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Movie Critic Review: The Shining (1980) Part One

People Who Shine Can See

Jack Torrance, a writer seeking to be on his own for a writing project, accepts a job as the winter caretaker for an off-season, isolated hotel situated in a snow-stricken mountainous area. On interviewing the writer for the job, the hotel owner felt obliged to warn him that the person who took this job before underwent sudden mental collapse which led him to kill his wife and their twin daughters and then shoot himself to death. Nevertheless, the writer accepts the job and is accompanied by his family (wife Wendy and son Danny)into a life of solitude and isolation which is gradually wrecked by unusual events that lead the writer to attempt to kill his family.
The film bases itself on the origins of these events and whether they are psychological or supernatural.
The writer who is apparently frustrated and prone to mental disease as is manifested by his inability to start or resume his writing project* and who is evidently an alcoholic, rapidly falls prey to anxieties and fears aggravated by the claustrophobia or "cabin fever" of the place.
The son, Danny, who has suffered from his dad's physical abuse and consequent psychotic behavior, senses early on the eerie atmosphere of the vacant hotel. This intuitive capacity in the child is noticed by the hotel chef ;Dick Halloran (played by Scatman Carothers)who confides to the child about this capacity that he called the shining: "Maybe things that happen leave other kindof traces behind. Not things that anyone can notice. But things that people who shine can see. Just like they can see things that haven't happened yet...sometimes they can see things that happened a long time ago. l think a lot of things happened right this particular hotel over the years."

The opening of the movie is ominous and nauseatingly uneasy. Attached to a helicopter obviously piloted by a cinema techy, the camera tracks higher and higher accompanied by a sound-track that feels like a ritual chanting and/or wailing. Some dreadful human voices. Vocal sirens from the outset! This anticipatory atmosphere is condensed by the conversation the family was having inside their car (a VW bug) while driving uphill to the Lookout Hotel:
"Wendy: wasn't it around here that the Donner party got snowbound? Jack: I think that was farther west, in the Sierras. Danny: what was the Donner party? Jack: they were a party of settlers in covered wagon times. They got snowbound one winter in the mountains. They had to resort to cannibalism in order to stay alive. Danny: you mean they ate each other up? Jack: they had to, in order to survive. Wendy: Jack! Danny: don't worry, mom. I know all about cannibalism. I saw it on TV. Jack: see, it's okay, he saw it on the television." This piece of conversation seems to refer to the remote origins of the impending dangers in the horizon.
The music here is eerie and plain scary! Ominous, in another word. Also, in this scene you will notice the superb acting by the three but notably by Shelley Duvall (as Wendy).
Upon arriving in the hotel, Danny (presumably) shines with the chef who gets concerned and strictly prohibits Danny from room 237. Riding his tricycle in the long corridors of the hotel followed by a tracking camera called the 'Stedicam'  which was first used and operated by its inventor, Danny seems to be looking for the room he is not supposed to enter. This is how Kubrick scares.
By nuances and by nursing your faint sense of fear. These corridor scenes are capable of throwing one off balance, in a way!
Then in a turn of the corridor, Danny is face to face with the twin daughters. The dead daughters of Jack's predecessor in the job! Or is Danny imagining?
In the mean time Jack is struggling with his writing job. He is unable to work on it and is becoming too edgy with his kind wife. He is trying to blame his "writer's block"* on her ordinary appearances in front of him which he saw as distractions! He starts to see people. Dead people. Kubrick has this unique capacity to negate the idea that he has just instilled into your mind. When you think of a ghost talking to Jack there is always a mirror! You are prompted to ask if Jack is talking to a 'real' ghost or is he talking to himself in the mirror. The interchangeability of the psychological with the supernatural is a mind-boggling premise and seems to be the main philosophical theme with Kubrick! So Jack is encouraged by ghosts to correct things going on in the hotel. Thus a huge chunk of scare is hurled into our faces in the next scenes when axes,  knives and baseball bats are pulled out and ultimately we are treated to a breath-taking chase in the maze.

The final scene in this movie is probably one of the reasons why, as a work of art, it keeps resurfacing sometimes as the No.1 scary movie in the history of cinema, other times as one of the 10 scariest movies ever. And why Stanley Kubrick who only made about 13 movies ranks among the best 10 filmmakers since the invention (or is it discovery?) of cinema.
All this is because of Kubrick's ingeniousness and in this instance his unique 'style of scaring' which depends on your own mental 'scare reactor' to enrich his simple ideas into nightmares for you. Another reason for the pleasant recurrence of this movie is this enigmatic scene on which your first take would be that Jack has actually stepped into the movie out of a black and white photo of a ceremonial party on the 4th of July 1921 which is hanging  in one of the halls of the Overlook Hotel! The tracking camera (or the just-introduced Steadicam) zooms slowly down to ball-room in the hotel, to that wall and further into the picture where we see...who?
Could it possibly be this Jack of around 1980? In a picture from 1921?
Obviously enigma attenuates but never kills the scare!

Stephen King's Novel Cover
The Shining (1980): 142 min, color.
Genre: Psychological Horror.
Cast: Jack Nicholson (as Jack), Shelley Duvall
(as Wendy), Danny Lloyd (as Danny)
and Scatman Crothers (as Dick Hallaran).
Based on the novel (The Shining) by: Stephen King
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson.
Produced and Directed by: Stanley Kubrick.


* He suffered from the Writer's Block, a condition often
described in literary or creative circles in which the writer/author is unable to start or resume the act of writing (or other creative activity) either due to lack of inspiration or for fear of writing a work that is of lesser value han his previous one(s). Fellini's (8½) is another movie that treats this subject among many others!

Note On The SoundTrack

The movie derives its music from different sources.
The (Main Title) is composed by Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind who  based their work
"Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath), a traditional Catholic funeral dirge.  It is an eerie mix of synthasizer and the human voice and genuinlely scary.
There is also some classic music by Bela Bartok and Gyorgy Ligeti.
Most of the music and the most frightening parts are works by Polish composer  Krzysztof Penderecki 


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