Shine On, You Crazy Caretaker

The Shining: written by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson, based on the novel by Stephen King; directed by Stanley Kubrick; starring Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance), Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrance), Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrance), Scatman Crothers (Dick Halloran), Joe Turkel (Lloyd the bartender) and Philip Stone (Delbert Grady) (1980): So much has been said and written about Kubrick’s version of Stephen King’s novel that there’s not a lot left to say.

It’s fortunate that Kubrick’s original ending got cut from subsequent releases, as it rendered the rest of the movie nonsensical in a way that anticipated M. Night Shlamayan’s descent into climactic shock for shock’s sake. Go look it up. It’s also fortunate that Kubrick’s addition of a supernatural element absent from King’s original (reincarnation) is also muted in the film, though still there. As with a lot of great artists, Kubrick often seems dumber than his work.

If you’re watching The Shining for the umpteenth time, note how much heavy lifting sound and music do in the movie. Take away the audio and half the scares evaporate. Also note the astonishing number of symmetrical shots in the film, most but not all of them in the Overlook Hotel (I count a few in Dick Halloran’s Miami apartment, but all of those occur while Danny is telepathically contacting him, and once the contact is over, Halloran’s apartment becomes scrupulously asymmetrical and dominated by diagonal lines).

The symmetry comes from two elements — the position of the characters and the mise-en-scene, which is to say the layout of the set and the props in the shot. I’ll leave you to theorize what it all means, what all the mirror shots mean (‘Redrum’ is, of course, the movie’s big ‘mirror reveal’), what the static shots of Nicholson’s face at various points mean, what all the Native American elements mean, and so on, and so forth.

As with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick herein also plays with a sort of metapsychology playing out inside a gigantic metaphor for the human mind. In 2001, it’s the brain-and-spinal-cord spaceship Discovery, carrying an emotionless and sterile technohumanity to its ultimate rebirth and rejuvenation. In The Shining, it’s the haunted mind of the Overlook Hotel, carrying Jack Torrance metaphorically backwards in time to the early moments of 2001, leaving him without language and howling, running around with a weapon he will ultimately be unable to use (or triumphantly throw into the air).

It’s a fascinating film that rewards multiple viewings, if only to admire the bizarre, seemingly meaningful colour choices Kubrick makes with the various rooms in the set. Dig that red-and-white washroom! Highly recommended.

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