At times it’s hard to tell if Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is unnecessarily vague, or if there is some sort of symbolism that we are missing. It’s so simple that it’s hard to believe there is more to it than what we’re watching, but knowing the filmmaker tells us that perhaps there is something more.
The Shining is an experience in hallucinations, so that we’re unsure of what’s real and what’s fake. It’s powerful, but can also be frustrating for the audience. We want answers, and the film not only fails to give them to us, but doesn’t even address that there needs to be any. Yet these ambiguities add the mystique of it all. There’s often beauty in things that aren’t merely black and white.
Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, who temporarily moves to the Overlook Hotel in snowy Colorado to become its caretaker during the offseason when the hotel has no guests. There, he hopes to cure his writer’s block and work on a new project. His son, Danny, has “the shining”, which allows him to speak telekinetically with others who have the ability, and also to see the past and future.
Unsuccessful, Jack starts getting agitated with his family and becomes influenced by the spirits of the hotel’s past.
It’s a horror movie, and remains very scary despite not really having any jumpy moments. The amazing musical score and Kubrick’s brilliant direction help the film maintain its tension throughout by not allowing us to have the relief that would usually follow any scares.
However, while Nicholson is believable when he’s going crazy, its his performance during the beginning when he’s supposed to be normal that I wasn’t a fan of. You can read in his face that he thinks he knows something we don’t. He makes it too obvious that he knows he’s gonna snap later on in the movie. From the beginning his character is slightly off-putting and creepy, so the transition doesn’t feel as drastic and his psychopathy later on isn’t necessarily startling to us.
We don’t quite get enough of a relationship beforehand of Jack with his family, so there’s no chemistry established and no emotional heartbreak when he does finally go crazy. The film is very deep with its themes, but not as much with its characters.
But it’s still effective as a whole. It looks amazing and every shot is just so perfect that we can feel ourselves in the hotel, while simultaneously suffocating from the confusion of its labyrinthine atmosphere.
The Shining not only holds up well, but it probably gets even better with age. The pacing is slow, even for 1980, but now it’s a welcomed change from the slashers we’ve seen over the years–even if this one helped define those as well. It’s not just a horror film, but an artful piece of cinema.