Friday, October 19, 2012

The Shining

One of my favorite aging horror films is THE SHINING, directed by Stanley Kubrick. I love exploring the film and looking for vague issues and clues left by the director. I've written about the film before, mainly focusing on performances by some of the cast.

But once upon a time, before I had a blog, I wrote a very brief piece that I posted online in some chat rooms that ended up getting me blasted by the readers (even resulting in hate mail to my old Prodigy account--if that gives you a clue to how long ago the piece was written).

And what was the crime I committed in musing on the film? It was this:

There is nothing supernatural going on in the movie. Everything that happens can be explained away as hallucination and/or insanity on the parts of the characters.

Yeah, that's what I said, and that's what got me the hate mail and the totally overwhelming negative response.

As I'm working on no less than three novel projects right now, I'm again not going to go into details, but just touch on the aspects of my claims.

I've always been a huge fan of King's original novel. In that book, there is no doubt whatsoever that the supernatural is at work. Why? Because King spells it out for us in no uncertain terms. In his fantasy world there is a god and there is a devil and the forces of good and evil are well delineated and at constant war. The Overlook is a place where Evil has a solid foothold and all is explained perfectly by the novelist.

With the film version of THE SHINING things are not so well set out. All we know and all we see is that in the situation of isolation all of the major characters--but especially Jack Torrance (as portrayed by Jack Nicholson) are mentally and emotionally damaged and going from bad to worse in their snowy outpost high in the Rocky Mountains.

It's a film of mental dissolution. It's a movie about one man going completely insane and of his tiny family enduring the effects of his descent into insanity--the wife and son in fact joining him in some manner in this descent.

In a nutshell--and I'm being completely subjective here--nothing that takes place in the movie can't be explained perfectly away by madness and stress. The ballroom sequences along with Lloyd the bartender and Grady the caretaker are just Torrance going all-sails-opened-to-the-weird-winds bats. The ghosts that Danny encounters in his travels down those endless corridors are nothing more than the seeds of fear sown in him by the mutterings of a paranoid cook he meets briefly. The apparitions seen by Wendy as she flees through the Overlook are the result of the violence and fear instilled in her by her cabin-fever crazed husband. Even the appearance of Halloran can be explained away by his own feelings of fear and obsession concerning The Overlook and its morbid history and his own conviction that he has seen ghosts there.

For years, the only scene that didn't fit with my ideas of THE SHINING concerned Jack Torrance's escape from the food locker where his wife had deposited him after knocking him temporarily senseless. To that end, I suppose that someone else freed Jack. Either it was Wendy, or Danny. I still need to work that one out, but I suppose Kubrick left me a clue there. I'll have to look for it.

Addendum: One of the people who objected to my conclusions cited an interview with Barry Nelson (who played Stuart Ullman, the manager of the Overlook and who is the person who hires Jack Torrance) who claimed that Kubrick told him that when the audience first sees him, he is already possessed by the evil spirits who inhabit The Overlook. If that's the case, I could be wrong. But knowing as I do of Kubrick's own atheism, I still suspect that he was out to make more of a horror movie about insanity than of ghosts and evil spirits. (And, of course, Kubrick could just have told the actor that to get a certain performance out of him.)

"I'm possessed by evil spirits, bitch."


MarkGelbart said...

I read somewhere that Stephen King didn't like Kubrick's version of The Shining.

He liked the made-for-tv version better.

Not me. I'll take Nicholson's performance any day over anything the tv version had to offer.

HemlockMan said...

King was apparently disappointed in the Kubrick film for the reason that I stated--it was about a man's descent into madness rather than a story of a family trapped in a haunted inn.

I've tried watching the TV version three different times. It is bad on so many levels that it's hard to quantify the awfulness of the effort. It's horrid. It actually is about as shitty as anything I've ever tried to watch on TV. I can't believe that the author of the novel would consider that piece of crap an improvement on the Kubrick film.

Kirk G said...

I have done all the book first, saw the Kubrick movie on cable, and then bought the ABC miniseries on DVD about two years ago...just to see it. I understand this was the last ABC Miniseries ever, cause the bloom was off the rose. And I thought Stephen King played a much more strong role in its production. And the exteriors were done at the Stanley Hotel...which I believe was the actual motel that King got lost in while drunk, and so, that's the inspriration for the story. I had forgotten that we went to visit that place YEARS ago when I was about 5 years old on a YMCA convention...and never remembered it until I saw the exterior and the "doll house" images. I also disliked the new version, particularly the "bee-lady" or is it the "wasp-lady" and the fight to control the pressure valve at the end...and especially the need to tack on the graduation appearance of Jack on stage. Sappy.

I've also heard there is a sequel in the works.

HemlockMan said...

I think King is writing (or has already finished) a novel about an adult Danny Torrance.