The Shining (1980)

A masterpiece of slowly-hypnotic cabin fever – with Native American/colonialism themes, psychological complexity, and the greatest score, atmosphere, & lead performance ever in its genre’s history, Kubrick’s The Shining is the greatest horror film of All-Time. 10/10.

Plot Synopsis: One winter in Colorado, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, hoping the alone time will cure his writer’s block on a manuscript he’s been working on. He, his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) settle in, but start noticing strange things in the hotel behind the facade and Danny getting disturbing visions. When Jack begins to unexplainably lose his mind, the whole family is forced to run as he will stop at nothing until they are all gone.

*Possible spoiler ahead*

Review

“The Winters [Here] Can Be Fantastically Cruel”

Colorado, Kubrick, & A Masterclass Of Psychological Horror That Changed The Foundations Of Cinema – And Its Genre

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

“The winters [up here] can be fantastically cruel.” Stanley Kubrick made that understatement of the millennium when he released this genre-defining, groundbreaking piece back in 1980. The film has since garnered critical appraisal and a cult-like follow of ‘Shiners’ who have devoted their entire lives to the analysis of the maze-like conundrum of Easter Eggs, subtext, and hidden meanings lurking in the peripheral view of every frame of the film, now recognizing it as one of the most complex and best horror films ever made. Back when it was released though, it was wildly (or completely) misunderstood by ‘critics’, King, and filmic organizations too moronic to even understand the majesty of what they’d just witnessed – even having the unmitigated gall to nominate it for a Razzy as one of the worst films of its year. Thankfully, the gravitational injustice was corrected by fate and the penultimate test of filmic greatness/legacy: time. In the ~40 years since Kubrick released his pièta, The Shining has been reexamined and celebrated by a new wave of journalists and fans who recognize it like it is: A masterpiece of slowly-hypnotic cabin fever – with Native American/colonialism themes, psychological complexity, and the greatest score, atmosphere, & lead performance ever in its genre’s history, Kubrick’s The Shining is the greatest horror film of All-Time.

A Haunted Place Like None Other

The Perfect Backdrop Loaded With Possibilities, The Overlook Hotel Is A Beautiful Location Hiding Darkness

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Easily the biggest achievement of The Shining’s mise-en-scene is its setting. The Overlook Hotel is one of the greatest backdrops in the history of horror – reimagining the centuries-old trope of haunted houses on the biggest scale imaginable; a haunted house on acid. Glorious idiosyncrasy in geometrical stylism, blood-soaked elevators, do-not-enter room 237’s, ghosts with unspeakable backstories lurking around every corner beckoning you to ‘play with them, forever’, puzzle-like mazes piled with blizzard-laden snow drifts up to the ankle, and vast expanses of natural Colorado wilderness landscapes dot this ultimate canvas of frightfests – one based on a real ominous-feeling resort named The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO. From its opening cinematographically-breathtaking helicopter shot over the lake that traverses the jaw-droppingly sublime landscapes surrounding the hotel through extreme long shots with only a singular yellow car driving through their roads, Alcott and Kubrick establish a visual isolation canvas like none other by the film’s opening credits. Throughout the film, only one or at max 2-3 people populate any one shot outside of the interview ones – and the cinematography establishes one of the most alone and isolated visual cues ever put to film. Aiding this helpless feeling that scared even our ancestors millennia ago is a technical use of vanishing points and one-point perspectives that play off the long shots and takes (as well as the score, to be analyzed later on) to make us feel helplessly alone like prey sheep in wolves’ territory; the unknown.

The Visual Isolation & Cabin Fever

A Cinematographical Masterpiece, Kubrick & Co. Pack Each Frame With Subtext, Metaphor, & Ocular Iconoclasm

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Once we reach The Overlook, time seems to change around us. Gone are the clear cuts in shot transitions that accompanied the trek up here, and started is a peculiar trend of time-distortion. An expert Easter Egg I noticed after 10+ watches happens in the background as Jack walks in for the first time that’s indicative of this trend: a background worker carrying a ladder walks past him and down a hallway as Jack talks to the hiring crew for the job, and after a ~long conversation, they are walking away and the ladder-man is only just now coming out the other side – an impossibility in a linear time model being a hallway we can see no one else in and only being a few feet long and legendary detail of the kind Kubrick is famous for putting in the backgrounds of his film to relay hidden layers not ostensibly noticeable to all viewers. There is a consistent use of cross-dissolves of catalyze this temporal distortion: ones that last for so long, they almost blur into a superimposition wherein time is so wonky, unnatural, and disorientating, its almost a hallucinogenic experience in which Kubrick hypnotizes you with geometry placed in peculiar ways. Different scenes and temporal shots thus seem to be almost spilling over into and mixing with each other like a fluid solution that, together with the limitless symbolic imagery and carefully-placed metaphors in object choice/placement in each shot) infinitesimally complicates the narrative construction and dissecting/analyzing the events – so much so that there have been hundreds of recorded readings of the film and cults/scholars (called Room 237-ers) who have devoted their entire lives to the interpretation of this enigmatic, maze-like Da Vincian mystery of masterpiece.

Ligeti’s Atonal, Bohemian Score

A Collection Of Dissonance, Chants, Minor Plucks, & Silence That Establish The Ultimate Supernatural Atmosphere

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Of course, just as much of a character in the film as its visual cues and intense isolation/geometry/metaphor is the score. Kubrick has done it again with the score after 2001: A Space Odyssey (perhaps the greatest cinematic score ever put to film); The Shining boasts one of the best soundtracks in movie history as well – something instantly evocative and noticeable from its opening note. Before we even see a shot to accompany it, our senses are bludgeoned by a booming curdle of brassy synth pads playing the ominous funeral mass Dies Irae. Never have I witnessed in my life – and I’ve seen ~every film of consequence ever made – such a powerful, thick atmosphere of macabre in a film. It’s so dense, you feel completely saturated and drenched by its darkness and isolated helplessness aided by the consistent use of visual cues. As the chord progressions continue, hard screeches and crescendoing drum-aggressions follow – as well as what appears to be chant-like, atonal/disharmonic vocalizations in the background. There has been much speculation about what these bizarre sound melds and vocals are supposed to represent – from spirits wailing beyond the grave to tribal chants, and the rest of the film echoes its reverberations with hard screeches, violin crunches in minor key innuendoes, and what is without question the most unsettling and psychologically-twisted, scary score in the history of cinema.

The Torrances & Performances

The Greatest Performance Of Jack Nicholson’s Career & Of Horror History, One Of The Best-Acted Films Ever Made

Photograp Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Most memorable about The Shining though by-and-large are the performances: “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” The indescribable brilliance of screenwriting and distortion analysis of the stereotypical American family life is a masterclass of cinema for the textbooks – as well as character development. Jack Nicholson’s surname-sharing Jack Torrance is the best performance of his entire career – as well as the greatest lead performance in the history of the genre. The cleverly-placed nightmare-fueled character development of Nicholson’s puffballish papa bear seeking peace and quite to write the great American novel at the beginning to psycho axe-wielding madman chasing his own son and wife down after finding more of it than he could endure by the end of the 2 hours and change is absolutely bonkers, yet handled so delicately and developed so surgically in combinations that it seems not only plausible, but probable. The rest of the performances match Nicholson’s legendary pedigree gracefully, with Shelly Duvall’s soft, dutiful, cheery, buoyant wife being the antithesis of Jack, Scatman Crothers’ sacrificial Hallorann being a nice introduction to Shining, Joe Turkel’s Lloyd The Bartender being a chilling personification of the devil, and most impressive of all by far: Danny Lloyd’s jaw-dropping child performance as the vehicle through which we witness the entire Hitchcockian plot bludgeon this ostensibly-normal family: Danny Torrance, easily the most impressive child performance of All-Time by CLC’s vote. The complete absence of any score, diegetic background noise, or cuts in the acting sequences let the thespian pedigree of the cast shine through: able to carry and command scenes and your entire attention purely through the magic of great performances and perfect castings that define careers and live on for centuries. It might actually be one of the best-acted films ever made; it’s that good.

A Distortion Analysis Of Family Life

A Brilliant Exposition Of Gender & Family Dynamics + Dysfunction – Twisted Into A Nightmare Canvas

Photograp Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

There is an undertonal analysis of the traditional Family Life in The Shining, before it’s ultimately distorted by supernatural powers like play-doh in the hands of a demon. What starts as an ostensibly-normal American family of a mother, father, and son living out in Vermont starts to show tiny cracks in the perfect facade – with Danny having full conversations with an ‘imaginary friend’ named Tony (later revealed to be The Shining, also a metaphor for gut-feelings or the power of intuition when something doesn’t feel right in CLC’s analysis) and it’s learned that Jack dislocated his shoulder in a freak-‘accident’ that perplexes our curiosities of an alcoholism/child/spousal-abuse backstory. Throughout the film, the burdens of masculinity like mouths-to-feed, duty-to-employers, pressure-to-achieve, and psychological strength-in-the-face-of-adversity and physiological strength it’s sometimes difficult to control are explored through Jack. Feminine ones are explored through the lens of Wendy Torrance: caring and waiting on the family and husband even if he happens to be a verbally-abusive jerk, cooking and cleaning, living rent-free without having to work but not achieving personal satisfaction or independence, and child-care that’s difficult when they’re very young. It’s clear from the events that Jack is indifferent or even hates his wife – he is consistently a jerk to her even when she is the dutiful wife who cares nothing but to make her husband and family happy to the point of bringing him sandwiches while he works only to be condescended and talked down at in misogynistic rants blaming her as the reason he can’t achieve and calling her horrific slang like a ‘sperm-bank’. Later on in the film, Jack is tempted by the seductress ghost in Room 237 and sexualizes/kisses her without even a second’s hesitation, later lying about the infidelity to Wendy’s face when confronted about it – again furthering the dysfunctionality of this distorted family. The Overlook Hotel thus twists these gender and family dynamics yet remains is a brilliant metaphor for many marriages then – a beautiful and normal exterior to the naked eye, but one filled with ghosts of the past (i.e. alcoholism and stories like the dislocated shoulder blame that Wendy uses against him & Jack hates, perhaps fuels his hatred of being called a monster), levels, mazes, and hidden emotions and dysfunction only viewable inside.

What Does It All Mean?

Multiple Different Interpreations By A Cult/Scholars Devoting Lives To The Enigma; Apollo 11, Nazi Germany, Greek Myth, Native Americans, Freudianism?

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The Shining is one of the most complex and enigmatic/esoteric films of All-Time. The movie has developed a group of cult-like followers and scholars who have devoted their entire lives to unraveling the Da Vincian mystery of this metaphorically (and literally) maze-like conundrum. There are so many hidden messages and subliminal nuances laced in the background of every frame and line (as Kubrick was famous for putting in), multiple different interpretations have arisen to answer the vexing question that burns your curiosity afterwards: what did it all mean? Was it a: film about the Genocide of Native Americans and the building of America on blood-soaked, peace-violation grounds? Spousal/child abuse and gender study by its angry patriarch’s actions & lines? Holocaust by the religious repetition of the number 42 and color-changing Adler (Translation: Eagle, the symbol of America) German typewriter in the film perhaps indicative of 1942’s Nazi Germany’s announcement and drawing a parallel between their genocide and the dark past of America was founded? Gold Rush, alcoholism, Greek Mythology, past civilizations & the history of life, Apollo 11 Moon Landing, Fairy Tale analysis through a Freudian lens, haunted houses, or even a combination of the lot have all been posited and analyzed with a laundry list of supporting evidence throughout the film by way of frame-by-frame research. The Cinema Lovers Club theory: The Shining is a revenge story by Native Americans on The White Man for genocide by turning them against their own families.

The Cinema Lovers Club Analysis

A Revenge Story By Native Americans On The White Man For Genocide By Turning Them Against Own Families

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Our case we will back-up with research and evidence: The Shining is a revenge story by Native Americans on The White Man for genocide by turning them against their own families, the scariest possible crime there is. There is plenty of supporting evidence for this theorization, we’ve collected as we’ve watched the film over the course of 13x: 1) The Calumet Cans. The first time we’re taken into the food pantry and we learn of Shining between Dick Hallorann and Danny, there is an unmistakable bright red can with a Native American chieftan symbol and the word ‘Calumet’. Calumets are sacred traditional ceremonial ‘peace pipes’ in Native American culture, vital to their ceremonies and a component of who they are. The fact the iconography is being used for American capitalistic food-branding and product sales is a sacrilegious sign of disrespect all its own. However, maybe they’re trying to communicate something through them from the beyond. The film mentions that The Overlook Hotel was originally built on an ancient Indian Burial Ground (IBG), and there are Apache and Navajo designs/symbology loaded throughout the hotel’s very design. As a trope dating back to the 1980’s that Kubrick here started and Spielberg’s 1982 Poltergeist pop culturified, the idea that has since become a clichéd plot device to justify any supernatural activity here makes a ton of sense. The breathtaking natural and secluded surroundings are centrally within tribal reservations, the film plays centrally on the cinematographical and set design theme of Native American roots, the film’s central orchestral theme sounds like tribal drums and eerie chanting perhaps reminiscent of ceremonial chants with ominous purposes, and it provides the perfect explanation for two key discoveries: all of its permanent ghostly residents and each caretaker-turned-axeman subject to supernatural interference is a white man, and the only person killed in the entire film in gruesome (one of the only blood/gory sequences of the film for max effect) axe-fashion is a person of color – by a white man.

The Cinema Lovers Club Analysis

A Revenge Story By Native Americans On The White Man For Genocide By Turning Him Against His Own Family

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

The metaphor is jaw-dropping once connected: the white man is being turned against his own family (the ultimate psychological horror-twist requiring extensive breakdown of mental fortitude slowly over months in isolation) by ancient spirits lurking in the hotel to expose the type of monster he really is and ancestors were when they were welcomed into this nation with calumets and peaceful notions but chose to commit genocide on an entire civilization of Native Americans who owned this land first. The IBG would also explain the film’s most famous iconographical sequence of the elevator blood-tsunami: the blood is the blood of the murdered Native Americans spilled when this nation was built returning to the surface from below by-shaft to remind us of the unspeakable crimes of nature committed here long ago. When Jack is trapped in the food-pantry later-on in the film after spirits have already been messing with him and turning him towards his new goal of chopping up his family with-axe, the exact same Calumet cans from before are again everpresent throughout the shot as he converses with Grady’s ghost – but are twisted from their original frontal orientation to a sideways or backwards one: a symbolic violation/disturbance/twisting of the peace pipe the name symbolizes in reverse with the Native Americans this time being the ones in-violation with a dark revenge trip in mind. The metaphor even stretches to include Manifest Destiny – the cop-out excuse caucasian settlers used for why they were entitled to take anyone’s land they wanted to: that it was their destiny and always theirs (the film twists this by constant word references to how Jack was “always” the caretaker and proprietor here, a line that doesn’t make sense in any other interpretation). After Jack is lost in the snow-maze and Danny and Wendy escape in the snowcat to safety, he appears to be let go of his trance and cries out gutteral sounds for them to wait – perhaps he is let go of his trance to reflect on his and his ancestral crimes being lost and out of energy to escape before he freezes to death: one of the slowest, scariest, and most agonizing deaths anyone can endure – and, surprise, he becomes a cameo in the pictures of Overlook history symbolizing he is just one of many this has happened to: all white.

Conclusion

The Greatest Horror Film Ever Made

A Masterpiece Of Slowly-Hypnotic Cabin Fever w/ Da Vincian Complexity. The Greatest Score, Atmosphere, & Lead

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros. Studios

Overall, The Shining is a masterpiece of medium-shattering proportions. It might be the most game-changing entry in the genre since 1960’s Psycho starting the slasher boom and 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari starting horror as a genre – this one setting off the chain reaction of psychological horror that’s still rocking and defining the genre to this day. What’s more is that the film is so complex in classic Kubrickian signature stylism, people are still trying to piece together all the hidden messages and nuances to this day: was it a film about Native American genocide, spousal/child abuse, the Holocaust, Gold Rush, alcoholism, Apollo 11 Moon landings, haunted hotels, or a mixture? As with 2001, A Clockwork Orange, & the rest of his filmography, that is up to the interpretation of the viewer and will beguile audiences and filmmakers for centures, but what’s for certain is that it’s one of the most complex & striking films ever made. A magnum opus of slowly-hypnotic cabin fever tragically underappreciated in its time, Kubrick’s The Shining is *unparalleled* psychological horror and perhaps the greatest horror film of All-Time – with easily the greatest scores, atmosphere, & lead performance in genre history.

Official CLC Score: 10/10