If I had to pick a horror film that may be more celebrated for its visuals than Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” then there would be no other film above it on that list than Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece in isolationism: “The Shining.”
The story comes from the horror great Stephen King, but the visuals are very much a product of the twisted mind of Kubrick. Couple the blood curdling images with the intensity of two acting giants–Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall–“The Shining” will deliver not only in your viewing at the moment, but also in the last nightmares you will be left with as you slumber.
What I’ve learned in my short 31 years of life is that many people have not actually seen this film, and they certainly haven’t read the King novel of the same name, and I find it to be an absolute travesty. The setting of a peaceful ski resort and the plot of a tortured writer resonate strongly with me; however, where our two roads diverge is the arrival of the supernatural, twisted sisters and a mental break that leads to a number of dastardly deeds. But this is where Kubrick is at his best. The combination of color and layer and storytelling create a world that is like no other at the time. His development of King’s novel in a visual manner leaves the viewers immersed in a world full of the unknown and unexplained, yet willing to go deeper and darker to understand it.
The film wasn’t necessarily well-received in 1980, but it isn’t in that early reception where it received its status as pop culture phenomenon. Rather, like a good wine, it took time to breathe and really solidify itself as a full-bodied contender for filmic excellence–not even just in the realm of the horrific. Its brilliance draws most from the gothic traditions of the Romantics, particular as it relates to being a haunted house ghost story, and it is in that tradition–shrouded in the beauty of the Overlook Hotel–that the great gothic visuals emerge and the story develops from its intricate beginnings to its exalting conclusion.
Being trapped is a psychological fear for many–whether it is literal and metaphorical. Kubrick traps us within the Overlook with Nicholson, Duvall and their young son, Danny. It is this unholy trinity that serve as our guides through what can be seen as a spiritual experience and a reckoning with our inner most desires and hate. These transitions and coming-to-term with oneself are major plot points and overarching themes within the narrative. It is a story about emergence–both from pain and from darkness. Much the like maze at the conclusion of the film, sometimes we are lost deep within our minds and it is from the darkness we find light.
If you haven’t seen this film, then you need to. If you haven’t looked at this film for its undertones of human nature and blissful exploration of light and dark, then you need to watch again and keep these in mind.
So, “Here’s Johnny,” and he is so very excited for you to be checking into the Overlook for a stay you will never forget.
As a little pop culture note, in the movie “Twister,” “The Shining” is playing at the drive-in theater when the F4 tornado hits toward the tail end of the film. “The Shining” would later get a sequel both in novel and in film. “Doctor Sleep” is another brilliant piece of storytelling and a much different visual masterpiece in itself.