Jack Nicholson - Jack Torrance
Shelley Duvall - Wendy Torrance
Danny Lloyd - Danny Torrance
Scatman Crothers - Mr. Hallorann
Joe Turkel - Lloyd the Bartender
Stanley Kubrick - Director
Stanley Kubrick - Producer
Diane Johnson - Screenwriter
John Alcott - Cinematographer
Krzysztof Penderecki - Film Score
In a typically Kubrickian conceit, the labyrinthine confmcs of a mountain hotel cut off from civilization by winter snowfall are the setting for a movie just as much about "space" as the vast universes of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Struggling author Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), paying his way as winter caretaker for the deserted Overlook hotel, remotely situated in the Colorado mountains, is haunted by his frustrated creative ambitions and fears of failure both as a husband and an artist. Nurtured by the claustrophobia and isolation of his surroundings, his underlying insanity gradually evolves into rampant madness as he attempts to murder with an axe the only other human occupants of the hotel, his wife (Shelly Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd).
Here, instead of evolving into a Nietzschean future, time has stopped: there is only space, and for Nicholson's tortured ego it proves both too great and too small. In adapting Stephen King's novel of The Shining, Kubrick has ignored to a great extent its familiar theme that materialism provides the springboard for evil, eschewing exposition of the hotel's history (a fact accentuated by the truncated European version) to concentrate on the conflicts inside Nicholson's mind that lead to his destruction.
Kubrick's central character is not haunted by ghosts of the past, but inspired by the grandiloquence of his opulent surroundings--the literal wealth of available space--until he comes to believe that his creative barrenness can be replaced by a kind of omnipotence as the immortal caretaker of the Overlook. This twinning of opposites, insignificance and omnipotence, is superbly visualized in Nicholson's conversations with two of the hotel's previous employees, bartender (Joe Turkel) and caretaker (Philip Stone), who actually did kill his family during winter isolation: a brilliant mixture of the blackest comedy and abstract reflections on power, responsibility, and duty to the hotel.
This "space trap" is also metaphorically suggested by the echo of the real maze in the hotel grounds--which becomes both Nicholson's downfall when he cannot fmd the way out and freezes to death, and his family's escape to freedom when they trap him there--in the hotel's carpet design. In the novel, Lloyd's gift for seeing things (the shining of the title) is used mainly as a means to reactivate horrific happenings in the hotel's history; in the film, this emphasis is somewhat lost, although Nicholson's jealousy of his son's gift is another factor in his feelings of inadequacy.
Kubrick's mobile camera unerringly underlines the huge spaces of the building--roaming around enormous kitchens and ballrooms, tracking down unending corridors as the boy explores by bicycle--and encompasses one great moment of horror: a shot across a deserted lobby to the lift doors, and the doors open to disgorge a torrent of red, red blood. Nicholson's startling performance, beginning with the overdone charm at his job interview already showing signs of inherent insanity, through the later leering over-eagerness, to the final maniacal beast on the rampage, is perfectly realized.
--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Encyclopedia of
Horror Films, 1986
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