Kubrick’s Cube: The Shining (1980)

New year, new post, new subject. I’ve decided to expand my domain of critical appreciation and experiment with it. Cinema is one of the newer subjects that I’ll be tackling in this post.

Here’s a well-known fact: Stephen King is a masterful storyteller.

Whether or not you consider his plots to be twisted, grotesque, heartbreaking and every other adjective that you can think of, you cannot deny that they’re undoubtedly memorable and do make a lasting impression.

Even today, people find it hard to believe that the guy behind novels such as “Carrie” and Pet Sematary” turned out to be the person responsible for “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand by Me”(The Body). This is a testament to the versatility of King as an author.

Want to know another fact?

Most films based on Stephen King’s works have not fared well.

By “fared well”, I mean hit the three check-boxes: – the critics, the audiences, and King himself. Notable exceptions do exist, of course. “Stand by Me”, “Misery” and “The Shawshank Redemption” have gone on to exceed far beyond even King’s own expectations. However, when compared to the sheer number of King based films made, the number is very low.

The 21st century has continued to adapt King’s works on the small and big screens. But among this eclectic mix of King films, none has garnered as much buzz as this one:

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“The Shining” is one of the most polarizing films ever made, not just from the point of view of King but also of Hollywood. Initially, the film received lukewarm reviews and had left critics divided. But as the years passed by, many respected filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese lauded it and it went on to become one of the greatest horror films ever made. The Kubrick-helmed film spewed a new generation of filmmakers and its lasting impact is seen in many movies and TV shows till date.

As a fan of King’s novels, I decided to watch the film and give my take on it. I expected to either like the film at most or abhor it for steering away from the original.

However, I did neither of those things.

Rather, I was left deep in thought.

It was one of those rare moments where you’re left so intrigued and perplexed by what has happened, that you fail to register the depth and complexity of what truly lay beneath. Then and there, I knew that this was not going to be an easy film to review.

Nevertheless, I’ve decided to give it a brave stab.

The basic plot of the film revolves around Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a recovering alcoholic and aspiring writer, who takes up the job of off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. Joining him for his new stint, are his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). The Overlook has a haunted and gory past, with the previous caretaker having lost his mind and gone on a killing spree. Meanwhile, Danny possesses some telepathic abilities also known as “shining”, through which he discovers more about his current lodgings.

Now, if you think that the plot veers towards blatant predictability then cease your thoughts at once. Unlike the horror films we’re accustomed to today, this film is out in the left field. As a viewer used to the bloodshed, violence and shocks prevalent in stereotypical horror films, it was such a refreshing change to have a film focus on the psychological aspect. It’s an incredibly tough task to box this film because it’s so much more. Kubrick’s meticulousness is seen through and through right from the duality aspect to the emphasis on derangement. The film is interspersed with vivid imagery such as the Grady Twins’ greeting, the cascading blood, the hedge maze and of course, the symmetric symbolism. The performances by the actors are top-notch. Jack Nicholson flawlessly pulls off the role of a light-hearted, possibly abusive protagonist whose descent into madness is riveting to watch. “The Shining” would not be the same without him. The scenes at the bar and the typewriter scenes were standouts for me. Shelley Duvall looks perpetually miserable and lifeless. Danny Lloyd is brilliant to say the least. His performance solidifies his status as one of the best child actors of the eighties. The music score is way ahead of its time, a cacophony of eerie sounds and echoes which effectively amps up the theme of the film.

However the credit goes to Kubrick who has been very hands on with every minute aspect of the film. He has mastered the art of effortlessly blending the dramatic with the relatively normal. Although this film strays far away from King’s original plot (easy to see why King still hates it to this very day), there are some wonderful character arcs which complete the story and make it a standalone. The movie does an excellent job of building the suspense and igniting a slow burn of fear within the viewer. It has ample amounts of what-if moments too. And when the unhinged parts of the story have been done justice, the film really rips. Good move on Kubrick’s part to add an R rated scene, which (hopefully) pacified King to some extent.

The movie has its flaws too, certain parts felt gimmicky. For me, the “redrum” reveal was flaky and not dealt with carefully. But that does not take away or dilute the film’s authenticity.

What the film is truly great at is giving more. The viewer always has something distinctly unique to take away from this movie. And the more times it has been watched, it always throws up something new and plausible. However, my favorite part of the movie is its unsettling ending which features a photo. The questions that crop up make the viewer want to revisit and never get bored.

Ultimately, I recommend people to watch “The Shining” with an open mind and no expectations. The surprises and scares that it has in store for you are absolutely worth it.

For the die hard Stephen King fans, with hopes that the original plot shall be followed to a tee, this film is not for you. Unless you are willing to witness & accept some drastic plot changes, I’d rather you be excited about the “Doctor Sleep” movie being in the works. For those of you who don’t know, “Doctor Sleep” is the sequel to “The Shining”.  It’s been confirmed that Mike Flanagan, the director of “Gerald’s Game” (another good King movie), has been roped in for the project.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

And that’s all, folks. For now, I’ll leave you this.

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You know I had to.

Copyright © 2018 by Shamika Lal,  all rights reserved.