Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Halloween 2018 #29: The Shining **** (1980)

Did watching Room 237 ruin The Shining for you? Or did it enrich the experience? Do you look for random details in every frame?

What books are laying around in the Torrance apartment? Scanning all those brand names in the freezer? Why does that bathroom look like that observation dock from 2001? When Jack disconnects the radio, is that a reference to the HAL 9000? Why are the most banal scenes the most compelling?  So on and so on.

Rabbit holes aside, The Shining is about the disintegration of a family. A Gothic tale set in a luxury hotel that hosts "all the best people." The story follows a predictable pattern, with Jack, failed writer and alcoholic, already on the edge of sanity from the get go. Shelley Duvall as Wendy tries to make the best of a grim situation, dealing with a frustrated husband and a child with mysterious gifts.

My favorite scene is the first meeting between Halloran and Danny as they talk about "the shining." I have no idea how many takes Kubrick forced Scatman to endure, but the foreshadowing and sense of connection between them is moving, two kindred spirits who will face down evil. The scene also displays Kubrick's uncanny ability to mess with your sense of time, even though they just met by the end it's as if they've known each for years.

A frequent criticism is that Jack goes off the rails way too fast, much unlike the novel where the character is in a constant struggle to fend off the evil spirits. As a screen presence Nicholson is likable enough to make Jack's swift descent into madness easier to process, even dare I say, comical. When I first watched the film I read it as a comedy, laughing out loud at Jack's outbursts. Even the "here's Johnny" moment is played for laughs. Much like Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick dares us to laugh at the ultimate terror - angry father.

Kubrick's family sitcom.

The middle of the film gets increasingly hypnotic with all of Jack's hallucinations. Scenes at the bar and the bathrooms put the audience inside his head as the ghostly forces take over. That incessant music when Jack encounters Grady! Kubrick's decision to have the ghosts appear as flesh and blood adds to the dreamlike feel of The Shining.

The last act is anti-climatic to a fault. Ironies abound. Wendy, who many consider a weak character, steps up and saves Danny from her husband. Halloran's journey to save the family ends in macabre humor. The climatic hedgerow chase is hokey yet visually stunning as father and son engage in primal battle. 

Why is The Shining a masterpiece? In my humble view, Kubrick's ability to subvert genre convention is crucial. It's as if he watched every horror movie and and deconstructed them into his own unique vision. Casting, music, production design, color schemes all work together in perfect harmony.

Each viewing is a Rorschach test of your current state of mind. There's nothing quite like The Shining.

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