I recently rewatched the movie “The Shining.” This is the Stanley Kubrick film with Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in the lead roles. I saw this movie in the theater when it came out and I am a huge fan of the Stephen King book that it is based on. In fact, I believe the book was the best thing King ever wrote.
Kubrick is a famous director and I’m sure the deletions from the book’s plot and the changes made were necessary to bring the movie into a reasonable length. But making these changes makes the movie a different story from the book. And that makes the book a much richer story than the movie.
That being said, “The Shining” is a great horror movie. Jack Nicholson was born to play Jack Torrance. And Shelley Duvall is Wendy Torrance from head to toe. Watching Jack descend into madness you could believe that no ghosts were necessary. All of it could be credited to a combination of writer’s block, cabin fever and a disastrous marriage.
But the supernatural aspects of the story are blended into the psychological situation flawlessly. You really can’t tell where one aspect ends and the other takes over. The conversations between Jack and Wendy on the one hand and Jack and his spectral associates are so intertwined that it’s obvious that the ghosts understand Jack better than his own wife does.
The plot is telegraphed early on when Jack is interviewing for his job as winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. His employer ends the interview by revealing that a few years earlier a man named Delbert Grady who had taken on the job of winter caretaker had gone mad and chopped up his wife and two young daughters with an ax and then committed suicide with a shotgun. His boss explained that living in the Overlook during the mandatory five-month winter isolation in the remote Colorado location had been known to cause “cabin fever” for some vulnerable souls.
Later on, Jack actually meets Mr. Grady when he shows up as a waiter in the spectral party that seems to run endlessly in the Overlook’s shadow world. When Jack finds out his friend’s name he asks, “Weren’t you the caretaker here Mr. Grady?” Grady claims to have no memory of that. On being further prompted by Jack about his murders and suicide and Jack insisting, “You were the caretaker here.” Grady replies, “You are the caretaker Mr. Torrance, you’ve always been the caretaker here.”
And that’s the essence of how Jack’s destruction is accomplished. The Hotel (in the person of Grady) plays upon Jack’s sense of failure and his resentment toward his wife and son because of the humiliating employment choices he’s had to make when he yearned to be a writer. Now the Hotel plays up his importance and the trust that the Hotel has in his competence. When the Hotel physically attacks his son Danny, Wendy tries to convince Jack to take them back to Denver. Jack snaps and starts raving about his responsibilities to his employers. But instead of meaning the owners of the hotel he’s talking about the ghosts. And from there it’s only a short step to the ax and more murder.
I suspect most people have seen this movie and know the plot. But I’ll stop there with the plot. It’s too much fun to give it all away. Suffice it to say that between little Danny’s gift (the “shining” of the title), the Hotel’s desire to possess Danny and that gift and Jack and Wendy’s deeply scarred marriage this is a powerful witch’s brew of supernatural and psychological horror. In a later review I’ll tackle the book it’s based on. And whether you read the book first or watch the movie I’ll leave it to you to decide. But both are excellent within their medium.
(Strong Language warning for this clip)