Of all the films I’ve seen as a film-lover, The Shining is most certainly the one that I have the most complex and bizarre relationship with. It is very likely my favorite film, yet it is also a film that terrifies me and often repulses me beyond everything else. It is a film that I both adore and despise, at the same time. Despise is a strong word to use here, because I don’t hate it at all – rather, it feels like a film that is so loaded with messages and imagery, that I can never be satisfied, which causes me to constantly rewatch it. I know it seems bizarre to say, but I’ve seen The Shining so many times, and where most people find their comfort in rewatching their favorites comedies or romantic dramas, I find joy in rewatching Stanley Kubrick’s wonderfully complicated horror film.
It is a complicated film, because I’ve watched it more times than any other film – and last time I counted, I had seen the film close to twenty times, many of those viewings taken place within a one-year period. There are various reasons for this. The first is because I encountered the wonderfully informative and detailed documentary, Room 237, which I thought was absolutely amazing, and delved into the world of Kubrick’s The Shining to find hidden meaning and subliminal messages. In a way I wanted to try and find meaning in the film that the documentary didn’t. Another reason I constantly rewatch The Shining is because it is unlike any other horror film – many horror films serve to terrify and shock audiences, and even the greatest horror films are only worth watching once, because once the audience encounters the twists and frights, then most of the film’s motivations disappear, making many horror films useless to rewatch. The Shining, however, is a film that is almost entirely void of twists or jump scares, and rather concentrates on the psychological aspect of the story, and thus it is definitely rewatchable, and if you look deep enough, you will find meaning in each moment. However, I think the main reason it is so brilliant is because it is entirely mesmerizing – you become deeply ingrained into the world. You are not simply a viewer of the film, but rather a part of this film, as Kubrick draws the audience deeply into the film, and never lets them go.
The Shining is such an iconic horror film, and in my opinion, it is the greatest horror film of all time. As I said before, it has something bizarre about it – it doesn’t scare the audience in the traditional manner. It has such incredible suspense and the atmosphere of this film is so unique. There is a lot of attempts at dark humour throughout, not in an attempt to make the audience laugh or feel less scared – but rather to do the contrary – to make the audience terrified, and to just add to the unsettling and disturbing nature of this film. The fact that The Shining makes one so uncomfortable, while still being deeply hypnotic, is testament to Stanley Kubrick’s talents as a master craftsman and visionary filmmaker. He mesmerizes the audiences into becoming a part of the Overlook Hotel, and his powerful but overwhelming vision brings about a horror film that is as terrifying as it is otherworldly and surreal.
The best part about The Shining was the performances. Jack Nicholson’s career was at its peak when he made this film – he was probably the biggest star in Hollywood at the moment. To do a horror film was not the wisest choice for an actor of Nicholson’s status – but who could possibly resist the chance to work with Stanley Kubrick? The little risk that Nicholson took signing up for this film really did pay off – he gives one of his best performances, and his role has gone on to become iconic. I know many people weren’t huge fans of Nicholson in The Shining, but I thought he was just sublime. His descent into insanity, along with his crazy personality and his maniacal behavior makes his performance here absolutely chilling. However, the real star of this film was Shelley Duvall, who honestly sacrificed the most for this film, as she almost completely lost her sanity. Acting in a film like The Shining is not psychologically beneficial, but when you are terrified of your director, as he makes sure that you are constantly on edge, and borders on psychological abuse. I don’t blame Duvall for hating Kubrick after what he did to her here – but in Kubrick’s defense, he surely did it to bring out the fear in Duvall, and the result was one of the most iconic horror performances of all time. Danny Lloyd is fantastic as the young boy, and his performance is suitably creepy and very strong for a child actor, and he held his own against the intimidating Nicholson. Scatman Crothers is just effortlessly cool in everything he does, and there is no difference here.
What else can be said about The Shining? It is certainly a very different experience to the one you’ll get from reading Stephen King’s novel, and I honestly preferred the film more, as I felt it was just much more terrifying and more atmospheric. The music score is wonderful, the cinematography amazing and the general aura of the film is absolutely unique. I don’t need to explain why The Shining is amazing – its reputation and status as a horror classic does that well enough. I just adored The Shining, and even though I’ve rewatched it countless times, I can’t see myself not watching it many more times. It is just a sublime, wonderful film and I really think its one of the most essential horror films ever made. If you haven’t seen it, then go for it. Its wonderful, as its reputation would suggest.
P.S. The documentary Room 237 is certainly wonderful and is worth it to seek out, but only with two conditions – you need to have seen The Shining beforehand, and need to be prepared to watch it afterwards, because the documentary raises some truly terrifying and intriguing points that you’d definitely want to see for yourself.
P.P.S. This is my 237th review – I will leave that up to you to determine if that was a coincidence or not…