Revisiting Kubrick’s Thirty-Year-Old Masterpiece

I don’t remember the last time I watched The Shining. I am certain it was more than ten years ago, around mid 90’s. Then again, the date doesn’t matter since my appreciation for movies then was virtually nonexistent. I devoured movies like my meals: thoroughly enjoyed them long enough until the next one comes, and the cycle and experience start anew. Watching it now after many years, though, awakened new senses and made the movie far more palatable. There are new flavors of which I was unaware before. These flavors allowed for new discoveries and demanded greater attention. I took each, chewed, swallowed, and reveled with an overabundance of satiety.

Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, The Shining is one of the most well-known horror masterpieces. Although I haven’t read the book, many who have almost never fail to mention how much Kubrick deviated it, further evidenced by King’s aversion to the movie and decision to make a mini-series. Kubrick used the central plot but made the movie on his own terms. It is, in essence, his. His notoriety for perfection oozes from every scene and every line. But for me, one core element of the movie that made it effective in evoking fright is the score. From beginning to end, Kubrick’s masterful use of the background score sent shivers down my spine. It is the perfect capstone.

The Shining is unlike any of today’s horror movies, which are mostly manufactured in the same formulaic shock-factor. Instead of using horror clichés, the movie opts for subtle but deeply effecting psychological torments, again, accompanied by a haunting score. Case in point: Danny’s game-room scene. He’s playing darts and after throwing each to the board, he routinely pulls them out. Close-up of his face, and we immediately know something unexpected and horrifying has just occurred. Eyes widening, we feel an acute sense of dread as the score hits a harrowing tempo, enduring for seconds until the objects of horror is revealed. In some movies, the effect of such a reveal would be ineffective and, thus, novel, often receiving plenty of eye-rolls.

Another example would be Wendy’s discovery of Jack’s ‘writings’. Other horror films would predictably employ the oldest trick in the horror book: the scare-you-from-behind tactic, in which an unsuspecting victim is caught of guard by a voice from behind, causing the audience to jump from their seat. In The Shining, though, a more effective version is used. We still see Wendy but we also see where Jack is going to emerge from. There is no surprise for the audience, making Wendy’s reaction much more authentic and appreciated instead of gratuitous. And Jack’s, “How do you like it?” is equally disturbing in its delivery.

The Shining is marvelous from every direction. While others claim it to be deeply self-indulgent and (gasp!) boring, the human mind’s descent to psychological distress is not actually abrupt. Each line contributes to the collective, used as an efficient tool to drive the plot forward, and not as fillers to an otherwise empty scene. Every line is memorable and effecting, and so are the performances.

Jack Nicholson is wonderful. I know that’s glib, but it’s also an apt description of his work in the movie. The child who played Danny, Danny Lloyd, delivers quite a performance. But the true gem is Shelley Duvall. I had my misgivings about her role as the inept wife and jejune mother. But she really shone and exemplified authentic terror. Her transition from happy homemaker to terrified victim is delectable I could almost taste her fear. I know many would disagree with me in this, but Shelley’s Wendy is, for me, the best character in the film.

All those elements fueled a marvelous story. And the way that story was told is both timeless and peerless. The Shining is open for interpretation, especially with the ending. That kind of open-ended finale is bound to create plenty of opinions. I’m aware of the deleted scene, which probably shed some light on the film’s ending. However, the exclusion of that scene made a very efficient mystery which instilled an allure.

And while movies of this caliber are increasingly becoming rare, no matter how things change and how the movie industry’s definition of horror evolve, The Shining will remain a remarkable gem in the genre of psychological thrillers.

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One thought on “Revisiting Kubrick’s Thirty-Year-Old Masterpiece

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