Monday, 9 May 2011

The Shining - Stanley Kubric (1980)

The film is based on the novel of the same name, by Stephen King, about a writer with a wife and young son who accepts the job of off-season caretaker at an isolated hotel.  He is a recovering alcoholic who stopped drinking because he hurt his son Danny.  The hotel is built on an Indian burial ground and becomes isolated during winter.  The manager warns him that a previous caretaker got cabin fever and killed his family and himself.  The son, who possesses psychic abilities, is able to see things in the future or past, such as the ghosts in the hotel.  Soon after moving in, and after a paralyzing winter storm that leaves the family snowbound, the father becomes influenced by the supernatural presence in the haunted hotel; he descends into madness and attempts to kill his wife and son.

This adaptation of a Stephen King novel is one I find genuinely disturbing.  Having watched it when I was younger (late teens) and again as part of this project (early fourties) the film has not lessened its effect.  In fact now I am a mother it has become worse - I am actually sitting at my computer as I write this, scared of the dark outside the door!!!!

The film deals with the subject of abuse and betrayal as well as the supernatural.  Jack Torrences deterioration into madness only magnifies his personality (much as alcohol would do) by turning off his inhibitions.  He has already hurt his son in a drunken episode, alluded to by his wife Wendy and when Danny shows up injured and visibly traumatized after going into room 237 Wendy's first thought is that Jack has been abusing Danny.  It is clearly a habit of his to take out his frustrations at failing in life on someone else rather than face the fact he is to blame.  The ghostly encounters he has at the hotel only reinforce these beliefs and the isolation ensures he can act on them. 

His wife Wendy is portrayed as paradoxically very capable and at the same time very hysterical.  She is obviously self sufficient in doing all the tasks at the hotel and entertaining both herself and her son but seems incapable of following her instincts and removing her son from danger when he starts to suffer from terrifying visions.  Like wise when she is being attacked by her husband although she manages to fight him off on both instances it is preceeded with much screaming and ineffectual waving of weapons.

Neither parent is overly concerned their small child is roaming the kitchens, corridors and rooms of an extremely large hotel unsupervised.  Indeed it is through the camera lens of Danny that most of the atmosphere is built.  The long low shots of him riding his bike through corridors that telescope away into the distance are masterful, as your anxiety of what could happen to him builds, and his visions of the blood and gore connected with the hotel occur more and more frequently as his fathers sanity unravels.  He is obviously not only a gifted child, both intellectually in outwitting his father and psychically, but a disturbed one and his mantra like utterances as the third party 'Tony' are both pitiful and frightening.

It is ultimately the musical score that best documents the deterioration.  It jars your senses like nails on a blackboard and does not let you rest.  Crescendos are mixed with whispers and the silent moments only serve to shred your nerves further as they wait for what will happen next.
The film does not make it clear if Jack is going mad or if there are ghostly presence's until he is released from the food store by the ghost of the previous caretaker.  However I do not feel it is the supernatural element or the gory flashes of Danny's visions that make The Shining so powerful, it is the ultimate horror of the betrayal of trust a child has in its parents and the unnatural desire to kill your own that is the true horror.

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