The Shining: A Retrospective
On the 40th anniversary of The Shining, William Thornton reminisces on Kubrick’s masterpiece.
What is there to say about Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece that hasn’t already been discussed a thousand times before by many film critics greater than me? Not much, to be honest, but that’s not going to stop me from discussing the film today and highlighting just a few of the many reasons why The Shining is an absolutely incredible film, and why those that argue the opposite are wrong.
For me, the most important part of what makes The Shining so great is the craftmanship behind the film. There are so many different parts of The Shining that you can tell were meticulously planned out and worked together by Kubrick, all of which immeasurably contribute to the film’s success as a truly horrific and frightful experience. For one, the droning soundtrack that dominates the film’s soundscape is played in perfect contrast to certain moments of absolute silence, a constant juxtaposition of tonality that runs throughout the whole film, giving some scenes a coating of a heavy, all-encumbering sense of dread that lends to why The Shining is such a uncanny and frightening film. It isn’t thanks to the typical jump scares or senseless violence of most horror films that makes The Shining scary, it’s the sense of hopelessness that wraps itself around both the characters in the film and the audience that watches, it’s the eeriness and dread we feel watching the events on screen; the cinematography perfectly contributes to this effect, with Kubrick’s use of pre-Lynchian negative space and unnaturally perfect symmetry making the film a horrific experience on the eyes as well as the ears. This is all added to by the fantastic production design of the film: the Overlook Hotel is one of cinema’s most recognisable locations, and for good reason – the empty ballrooms, the endless hallways, the mesmerizingly unnerving carpet, it all works alongside the aforementioned cinematic techniques Kubrick puts to use in the creation of The Shining to make a truly unnerving and horrific cinematic experience.
It isn’t thanks to the typical jump scares or senseless violence of most horror films that makes The Shining scary, it’s the sense of hopelessness that wraps itself around both the characters in the film and the audience that watches
And, of course, what would an article about The Shining be without an analysis of the film’s acting. We all know that Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance is nothing short of legendary, with the actor’s portrayal of the demented and psychotic character already having gone down in history as one of cinema’s best and most recognisable performances. But the performance that really stands out to me in The Shining is that of Shelly Duvall’s Wendy Torrance, the abused wife of Nicholson’s character and the unfortunate victim of his unearthly outburst. The character of Wendy has come under a lot of criticism recently, however, with many considering her just another of cinema’s weak and pitiable female horror icons; many consider Wendy to be a character of little to no merit, acting as a misogynistic representation of how women were seen by Hollywood in the eighties. I disagree with this idea. In my opinion, Wendy Torrance is perfect in this film, and this is because how real of a character she is; yes she’s helpless, yes she does little more than scream and run around the Overlook being chased by her axe-wielding husband, but that’s because she’s a real person. Kubrick wasn’t trying to make a cheesy slasher movie when he made The Shining, he set out to make a horror movie that feels authentic, a horror movie that perfectly mixes reality and the abstract supernatural. That’s why the character of Wendy works so well in my opinion, because she perfectly demonstrates how a normal human being would act like in such a situation, warts and all. Not that this excuses the awful treatment of Duvall by Kubrick on the set of the film, however.
Forty years since it’s initial release in 1980, The Shining has stood at the heart of the cinema as a perfect example of how to create a horror film that doesn’t rely on cheap scares and gore to frighten an audience. And the film’s impact on horror cinema can still be felt today, with lots of modern-day horror films such as It Follows, Hereditary, and The VVitch putting to use many of the aforementioned techniques and ideas used in Kubrick’s masterpiece in their own unique way. And that’s why The Shining will forever be one of my all-time favourite horror films (one of my all-time favourite films full-stop for that matter), as it is a clear-cut masterpiece in every sense of the word, and forever revolutionised the horror film landscape. Mind you, it’s no Evil Dead 2.