Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Shining

The opening scene is a small car driving on a curvy mountain road as seen from a helicopter. This match-cuts to long shots of characters moving through the cavernous rooms of a hotel as seen from a steadi-cam that is moving at the approximate relative speed as the helicopter. The effect is dwarfing; the character we're following is a small man in big world he can't control. He's there to interview for a job as a caretaker for a hotel that's closed and isolated from civilization over the harsh winters. He's a writer that plans to spend the winter there with his wife and son and use the isolation to focus on his writing.

While there, he goes a little crazy from the isolation (and perhaps the ghosts).

Director Stanley Kubrick maintains unnerving balances between sanity and madness, and between the real and the supernatural. The writer, Jack (played by Jack Nicholson) seems a little off even at his most sane, making it difficult to tell exactly when he becomes unhinged. Although there are definitely supernatural elements - the son, Danny, and the hotel cook (played by Scatman Cruthers) can communicate telepathically, and Danny has visions of the hotel's violent history - it's not entirely clear whether there are actually ghosts, or if these ghosts can physically harm anyone. Somebody does rip Danny's sweater, and somebody does unlock a door or two, but we never actually see these things happen. Every time Jack holds a conversation with a ghost, there's a mirror or reflective surface in front of him - might he actually be talking to himself?

Unlike other horror movies, the characters actually behave in a ways that real people might if they were in a similar situation - they make smart, well-reasoned decisions in their attempts to escape from harm. Also unlike other horror movies, the tension ratchets up higher than the body count. The Shining is a rare horror movie that stays with you for days after you've seen it, and is as frightening today as was 30 years ago.

No comments: