I can’t say exactly how it is that I’ve lived 40 years without ever having watched “The Shining,” but when the Stanley Kubrick classic’s number came up for “One from the Shelf” I was delighted. Trepidatious, but delighted.
Would it live up to the hype? Could it possibly be that good?
The film holds such an incredibly prevalent place in our culture. I may never have watched the movie before this week, but who doesn’t know the maze scene or the typewriter scene or Danny on his Big Wheels or the twin girls or the “redrum” stuff or the axe going through the bathroom door? These are things that have been spoofed repeatedly since the film was released. They have been referenced in a plethora of places. They are used all the time when someone is talking about not just horror movies, but overall great films. There was even a movie earlier this year that offered a major, impressive, reference to “The Shining.”
So, I can’t say that any of what I saw this week in the film surprised me (I’ve read the book as well which, though different, certainly helps chart the movie). I am, however, happy to report how utterly compelling a film it is despite my knowing virtually everything that would take place. Now that’s a feat.
I didn’t find it a particularly scary movie, but I think there are a few reasons for that. First, when you know what’s going to happen the shocks of the events occurring are lessened. Second, more psychological based horror hasn’t ever really scared me. Thoughts of Hannibal Lecter don’t keep me up at night in the same way Jason Voorhees might.
The more interesting thing, perhaps, with watching a movie like “The Shining” at this point in time is not the reaction during the film or that night, but your feelings a day or two later. What sticks with you when you know it all going in.
A couple days later, Danny on the Big Wheels is still huge for me. I love those tracking shots. I love the tracking shots during the entire film, but the use of sound, especially during the first Big Wheels scene is amazing. Hearing the tire changes as he goes onto and off of the carpets is just great, as is the way the camera floats behind him. Is there an evil spirit watching him? Will someone grab him? It’s utterly engrossing. Plus, it helps physically build the world of the hotel in our minds. It is not just about telling the story at that moment, it’s also an establishing shot. It’s this bit of brilliance that shows what a true filmmaker can do.
The thing that I have the most mixed feelings about with the movie is Jack Nicholson. I know that people love him and that his work here is iconic (there is nothing about this movie that isn’t iconic), but some moments are just too broad for me. Jack arching his eyebrows has a comedic effect, not a terrifying one. I am not saying that all of it is disappointing – he is certainly quite scary at moments and does the descent into madness exceptionally well, but there are looks here and there that don’t work for me.
Some of this is related to Nicholson’s separate, more broad, comedic work. That is, I am, necessarily, viewing this movie through the lens of that which came after it and see those eyebrows arch in a way that I associate with punchlines rather than axe wielding. This is, as much as anything, a testament to his iconic performances across a number of genres as much as it is anything else.
In the end, after watching the movie, I remain embarrassed that it took me so long to see it for the first time and know that it won’t be another 40 years until I watch it again. Not only that, but I am inspired now to go out and watch “Room 237,” a documentary discussing theories around the movie, and to watch/read any number of other works talking about the film and its production.
Sometimes, movies are legendary for reason, and “The Shining” is clearly deserved of all the accolades it has received (plus, it has Barry Nelson, who was the first James Bond, and I would be remiss if I didn’t note that).
photo credit: Warner Bros