“The Shining” – Ben’s Spooky October

That’s a wrap for this month’s horror reviews! Thanks for following along. These are only just a couple of my favorites, so I look forward to doing this again next year.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

There are few movies that I got more blatantly wrong on a first viewing than The Shining. On this first viewing, I found too much of the movie to be a drawn-out establishing of mood, with all the narrative inconsistencies about what is truly reality leaving me frustrated and distanced from the story.

Suffice to say, my initial misread of The Shining shows that I am a total buffoon, and also that not every movie is designed for a single, easily digestible viewing (especially when they’re directed by a guy with the last name of Kubrick). The Shining went on to live in my head rent-free, begging me to go down deep internet rabbit-holes about its hidden intricacies and meanings in a way that made a repeat viewing feel like nothing less than a revelation. Just about every ‘flaw’ I initially found in this movie is a hallmark of its greatness, creating a sense of madness that is among the most uniquely eerie and distinct visions to ever grace the silver screen.

Much to the dismay of Stephen King, this aforementioned madness is evident from the first scene of the movie, yet it somehow manages to progressively build throughout its lengthy — yet seemingly brief — runtime. It’s equally unnerving and hilarious when the movie’s first 10 minutes blatantly raise every possible red flag, yet Nicholson just laughs it off with a manic smile that shows a mere flicker of the horrors to come; from there, it’s a full-blown descent into an endless abyss of horrors. Room 237, the twins in the hallway, the chase in the maze, the axe coming through the door…the list of moments from The Shining that have gone to reach eternal fame within the horror genre is seemingly endless, and these moments are only more shocking and effective when built up to with deliberately slow, disturbing pacing.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

But the real question is what this madness all means. Is this is a movie about child abuse? Alcoholism? Writer’s block? Class-ism? Genocide? The moon landing? Perhaps it’s some combination of all of the above, but the inability to make complete sense of The Shining is the reason we keep coming back for more in an attempt to do so. There is no ‘magic answer’ or solution that definitively explains everything that happens, yet Kubrick — perhaps cinema’s most notorious perfectionist — gives you enough easter eggs to know that there are multiple layers of meaning there, but it’s up to you to find them and assess their purpose; getting lost in the madness is the point.

Much of Kubrick’s perfectionism comes through what are perhaps some of the most iconic visuals in cinematic history. The Overlook Hotel stands among the great marvels of production design, featuring carpets, bedrooms, and — of course — mazes that have become permanently engraved in pop culture history. There is a hypnotic allure in just about every detail of the hotel, so much so that the hotel becomes the perfect vessel for the repressed evils that The Shining is exposing. Perhaps the only thing more entrancing than the hotel itself is the way Kubrick navigates through its hallways, symmetrically following characters around corners where you don’t know what will appear once they turn.

Given that this is a movie that has spawned books and documentaries dedicated to its creation and ambiguities, I can’t fit many of my thoughts into a semi-cohesive review. I would love to talk at-length about the music or the performances or my own personal theories, but before too long I would find myself writing a multi-thousand article, drowning within my own obsession of the madness that ensues in The Shining. But, wait…a movie about a writer losing his mind causing a writer to lose his mind? That’s pretty fitting, if you ask me.

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