Monday, May 23, 2005
Silver Anniversary for the Torrances
Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining was released 25 years ago today. Yes, I'm sure you're all happy to know that. I am, because I was trying to figure out how to post about it without sounding like an absolute idiot. Gee, I just saw this movie last weekend and it was unbelievable! Oh yeah, and it's a twenty-five-year-old classic and I never saw it before.
I've never read the book - I'm not that much of a Stephen King fan, though I generally enjoy his TV adaptations that pop up every once in awhile. I caught the end of the miniseries version (sanctioned by King, who wanted it done His Way) several years ago and was unimpressed with the gooey ending. Dad comes to his senses at the last second, dies a heroic death, goes to heaven and gets to come back to see his kid graduate - I swear I am not making that part up. Fortunately, by the time his next miniseries came along a couple of years later King must have learned from his error and presented us with a really good story I've posted about before, ages ago: Storm of the Century. He had the guts to write a downbeat ending for that one. (Off the point, SotC will be rerun over Memorial Day weekend: keep an eye out for it.)
So, anyway, back to The Shining. The Stanley Hotel in Colorado, site of the wedding I mentioned a few posts ago, runs the film nonstop on their in-house TV channel. My brother and I started watching it the night we checked in, like idiots; I basically did not sleep that night. I haven't been able to get it out of my head since.
I don't think I've ever seen a Kubrick film before. I was impressed by his attention to small details (like the scene where Danny is riding his trike over alternating rugs and parquet floors, and all you can hear is the changing sound of the trike wheels while the camera is zooming along behind him). His decision to change to the hedge maze for the climactic scene instead of messing around with topiary animals coming to life was a smart one. Basically, Kubrick's motto seems to have been Less Is More, or should I say, Less Is Scarier. Make no mistake, this is a terrifying movie. He tweaked the plot points to good effect: no redemption is to be had for Jack here and the good guys don't necessarily survive, unlike King's book. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers.) Kubrick doesn't spell out every single thing that happens in the hotel or the meaning of the picture we see at the end. Was Jack there before? Did he get trapped in the picture after the incidents in the movie? We just don't know, and the more we speculate, the freakier it gets.
Working with Danny Lloyd, the actor who played Danny Torrance, Kubrick had to keep within certain restrictions so as not to terrify the poor kid. He succeeded brilliantly - the actor has said that he didn't realize The Shining was a horror film until well after shooting was completed. This also gave power to the "Room 237" scene: We don't know what Danny encounters in the room. We only see him afterwards, so traumatized that he's sucking his thumb and unable to speak; "Tony" takes him over shortly afterwards. You can't say that's not scary... and when his mother assumes he's been brutalized by his father, that's even scarier. The way Shelly Duvall and Jack Nicholson play their roles, you just know they're in an abusive relationship before they even get to the hotel. The scene where Jack is unable to work and lets off steam by hurling a tennis ball at the wall, over and over again, lets us know right away that we're dealing with an angry guy.
Anyway, see the movie. It's brilliantly done and there's a lot more to it than blood and guts - in fact, there's a surprisingly small amount of violence in the film; it's the buildup that gets you. When a director can make you jump just by flashing a cue card at the screen that says
that's when you know you're in the hands of someone really, really good.