that.
So, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining then. I had the enormous pleasure of catching this film in blu-ray, which is surely the only way to see the visual delights of things like wavs of e blood pouring down to engulf a corridor of The Overlook Hotel, or the amazing tracking shots that take the viewer through the picturesque garden maze at both the beginning and end of the movie. Stunning
The plot, for those of you who haven’t seen the appropriate Simpson’s Halloween Special, concerns Jack Nicholson taking on the job of a caretaker with his family at an isolated hotel. The snow means Nicholson and his family are in complete isolation for five months, with nothing but the hotel and its dark memories to keep them company. Oh and his son is psychic (or has ‘the shining’), and much more aware of the hotel and its ghosts than his parents are.
Movies work best when they are able to evoke the same emotions the characters are feeling. Whether that’s the joy of finding your true love in a romantic comedy, the pain of losing someone close to you in a tragedy, or the fear of being victimised in a horror film.
Fitting firmly into the latter category, The Shining is not just effective in its ability to scare you, but crucially in the feeling of insanity it instills. When we meet our protagonist, Jack Torrance, he is what we would expect from a Jack Nicholson character: relaxed, sharp witted, and full of life. However, the more time he spends in the hotel, the more he begins to change. His temper flares up, he becomes more distant and begins to see and speak to things that aren’t there.
All of this is deeply unsettling. Not least because the film really takes its time in setting up this feeling. For example, at the start of a new day, the screen will go black and ‘Wednesday’ will flash up. Then in the next scene we’ll see ‘Monday’. Is this the following Monday? Is it a Monday two months later? Does it even matter?
Another piece of set-up comes straight after telling us which day it is: with Daniel, the son, riding around on his tricycle around the corridors on the hotel. Through this, we get a sense of the vast space within the place they’re staying, and also the isolation one can feel there. Add to that ghosts, dead bodies, and strange voices and you really begin to feel on edge, despite the fact no one has yet been harmed.
It’s interesting to note that most of the action and famous scenes in the film (what Jack’s novel is about, him with the axe, running around the maze) come in the last half hour. However, knowing these scenes were coming only unsettled me more. Having a crazy character go on a rampage at the start of the movie is one thing. Seeing his slow descent into madness is quite another. In fact, I can think of few movies so patient in their set-up and clinical in their execution as this one.
So The Shining is one of the most unsettling movies you’re likely to see. The set design of the hotel and its grounds are a joy to behold, and you can see the care taken with each and every shot of the movie. While the world the camera captures is closing in on itself, the stillness of the frame only serves to highlight the madness you are seeing more. It’s quite a remarkable film which deserves not only to be seen, but to be watched again and again.