Rewatching The Shining

What better film to watch for the anniversary of the moon landings than Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining*. It has been a long time since I watched but it is a film so heavily referenced and parodied that it is easy to fall into an assumption of familiarity.

Watching it again, there is a lot that stands out. Visually, the way Kubrick emphasises physical space is stunning. The opening credits use helicopter shots of Jack Torrance’s car on the way to his interview at the Overlook Hotel. It’s a fairly common visual device these days, with drones capable of filming from heights quite cheaply but that doesn’t diminish the visual impact of the scenery. What does diminish the impact is the visual style of the titles, which unfortunately now look like a default setting on video-app but which would have looked very modern at the time.

I’d remembered the film as effectively exonerating Jack Torrance’s violence towards his family by blaming it on supernatural intervention and isolation. I’d forgotten the earlier scene where Wendy Torrance is speaking to a doctor after Danny has a black out. The tension is palpable as she explains the “accident” that Danny suffered at Jack’s hands when he was younger. It is a very disturbing insight into Jack’s character, who is manifestly a dangerous and controlling man prior to the main events in the film.

When I first watched the film many years ago, I was really unnerved by plot line around Danny’s psychic powers and his imaginary friend. It is a very different film when you know that his imaginary friend Tony is largely benevolent and just trying to warn people. It’s essentially the reverse premise of The Omen. Kids, even supernatural and possibly possessed ones, aren’t dangerous, it is adult men that are dangerous and they convince themselves that violence is a valid response to conflict.

Shelley Duvall’s Wendy is the polar opposite to a woman action hero, nevertheless she manages to save herself and Danny from not only Jack but a haunted hotel, largely unaided. Indeed, she successfully knocks Jack unconscious and has him locked away in a pantry. He only escapes via one of the few moments of unambiguous physical intervention by supernatural powers.

Hotel chef and closet psychic, Dick Halloran’s storyline I remembered as being primarily misdirection. After a long sequence of him making his way from Miami to Colorado, he is murdered shortly after arriving in the hotel. I’d forgotten that his arrival ensured that Wendy and Danny have a vehicle to escape in. It’s good he’s given some substantial screen time but not great that the only black character is despatched so swiftly.

Does the ending or the supernatural elements make any sense? No and if anything the surrounding theories only add to the confusion. I think I can safely assume that the film is not Kubrick confessing to have staged the moon landings (Danny’s jumper not withstanding).

Having said that, there’s a weird science fiction aesthetic to the film. No, I’m not going to claim it is science fiction but the vast empty and brightly lit hotel has echoes with Kubrick’s space stations. The later parts of the film when the luminous inside contrasts with the dark and physically hostile exterior feels like an aesthetic cousin to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). There is also that commonality with the claustrophobia/agoraphobia/isolation psychological tension from space set horror. The geometric designs also play into that spaceship aesthetic and I guess it is no accident to find Kubrick’s aesthetic reflects science fiction film aesthetics when 2001 was such an influence.

Not the Overlook Hotel

*[Aside from Apollo 13, Hidden Figures, or if I’m insisting on Kubrick 2001]

3 thoughts on “Rewatching The Shining

  1. Dick Hallorann’s death was the most disappointing thing about the movie to me, since he survived in the book (which I’d probably read 3-4 times before the movie came out).14-year-old me didn’t appreciate the movie as much as I might have coming into it cold.

    I do need to rewatch the damn thing; I don’t think I’ve seen it since it came out.

    On another note, I missed Hallorann’s appearance in It. I’ve managed to read a bunch of King novels (not all of them, but a bunch) without picking up on the common world most of them (?) share.

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    1. That explains it! There’s a sequel to The Shining (Doctor Sleep) where Hallorann makes an appearance, and I kept thinking, Isn’t he dead? Glad to see there’s a reason I thought this, though I’d definitely read the book too.

      Didn’t like the sequel as much as the original — King makes things far too easy for his protagonists. Danny was a terrified kid shut up in an empty hotel, but in the sequel the kid protagonist has an adult Danny, Hallorann, and a bunch of other people to help out.

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