Updated: May 7, 2021
by Alfie Brown - edited by Paul Powers
Ever since I watched The Shining, it stood out as special to me, and it quickly became my favourite. I am not the only person to think this, as the film is praised highly by many and has become a huge pop culture icon, often referenced in many different media. This article explains why the fans still love the film and has endured over decades. I think I will admit I have never read the novel by Stephen King.
For unfamiliar readers, the story is about a writer called Jack Torrance and his small family. Jack gets a winter job in a hotel in the Rocky Mountains. He brings his family along, only for the situation to take a turn for the worse. The family consists of Jack, a former alcoholic and struggling dad, his wife Wendy is timid, and their son Danny - who has a weird power that few understand. As the stay at the hotel progresses, Danny and Jack appear to interact with ghosts, leading Jack to slowly go mad, resulting in the family becoming increasingly distraught. I left much of the detail out to ensure that the experience of watching the film remains unspoiled.
Why the story has a strong effect
As you read above, the story is simple to understand. It is a traditional ghost story that would do well around any campfire. However, do pay close attention, as it contains many minutia details contained within, and may also hold a secret that implies a lot more is going on with the hotel than we first perceive. Because of all these tiny details and the possible secrets, it makes the story ambiguous. Over the years, many people have come up with theories and interpretations of the film, providing the viewer with a more personal experience as most will read into the story differently.
All actors in this film play their part amazingly from the main cast to side characters everyone put their effort into the roles. Jack Nicholson played Jack Torrance better than anyone else could if they had the chance to. His performance is rememberable as he shows Torrance decline into madness in a beautiful and eerie way. Shelley Duvall plays the wife, Wendy Torrance. It is hard to say how much of her performance was acting or real? The director Stanley Kubrick treated her differently from the other actors, being stricter with her when filming, shooting one scene 127 times! He did this until she got the scene right, and he was satisfied. She was isolated a lot to ensure real emotion in her acting. Shelley once said that making the film was almost unbearable. The last actor I will discuss is Danny Lloyd that played Danny, the son of Jack. Danny was six years old when acting in the film, and he did an outstandingly good job for someone his age. When filming, Kubrick never let Danny know he was in a horror film and kept this knowledge from him. Throughout filming, Danny was unaware that he was involved in making a horror movie. They protected his innocence for maximum effect.
I believe that the soundtrack is one of the best things about the film. I have many soundtracks in my record collection, as I think you can understand a lot of the film story by the music alone. A good soundtrack is an essential element of a film, as music can convey more than words at any given point. I have two examples of tracks used in the movie that provides much more than expected.
Example one, The shining Main Theme (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_nsZ8yt1KA)
The first piece of music you hear in the film with a helicopter shot of the family driving to the hotel. To most people, it just an ominous and eerie song, but there is a bit more to it. The origins of the melody date back to the 13th Gregorian chant in Latin called Dies Irae (Day of Wrath). The melody verses were about the Day of Judgment in their religion. The melody over the years became associated with death. Using this melody in the first part of the film foreshadows and is a clever use of music to set up the story.
Example two, Midnight, The Stares and You (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmnhssxSoLo) This piece is an old 1934 Foxtrot ballroom song performed by Ray Noble and his Orchestra with uncredited Al Bowlly on vocals. On its own is a calm old-time Jazz but used in the context of the film, it feels wrong and uncomfortable. Is the reason why because we associate this type of music with grand ballroom parties with people celebrating? In the movie, the song is associated with loneliness and makes the song feel sinister and evil.
In his films, Kubrick uses multitudes of angles and different camera shots to create unique effects. He also does this to have a direct influence on the emotions and perception of the viewer. One type he uses in all his film is the one-point perspective. This perspective contains one vanishing point on the horizon line, a technique used to make objects appear smaller the closer to the centre of the shot. The most famous use of this technique in the film is when Danny sees twins at the end of a corridor.
Also, many shots in the film have symmetry to give the hotel a too perfect feel make the hotel feel like it should not exist. Kubrick likes to distort the space of the building by using an extreme wide-angle lens. This use of wide-angles combined with a one-point perspective makes a big looming hotel where everything feels small in a massive space making the viewer feel like they don’t belong anywhere in the film.
I believe this film is a masterpiece. I hoped by reading this you have enjoyed it and learnt a thing or two about The Shining.
A few things I would like to share with you include some media like The Shining. The first is a film called The Lighthouse directed by Robert Eggers. This film shares the same sort of horror of unknown situation with ambiguous stories.
The last thing I like to show is a collection of albums Everywhere At The End OF Time by James Leyland Kirby under the alias of The Caretaker. It started as a project sampling old 1920 to 40 ballroom music inspired by The Shining. However, his Grandmother later developed dementia causing a change to his project to be a collection of albums to show the different stages of dementia. The albums are fascinating and disturbing at the same time. I think it is something everyone should listen to once. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJWksPWDKOc)
All the best,