Today I watched Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)
Out in the idyllic Colorado Rockies there lies the Overlook Hotel, a large and historic vacation destination. Because of the large cost of upkeep and it’s isolated location, the hotel closes during the winter with only a caretaker to look after it during that time. This season those caretaker duties fall to Jack Torrance and his family, his wife Wendy and son Danny. Jack is an aspiring writer so he sees the months of isolation as an opportunity to find some inspiration and to really get stuff done in that regard. Unfortunately for all of them, there is some grand malignancy at work as The Overlook is a maze of psychological horror.
As with all of Stanley Kubrick’s work, there are many ways of interpreting this film. For me, I think the image of the maze is central here as it presents the terror of being lost both in a physical sense and a psychological one. From all the crazy theories people come up with for this movie, it can be surmised that this maze thing is more than a theme as real people have found themselves lost in it. Maybe Kubrick himself got lost in this maze as there are a few thematic ideas which seem to never fully manifest themselves in the barrage of psychotic mayhem.
Yes, while this film has become quite the classic, I still have some problems with it, perhaps the largest of which is Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance. While the film seems to meditate on ideas of domestic abuse or writer’s block or some other psychological ill, it all falls apart in that the subject, Torrance, is not much of a character. He is an over the top, scenery chewing bad guy who seems rather bereft of depth beyond his annoyance at the world. Sure he is quite scary in the film’s climax, but there is no descent into madness here, just a wait until he does what we know he will do.
Maybe that is just me falling into the maze though. Maybe all the hints and clues at meaning are dead ends in this otherwise brilliantly terrifying thriller. Confusion and misdirection are very powerful tools which Kubrick has used many times, perhaps to no greater effect than in this enigma of a film. Honestly I think the whole think kind of cancels itself out and while it is a devilishly complex maze, it is ultimately a meaningless one. I think maybe that this was Kubrick’s interpretation of the genre of horror as a whole, flashy scares and aesthetics. It would certainly hold up with how his other films use genre as we will soon see. 4/5