Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Shining Review

The film opens as Jack Torrance takes the long and winding road towards the Overlook Hotel. The music isn't merely an example of ominous tones, it defines them. The journey is scenic and beautiful yet seemingly never-ending. Inviting when conditions are welcoming. Terrifyingly impossible during the devastating local winter. The interview. The moment when a writer decides to house sit for a massive hotel storing something haunted. Something evil. Something inescapable until the warmth of May arrives and the lodging season commences once more, but that may be too late.

When you first witness The Shining, you are likely to experience it at face value, and that alone is enough to fall madly in love with the vision of Stanley Kubrick. It's later on after numerous revisits and learning more about his genius that you discover just how perfect the craft is. The set designs are literally impossible, but it isn't an error in planning by a director who simply doesn't make such mistakes. No, everything here is calculated. A window in an office where there couldn't possibly be a view of the outside. A layout of halls that don't add up and carpeting that is disorienting. Everything about the Overlook feels like the hedge maze that sits just outside, a tourist attraction that isn't so appealing under the wrong circumstances. A maze that initially doesn't even exist. Watch the opening shot of the grounds again and try to spot it. You won't. Some websites list this as a continuity error. I don't buy that for a second. Once the Torrance family arrives, they are constantly trying to escape a maze they never knew they were entering. One that feels as if it has no way out.

Kubrick is the master of subtlety but once you take notice, you can never shake it. Why would you want to? There was a time when the utilization of sound in The Shining was something that barely registered, and now I hear everything. The way the wheels of Danny's big wheel rumble through the halls and become jarringly quiet when he rolls over the carpeting. The echo of Jack's ball slamming against the wall as he battles writer's block. The way the music absolutely destroys my nerves at exactly the right moments, like when Jack looks at a model of the hedge maze and I can't help but literally feel nauseous when the camera slowly takes us closer in and we see Danny and Wendy standing in the middle. It's one of many moments designed to overwhelm the senses. The fact that this goal is achieved so effectively is cinematic perfection.

"Are you out of your fucking mind?"

I could sit here all day and rave about the direction and the performance of Jack Nicholson, but right now I can't stop thinking about the technical genius that went into every frame of this masterpiece. The usage of color and lighting, the way spacing and camerawork make the same room feel either cavernous or claustrophobic without ever leaving it. I paused the film a few times just to dissect the occasional frame, illustrating the way psychosis looks even more disturbing when seen in the reflection of a mirror or how everything seems to glow both inside the Gold Room and throughout the hallway just outside of it. The way the color green in Room 237 feels serene before turning wicked and the restroom Jack visits is bathed in a blindingly violent shade of red. I sit here and wonder if I were to watch The Shining 100 more times, would I ever stop seeing something new?

Across the screen is the word Thursday, and the camera stays perfectly level as it moves to the left, following Wendy and Danny running playfully through the snow. It's a moment of joyous freedom in a place where such experiences are fleeting. The high pitched piercing sound that rattles through our ears as the camera cuts to Jack...something isn't right. We zoom in on his face. A look of insanity that cuts through me like a hot knife through butter. This sequence only lasts maybe a minute or two total before a new day arrives in their lives, but it stays with me because it feels like the official transition from cabin fever to the Donner party flu. Everything about it feels wrong, and yet I can't help but smile every time I see it. This admiration mixed with unsettling dread isn't an accident. Nothing is an accident. Every shot, every look, every word said. It's a hedge maze you can't escape from, at least not until the lodging season commences once more. That may be too late.



  1. Watched this recently? Sort of out of season isn't it?
    As to the movie itself I like it, but like most Kubrik films I really have to concentrate and not get distracted by the slow pacing. Which is strange because I love old movies that are slow paced, but Kubrik is on a whole other level of slow.

  2. Yes sir, watched it last night and then immediately wrote about it. Kubrick of any kind is never out of season for me, haha.

    Strangely I don't find the pacing he utilizes to ever be slow. In my world he is pretty much a masterpiece machine.

    1. I agree. Some slow movies really take me out of them and bore me, but Kubrick just sucks me in and I can't get enough. 2001 put my wife to sleep, but I just marvel at it.

    2. Yep. Something about Kubrick pacing is intoxicating.