This is the second (and most recent) in a series of posts on The Shining. If you want to find the first post in the series, it’s here.
Well, as Michael said, it’s been many many years (I think I was about eight?) since I watched the Shining, and my abiding memories of it were some seriously awesome (or awful, depending on how you look at it!) carpet, a really irritating shrieking woman and a frozen Jack Nicholson at the end.
On second viewing, I think that my initial observations were pretty much spot on.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the Shining, I did. I really did.
First and foremost, although it doesn’t get much mention, and you don’t see very much of the mountains after the first few scenes, I think I really have to mention how much I love the setting! Those mountains are so beautiful I could quite happily watch a film entirely of their footage. You definitely get a real sense of the isolation around the hotel, and I feel that the few shots we get of the Torrance family travelling to the Overlook go a long way to increase the foreboding later in the film.
And I thoroughly THOROUGHLY enjoyed Jack post-breakdown, and the effervescent glee with which he stalks his prey, teeth bared, cooing (or screaming) after them. He practically romps about, clearly having more fun than everyone else put together, and it proves highly entertaining.
If I’m being totally honest though, what I enjoyed most about the film is trying to fill in the blanks that the audience are left with, and (as Michael already mentioned) there are many. What’s with the wave of blood? What the hell actually happened to Jack to turn him into a psychotic killer? It’s all very well just saying ‘It’s the cabin fever!’ or ‘It’s the hotel’s ghostly baddies!’ but we don’t see that real turning point (and I want to, damnit! Tell me what’s happening! Only don’t really, because the answer I come up with will probably be cooler.) What’s going on with the photo at the end? Who are the management?
I know you already asked these questions Michael, but I want to mention them again, because puzzling through them after seeing the movie is where I get the most enjoyment. And what about Jack’s ‘writing’? I mean, okay, we see it in all its ‘all work and no play’ glory, but no mention is ever clearly made regarding what style of writing he’s working on, or whether he actually wrote anything substantive whilst at the hotel. It’s clear that the writing is very important to him, but the audience are given no information about his writing. I would be intrigued to see it, and whether there are any correlations or indications in his writing of the state of his mental health.
Michael, my thoughts on Jack as the caretaker, and his role in relation to the hotel. In my opinion, there are many ways of being ‘caretaker’. Okay, so it could be seen as the least important job in the hotel, but if we were to consider, say, that the ‘management’ is the hotel itself, surely the caretaker would be the most IMPORTANT person – the person who maintains the hotel’s well-being. Definitely somebody worth hanging onto (if they’re doing a good job). Although, we don’t actually see him doing much caretaking, do we?
See? Every time I think about the movie, I come up with another question, and that’s something I always enjoy in a film.
I have one really big problem with the movie, which stopped me from really enjoying it as a horror film. For me, the shallow level of characterisation of all three Torrance family members has rendered what would be a potentially terrifying turn of events into a bit of a farce.
Let’s take Jack Torrance for instance: as the film ends, I feel that I know nothing more substantial of his character than I did at the start, namely, he’s a bit of dickhead self-obsessed writer, totally absorbed in his ‘responsibility’ as the caretaker of the hotel. Okay, I know that he’s become completely unhinged, but I care so little about the character that I’m not particularly bothered about this, except with relation to how this affects Danny (the only character I had any kind sympathy for or empathy with).
And then we come to the singularly most irritating factor of the entire movie for me: Two words – Shelley Duvall. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that she did exactly what Kubrick asked of her, but I find her portrayal at best, irritating, and at worst, misogynistic. Duvall’s Wendy is one of the most insipid, irritating and weak-willed characters I’ve ever come across on screen. At first, I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt: ‘Maybe her placating responses to Jack snapping at her are strategic!’ I thought. Er, no. When Jack really starts off into the deep end and she has a baseball bat, she barely manages to knock him down the stairs and then runs away. Her main moment of clarity and willpower is when she locks him into the kitchen storage room, but later (when ‘the hotel’ frees him again) she just seems to return to her repertoire of screaming and crying.
And just like with the pantomime tendencies of the slash horror genre (‘No, don’t go outside! Stay there! Oh, see, he’s chasing you now!’) I just found myself gritting my teeth and hissing rather unsympathetic comments at the TV ‘UGH, you’re pathetic! HIT HIM! HIT HIM AGAIN! STOP CRYING’ or unkindly mimicking her loose limbed, ineffectual run, holding her knife like a fairy wand, flapping it around in the air (how she didn’t stab herself is beyond me!)
It really made me wonder: why would Kubrick allow or encourage the principal actors to take their roles almost to the point of farce? For me, one of the scariest facets of this story is the idea that a situation (whether through the malevolent, supernatural forces of a demonic hotel, or simply ‘cabin fever’) can instigate a man’s descent into madness to the point where he gleefully attempts to murder his own family, and these rather one-dimensional portrayals of the characters quashes the ‘horror’ aspect of the narrative somewhat. I find the idea that that was his intention rather unlikely, because if that were the case, why would he have bothered to make the film at all? There has to be a good reason for this… Is it perhaps because he’s trying to convey that the characters and their suffering are of secondary importance to the ‘character’ of the hotel itself? Perhaps he was using the immediate narrative of the Torrance family as a foil to show the true horror of the hotel? Or am I reading too much into this? Kubrick is known for the level of detail that went into his direction, after all!
And finally (perhaps most importantly!) I’m now wondering about Kubrick faking the moon landing.