This Halloween, the Canterbury Curzon screened a very special film. One that has left its mark on pop culture as we know it, and marveled audiences with the hell-bent portrayal of madness by film icon, Jack Nicholson. I am of course, referring to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
As a literature student I feel extremely wary when it comes to literary adaptations (as you may have read in my Gone Girl review), and of course as a fan of Stephen King’s beloved novel, I am justified in that wariness. His work has not been treated so kindly in recent years with the likes of cinematic abominations, The Mist and even worse… The Dead Zone. Now I may be harsh in calling them abominations, but they suffer so greatly with the weight of the source material that they collapse into a mess of B-movie cheese, and whilst any film containing Christopher Walken should be a certified masterpiece; sometimes heroes need saving. But enough about my thoughts on the other Stephen King adaptations, this is my retrospective on Kubrick’s film.
On the 31st October 2014, the Overlook Hotel opened its doors again to a crowd of film fans ready to re-live the fate of the Torrance family. Ushered into the screen room (renamed to Room 237 for tonight’s festivities) by members of staff dressed as the infamous twins, I was confronted with the play things of Danny Torrance strewn across the floor of the front row and momentarily felt the icy fingers of Jack’s madness claw into my brain. As the lights dimmed and the vast Colorado Rockies appeared with the retro preamble crawling across the screen, the age of the film hits you, yet also its timelessness. Released in May 1980, the European version had 22 minutes of footage excised from the film, but now, 34 years later the extended and therefore true product of Kubrick’s vision is finally on screen before me. The story of The Shining is simple from the outside; a family man takes on the position of caretaker for an aging hotel over the winter and falls victim to his own mental instabilities, yet as a narrative it is wondrously complex. Who haunts the Overlook? Who is the woman in 237? And what does it really mean to ‘shine’? Whilst many of the questions posed are based within the realm of the supernatural the ideas presented in this film have strong roots within American culture, with the pursuit of the American dream and racial prejudice permeating the piece. Perhaps this is why after so many years it still manages to maintain its relevance.
Ignoring King’s original screenplay, Kubrick’s reimagining has reconstructed the characters entirely and as a result, the dynamics of the on-screen familial relationship differ to an extent from the original, yet the fractured family union remains entirely true to the source. When it comes to the casting of the film, I found that only two actors lodged themselves in the recesses of my brain with memorable performances, the first is Scatman Cruthers’ wonderful depiction of Mr. Hallorann, the kindly chef of the Overlook that acts as a true father figure to Danny, and performance that adds a level of patriarchal warmth to the story that is seemingly missing from his on-screen father. This brings me to my personal highlight of The Shining. Jack Nicholson has had many memorable roles over the years, from playing the Joker in Burton’s Batman to Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, yet it can be argued that his greatest role to date is that of Jack Torrance. From the outward appearance of a man at war with his own mind, the tortured writer is played with a level of commitment that has been lost by most modern actors. From his rhetoric to his saunter, Nicholson exudes fraying sanity in this piece, and whilst his character lacks the redeeming qualities presented in King’s novel, he more than makes up for it in his menacing nature. As the story progresses you can visually identify the cracks in his psyche culminating in his utter break from reality in the iconic “Here’s Johnny!” that he snarls from between the splintered bathroom door. Jack Torrance is memorable for so many reasons, yet that improvised quote alone has cemented the place of not only Nicholson, but also The Shining, in cinematic history.
Even though it pales in comparison to its source material, Kubrick’s interpretation of the piece deserves merit on its own accord, from its staggering visuals to Nicholson’s stellar performance. Sure the film isn’t perfect, but perfection is completely subjective and that in itself is an enigma, much like the mystery of the Overlook Hotel.