The Shining is Stanley Kubrick's 1980 classic adaptation of Stephen King's novel from a few years earlier. The movie follows the Torrance family as the patriarch struggles to get his life together by being the winter caretaker for the beautiful but secluded Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. As he tries to write his next book, we watch him descend into madness, or maybe get ghost-ed. It's not clear. We talk more about this below. Check out the trailer, and then let us know if you agree with our review:
Jack: Okay. Let me get something out of the way right off the bat. There a few undeniable truths in this world which aren’t worth arguing about: light in a vacuum will travel at 3.00×10^8 m/s; Steve McQueen is fucking cool; people who claim to enjoy opera are only pretending; Carly Rae Jepsen is a national treasure; and Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining is incredible and terrifying (maybe there’s some others in there too, I never claimed it was a complete list). With that said, I will try to avoid repeating over and over how much of what makes this movie great is Nicholson’s acting. It’s intense and brooding while being unpredictable and capable of frenzied sequences that never feel forced.
Jake: Carly Rae Jepsen is Canadian. So unless you’re claiming to be Canadian, you’ve discredited your list. Actually, even if you’re not claiming that, I’m still mad. And we haven’t even gotten started. All I can think about now is how much I hate Sidney Crosby… Now I’m no film student, but it’s almost indescribable just how amazing Nicholson is in this movie. You can’t take your eyes off his character anytime he’s on screen. He’s scary good.
Jack: Scatman Crothers is great too. His performance didn’t drive the tone of the movie and carry the terror the way Nicholson’s does, but it didn’t need to. Crothers’ performance did exactly what it was supposed to do, and made ‘the shining’ sound like a cool, completely real and wise thing that an elder statesman would describe rather than the complete fucking lunacy it should have sounded like. And yeah, we don’t want to glorify the racist overtones present in the “mystical black man” trope into which this squarely fits, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have enjoyed the performance, damnit! Who are you to tell me otherwise?
Jake: Ok. Now we’re back on track with this shit. Crothers is awesome. If it wasn’t for Nicholson putting on the best acting performance since the last time Crosby suited up (see below), he would have stolen the show. Plus, anytime Hong Kong Phooey is in a horror movie, I’m IN. But you know what? Racist overtones doesn’t even do it justice. He had something supernatural going on. And he is black. And there was that one scene where Nicholson and Grady ghost were talking in the bathroom where they repeatedly threw the n-word around. It was flat out racist.
Jack: And on the complete other end of the spectrum, you have Shelley Duvall, whose legendarily bad acting earned her a Razzy for Worst Actress for the role. I actually think she gets a bit of a bum rap for her performance in this movie. In the early scenes where Danny is going all fucking wonky and Jack is a distant asshole, I think she does a terrific job of putting on a brave face over deep-seated feelings of loneliness and fright. But her bum rap ends as soon as she picks up that knife towards the end of the movie. (okay, probably before that, but definitely at that point). Watching her lilt lazily through the hotel with her arms waving around wildly like she’s a goddamned marionette while she's supposed to be running scared is too much to bear. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Jake: I also think it’s a bit harsh. I mean, don’t get me wrong. She was bad. Real bad. But I have to believe that was a choice to add to the atmosphere of the movie. None of the characters are remotely normal. I think Kubrick made her so meek and helpless to serve as the opposite to Jack’s building insanity. Mix that in with Danny’s schizophrenia...er… ‘shine’, and you’ve got a recipe for your own descent into madness as the viewer. Have I drank the Kool-Aid on this one? You betcha! But I’m also getting ahead of myself.
Jack: Alright, I'll be the hero to get this train back on track. This movie’s intro is one of the more perfect examples of an intro setting the tone for an entire movie that I can think of. The mountains of Colorado are so beautiful, but Jack’s car is completely dwarfed by them, and he is seen from very far away. It’s stifling in its isolation. The music fits perfectly, without being too much.
Jake: Don’t try to use fancy words to fool our audience into thinking we are impartial, you son of a bitch. Guys, full disclosure time. Jack and I (this Jack, not the psychopath Jack in the movie) went to college in Colorado, so anytime we see Colorado mountains and things, we get real nostalgic.
Jack: Simpler times buddy. Another thing that worked for me was the introduction of the “Tony” character. If Shelley Duvall’s character had made a huge deal out of it, then it would have felt shoved right down my throat, but since she didn’t, you kind of just take it as a given: this creepy motherfucker of a dead-eyed little kid talks with a weird voice out of his finger sometimes. Sure.
Jake: Yeah, I was also on board with the way this was handled. It’s pretty foreboding. Danny knows he’s got an issue with his whole situation, and as a result he is hesitant to go in-depth on what Tony truly is from the jump. It helps create isolation from the beginning of the film that just continues to grow with every passing scene. It is fantastic. Except for the “redrum” scene . . .
Jack: Hold on a damn second! Did you not like the REDRUM scene?! I love that scene. I really like the choice to not alter that kid’s voice in any artificial way. It, like so much of this movie, is great. Which isn’t to say that everything in the movie is seamless. I don’t know if it’s having seen the movie a bunch before or what, but the hotel manager telling Jack about the past caretaker murdering his whole family with an axe felt like an enema of foreshadowing. Maybe. Never actually had one, but I assume it would feel as forced.
Jake: Apparently Stephen King didn’t love how this was handled, but he also hated the casting of Nicholson and pretty much every other stylistic choice of this movie that was objectively correct, so who cares. Whereas Torrance is painted as a struggling alcoholic and more of a tragic character in the book, Kubrick pretty much smashes you in the face with the fact that he is a ticking time bomb in the movie. It’s just a matter of time till the fireworks start. With that in mind, I didn’t really find that scene as abrasive as you, I guess.
Jack: Also the transitions between scenes are consistently awful. I don’t think anyone could successfully argue that Kubrick isn’t a genius, but hot damn, could he really not come up with anything better than cue cards with “Monday” and “8 AM” on them?!
Jake: I loved these. Particularly with how intense the musical accompaniment was. It was a hilarious juxtaposition.
Jack: But was it supposed to be? Did you like the comedy interjection, or did it just feel quaint and like a relic of bygone era? Ooh, before I forget: INDIAN BURIAL GROUND! When I went down that whole rabbit hole on them in our Poltergeist review, I completely forgot that this move 1) came first, and 2) had a haunted (maybe) setting because it was built on an Indian burial ground! Kind of a trope-y inclusion in an otherwise quite unique and ground-breaking movie.
Jake: It’s interesting because it’s completely glossed over. The hotel manager mentions it in passing to Jack as they do their tour of the facility. That’s all we get as an audience. The rest is up to us. Is it haunted? Is it not haunted and these people are just going stir-crazy? More to come on that.
Jack: Well, at least we’re organized. The movie is terrifying right from the beginning. Danny’s first vision is a great example. It’s completely frenetic but somehow lingers on the shots long enough for you to see a little bit of what they’re about. Not just some seizure-inducing horse shit subliminal messages flashing in front of the screen.
Jack: The shots of Danny racing through the halls on his big-wheel get better every single time I see them. Damn. It is not hard to see why they’re iconic. The way there’s just silence while he’s on carpet that abruptly transitions to a lot of noise while he’s over the hardwood or tile? Genius and unsettling. And sure, you could point out that people much smarter than myself have traced Danny’s path through the hotel and, based on his turns and the hotel’s overall structure, the placement of some windows is spatially impossible. But come on, what do you want? You expect us to have done any research? Plus that kind of pedantry has no place in a wholesome family blog such as this.
Jake: Yeah fuck that… Anyway, I agree. And I think that brings up one of the many stylistic choices that make this movie great. In general, the film does a great job of putting the audience into a situation where you feel turned around. Many of the shots are very long, continuous takes. It adds to the suspense and gives a real sense of place to the Overlook. You know they are not just on a small set for the entire thing. Another major stylistic choice that I loved is the use of mirrors. Kubrick uses them, in film terms, all the fucking time. It adds to the disorienting feeling you get while watching the movie. There’s scenes where the characters are talking to each other by looking through mirrors, talking to themselves in mirrors, and talking to ghosts in mirrors. If a ghost is involved in the scene, there’s likely a mirror in play. It’s confusing, and that was undoubtedly what Kubrick wanted.
Jack: I do want to touch on Nicholson’s acting a little more. That scene where Shelley Duvall first walks in on him while he’s writing in the lobby might be the most effective of the whole movie. Jack’s declining sanity is so intense, you start clenching every sphincter you’ve got before she even says her first words to him. Similarly, it felt like the only reason that shot of Nicholson in the pantry was able to go on for as long as it did is because of what a terrifying motherfucker that guy is. And that brings me to my next point.
Jake: Jesus dude. You are all over the fucking place. Do we even have a semblance of some structure here?
Jack: Well we were going to. But then I’ve had to work a shit-load this week, and you know what they say: All work and no . . .
Jake: NO! FUCKING STOP THAT! I told you before we started not to make that joke. I could see it in your eyes.
Jack: What in the shit is going on in this movie? Every time I see it I feel like I know what’s going until that shot of the picture into which Nicholson fades. So . . . is this a movie about one man utterly losing every single one of his marbles? Is it actually about ghosts? Does Jack get sucked into the hotel and then time shifts around to him having been the caretaker before? Has he truly always been the caretaker as Grady implies, making this a terrible remake of Groundhog Day . . . but, you know, thirteen years earlier . . . and with a different plot . . . and in a different genre? In any case, I don’t get it. I know Kubrick has all but confirmed that it was just actually ghosts, but then he’s always prattling off about the demonic nature of man, so, what the fuck Kubrick? Which one is it?
Jake: Yeah. This movie has been the subject of so much speculation it’s unreal. I think there are some pretty undeniable things that point to ghosts, or at least the supernatural. Hallorann doesn’t come back if he and Danny don’t ‘shine’. Jack probably doesn’t get out of that cupboard with the door that looks like it would shield a nuclear blast unless there is some sort of aid from The Other Side.
Jake: Unless everyone is just absolutely nuts by the end anyway and literally anything could have happened and we as the audience aren’t even supposed to begin to know what’s going on… Which is possible because there is no way Kubrick was ever going to make a regular ass movie… Anyway, we’re clearly never gonna crack this nut, so why don’t we move on. Guess what? I’ve changed my whole outlook! I’ve been going to a metric fuck-ton of therapy recently, and that has led me to conclude that I’ve been too harsh on the “Jack’s Incomprehensible Note of the Week” segment. So here I am, olive branch extended, genuinely excited for the most incomprehensible note you had this week.
Jack: . . . Actually I’m tweaking the segment this week. Sure, I had some incomprehensible notes, but my favorite note was completely comprehensible. So I’m just gonna list my favorite note because it was awesome. Despite its lack of incomprehensibleness. Ready?
Jake: I can literally not describe how much I hate you.
Jack: Nah, you love it! And here’s the note:
“Apollo 11 Sweater is the stone nuts.”
Yep. Not hard to figure that one out. But true. And awesome.
Jake: I hate you. Ratings.
For 1, think of how Michigan fans would rate losing Paul Bunyan to Michigan State this year:
For 10, think of how much you wanted to get inside the video games on Nick Arcade while simultaneously how depressing it looks as an adult:
Jack: 8 - this is just about top-notch. Simple enough, but with all sorts of weird goings-on that keep your brain working, but don't make you lose the thread.
Jake: 8 - There is some weird animosity over the differences in Kubrick’s vision for the story versus the book. We are reviewing a movie, but I do also understand and generally like things to stick to the work that inspired them, so with that in mind I still give it a very high rating. The story is a great, mind-bending thrill ride.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 7 - Every scene with Nicholson in it was so intense it felt like it was happening directly to me. But the transitions and Shelley Duvall with that knife really undid a lot of that.
Jake: 9 - I’m in. The Overlook has a personality, and watching these characters interact with it is a pleasure. Most of this rating is still due to the tour de force that Nicholson puts on. He does crazy like no one else, and it’s a privilege to watch.
Jack: 6 - The most frightening parts of this movie are feeling hopeless while watching a man utterly losing his mind. The supernatural parts are nothing special. Oh and that scene at the end in the maze. That's scary too.
Jake: 7.5 - Ghosts are scary. Ghosts in a hotel that you are literally trapped in with a psychopath who is going to chop you up with an axe is scarier. Not knowing exactly how much of that is real or just in your own head is scariest.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 9 - Kubrick helped invent the rig that let them follow the big wheel like that. He also personally typed like 5000 lunatic pages for Jack’s book. Plus he seamlessly integrated a static painting of the hedge maze with sets for a truly frightening setting. Also he chose to forego the hedge animals from the book because he didn't think he could make them believable. Brilliant and winnowed.
Jake: 7.5 - This film falls into the “judicious lack thereof” category... for the most part. It’s more about what’s going on in the mind than on the surface. Only as things really start to deteriorate is there any use of them. The lone death scene is ok. The rotting woman is a bit much on the gross factor, but the effects are not awful. Most importantly, Danny’s visions are pretty well done. The movie definitely feels like it’s from the 70’s, but that’s not a bad thing.
Jack: 8 - This movie is mind-boggling and complex without going over the top or feeling overwrought. It toes the line of psychological and slasher horror in a manner to which so many movies aspire but fall short. One of the all-time greats.
Jake: 8 - This is an outstanding movie. it’s widely considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, and I think it’s pretty hard to argue that. It gets better with repeated viewing, and definitely stands the test of time. It’s one you have to have seen if you claim to like horror.