The Shining (1980) - Stanley Kubrick - Film Review | Leisure

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The Shining
Directors: Stanley Kubrick

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‘The Shining’ is a 1980 psychological horror film, directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick. The film is a depiction of the Stephen King’s 1977 horror novel of the same name. ‘The Shining’ sees the story of writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) taking a job as a caretaker during Christmas at an isolated mountain hotel (Figure 2) where he slowly becomes influenced by the supernatural manifestations, resulting in him slowly descending into madness from the effects of Cabin Fever. The film is still considered to be one of the scariest horror films of all, and has been praised by many critics to have arguably been a huge influence on much of today’s popular culture. Kubrick’s take on King’s novel shares some similarities but doesn’t replicate the exact narrative. Some of the more magical events that happen within the novel do not appear with the film’s running; yet a bigger sense of fear is present due to the combinations of different elements. The themes that are explored within ‘The Shining’ relate to the typical conventions of horror linking with supernatural hauntings and death; however Kubrick provides for a unique opening for other emotions and experiences as an audience as Ebert observes. “The movie is not about ghosts but about madness and the energies it sets loose in an isolated situation primed to magnify them.” (Ebert, 2007) The crucial success of the conveyance of horror throughout could be said to have been the “isolated situation” which is immediately introduced through the film’s opening that later becomes a constant reminder to the viewer’s due to the subjective nature of the film. Having this ornate hotel isolated from any other form of civilisation suddenly limits you as a spectator to this one location where the production takes place entirely. The experience almost becomes personal. Debatably, the most effective way the isolation is portrayed is through the use of the

perspectives in which the cameras follow, as they stay tight to the characters, limiting the shots to be very distinct within the individuals movements (and emotions) inside this great display of uncomfortable, oppressive architecture which is suggestive that the hotel has power of its inhabitants.

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Carrying on from the subjective camera angles, their involvement also provides for an extremely personal intake from an audiences point of view who could almost share the experiences and reactions with the subject character through this choice of cinematography. For example, when the character in focus is Danny (Figure 3), the lower angled shots then reflect a child’s view point, building on the unsettling nature of his characteristics as well as making the addressees feel small in comparison the scene. Although these perspectives change with the flow of the film during different situations, in contrast with Figure 3 the shots which portray the domestic argument between Jack and Wendy on the stairs (Figure 4) are presented inversely as if to feel threatened. In turn this creates severe tension which supports the way the scene plays out to provide for a very unnerving experience for the audience. Following on from this, the film entices the attention and physical feelings of onlookers by making this, in a way, a relatable experience with these horrors being, as Maslin states, “close to home”. “Kubrick isn't out for screams, but he manages to make his movie thoroughly unnerving by keeping the horror so close to home.” (Maslin, 1980) The disconcerting mood comes from the realisation that the unthinkable can happen due to the juxtaposition of the everyday events that are considered normal, to the uncomfortable occurrences which lead to Jack’s eventual insanity. This proceeds to each scene continually building suspense out of these normal procedures which leave spectators comfortable, but the way that these actions unfold into something frighteningly possible allow you to relate to the ‘real fear’ of the plausibility of the themes surrounding the ‘The Shining’. Moreover, the manner in which the film is edited supports the growing emotions as it leaves you to be more cautious and aware due to the breaks in tension from the black screens that allow the anxiety and fright to build before introducing to long awaited crux.

Not everyone agrees with the films horrific nature, with some feeling as if the true terror was depicted in a more effective manner inside Stephen King’s original novel. Variety reveal; “With everything to work with, director Stanley Kubrick has teamed with jumpy Jack Nicholson to destroy all that was so terrifying about Stephen King's bestseller.”
(Variety, 1980)

In argument with the writers, the production provides for another interpretation of the classic work, however in comparison both follow slightly altered narratives. The film is a representation of Kubrick’s take on ‘The Shining’ and relies on the mise-enscene and cinematography to create an in depth emotional journey for his audiences, whereas the novel allows an individual’s perception to imagine the terrifying incidents which occur and develop. Arguably, the main factor which makes the film popular amongst other critics in regards to the book comparison, is the films soundtrack which compliments the filmic values to create these almost real feelings of insanity, anxiety and fear due to combinations of sound and picture and how this aid the interpretations which influence perception and its effect on emotion. Even though the film is not an exact replicated version of the original bestseller, the film makes up for it with a unique viewing experience involving all aspects to create this psychosomatic triumph. Concluding, ‘The Shining’ provides for a psychological thrill ride that delves deep within the recesses of human sanity, and derives most of its horrific approval from the dark realms of madness rather than the typical supernatural nature associated with the horror genre.

Review Bibliography

References Ebert, R (2007) available at:; 06180302 [accessed online on 4 December 2012]. Maslin, J (1980) available at:; [accessed online on 4 December 2012]. Variety (1980) available at:; [accessed online on 4 December 2012]. Illustrations Figure 1: Figure 2: Figure 3: Figure 4:

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