Come and play with us Danny
When it was released in 1980, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining did well at the box office (after the relative failure of his previous film Barry Lyndon) but it perplexed critics and reviews were generally mixed. But over time, like so many of Kubrick’s films, it has been reappraised and is now considered one of the best horror films ever made.
Based on the novel by Stephen King, it tells the story of Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson in arguably his signature performance), an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who accepts a position as the off-season caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies where he takes his wife Wendy and young son Danny with him. Danny has psychic abilities referred to as “shining” and when a winter storm leaves the family snowbound at the hotel, Jack’s sanity dissipates due to the influence of the supernatural forces that inhabit the hotel which wants to claim Danny’s “shining”.
In the last 40 years I can think no other film that has been analysed, written and discussed about as much as The Shining; there was even a documentary – Room 237 – which covered the many interpretations of the film. So what more can I add to write about this film ?
As a horror film it has a relatively low death rate – there’s only 2 deaths; it’s largely filmed in bright light not in darkness; it is full of ambiguities in which there are no clear answers; and the ending certainly does not neatly tie it all up. All of which adds up to a film that, for me, continually rewards the viewer with repeated viewings.
The films starts with one of the most amazing opening tracking shots (via a helicopter) as we follow Jack driving his VW Beetle through the Rockies to get to the Overlook Hotel. With the Dies Irae in the background it acts as sinister foreboding of dread.
The film also extensively uses the steadicam for many of its tracking shots, of which one of the most talked-about shots in the film is the eerie tracking sequence which follows Danny as he pedals at high speed through corridor after corridor on his plastic tricycle. The soundtrack explodes with noise when the wheel is on wooden flooring and is abruptly silent as it crosses over carpet. All of which come to a jarring halt when Danny is confronted by the ghosts of the Grady twins.
A lot of the dialogue in the film has a foreboding unease. Take for example this scene where Jack recognises the former caretaker Grady. At first, it appears Jack has the upper hand but note how the tone shifts and he becomes subservient to the suggestions and menace of the previous caretaker. Coupled with the unique colour and design of the mens restroom it is all very sinister.
The film’s sound design is another feature which adds immeasurably to the film’s atmosphere. In the following clip from the film’s most famous and iconic scene, note how it starts with an ominous sound of strings punctuated with sharp staccatos then suddenly it screeches as the true nature of Danny’s Redrum is revealed to be followed by Jack’s axe breaking down the door.
There is much more I could add about this film, but I’ll save it for including in the comments section.
Also, for those that are interested, I have created the following playlist from this film which features 17 clips in total.
In summary, The Shining is a brilliantly made baroque journey into madness and horror, exemplified by Jack Nicholson’s unforgettable performance, and Kubrick’s total mastery of the film medium. In over 40 years it’s power and impact has not diminished at all and I have the film included in my top ten favourites of all-time.
Finally, I’d also add that Nicolson gave one of the best summaries of Kubrick in the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures – “Everyone pretty much acknowledges he’s the man, and I still feel that underrates him“.