← Back to Reviews

The Shining

The Shining (1980)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast overview: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall
Running time: 144 minutes

The Shining is perhaps considered to be - though there would be competition for the status - Kubrick's best film. A horror adapted from Stephen King's novel of the same name, it tells the story of Jack Torrance (Nicholson), a writer who heads with his family to the isolated Overlook Hotel for the winter. An evil presence influences Torrance into violence, while his son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future. I know King himself isn't a fan of this film, perhaps because it deviates so much from his original work, but I do love this as a film.

Firstly, having Kubrick at the helm - while I don't like all of his films, and I do think he's a tad overrated - probably made this film better than it otherwise would have been. Supposedly there is subliminal messaging within every shot, as touched upon in far more detail in the very interesting documentary Room 237, though whether that is true or not I don't know. The direction is expertly done, creating the sense of isolation that was imperative to making the film work.

Many have criticised the acting, particularly that of Shelley Duvall. I'd probably disagree - Nicholson is excellent and, while he does have a tendency to play himself and overact at times, he portrays Torrance to a tee, creating one of cinema's most memorable characters in the process. Duvall as the troubled and fearful wife is more of an enigma. I've often wondered whether she's fantastic or awful in this, and I've come to the conclusion that she's somewhere in between, giving a performance that's quite haunting at some points, but that also seems feeble and comical at others. Danny Lloyd as the haunted son is terrific for such a young actor.

Overall, this is a terrific horror film that shows Kubrick's skill at understanding and translating the genre to the big screen. With some excellent performances, most notably from Jack Nicholson, the film is memorable, frightening, and bizarre. It's one of those films that sticks with you but that you never quite understand fully. Highly recommended.

Wendy Torrance: [crying] Stay away from me.
Jack Torrance: Why?
Wendy Torrance: I just wanna go back to my room!
Jack Torrance: Why?
Wendy Torrance: Well, I'm very confused, and I just need time to think things over!
Jack Torrance: You've had your whole ****ING LIFE to think things over, what good's a few minutes more gonna do you now?
Wendy Torrance: Please! Don't hurt me!
Jack Torrance: I'm not gonna hurt you.
Wendy Torrance: Stay away from me!
Jack Torrance: Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I'm not gonna hurt ya. You didn't let me finish my sentence. I said, I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in.
[Wendy gasps]
Jack Torrance: Gonna bash 'em right the **** in! ha ha ha
Wendy Torrance: Stay away from me! Don't hurt me!
Jack Torrance: [sarcastically] I'm not gonna hurt ya...
Wendy Torrance: Stay away! Stop it!
Jack Torrance: Stop swingin' the bat. Put the bat down, Wendy. Wendy? Give me the bat...

Jack Torrance: Heeere's Johnny!

Jack Torrance: [typed] All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Because Danny Lloyd was so young and since it was his first acting job, Stanley Kubrick was highly protective of the child. During the shooting of the movie, Lloyd was under the impression that the film he was making was a drama, not a horror movie. In fact, when Wendy carries Danny away while shouting at Jack in the Colorado Lounge, she is actually carrying a life-size dummy so Lloyd would not have to be in the scene. He only realized the truth several years later, when he was shown a heavily edited version of the film. He didn't see the uncut version of the film until he was 17 - eleven years after he'd made it.

Both Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall have expressed open resentment against the reception of this film, feeling that critics and audiences credited Stanley Kubrick solely for the film's success without considering the efforts of the actors, crew or the strength of Stephen King's underlying material. Both Nicholson and Duvall have said that the film was one of the hardest of their careers; in fact, Nicholson considers Duvall's performance the most difficult role he's ever seen an actor take on. Duvall also considers her performance the hardest of her life.

Tony Burton, who had a brief role as Larry Durkin the garage owner, arrived on set one day carrying a chess set in hopes of getting in a game with someone during a break from filming. Stanley Kubrick, an avid chess player who had in his youth played for money, noticed the chess set. Despite production being behind schedule, Kubrick proceeded to call off filming for the day and engage in a set of games with Burton. Burton only managed to win one game, but nevertheless the director thanked him, since it had been some time that he'd played against a challenging opponent.