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Another Kubrick Film: The Shining
Matt - 09/04/00

Time for a look at another Kubrick movie. Last time, it was Clockwork Orange, this time we're going to review another classic, The Shining.

Now, Stanley Kubrick's movies, seemingly by design, are often up for interpretation. I've had long conversations with people going over what this meant, what that meant, what this didn't mean, but I think sometimes we get too technical. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, The Shining is simply a great suspense/horror flick.

In this review, we're going to take a look at a bunch of different elements of the movie. It's really meant for people who've already seen the flick, but if you're curious and have no plans on seeing it in the future, read on.

Basic Plot:

Based on Steven King's novel of the same name, it's about a father gets a job taking care of the Overlook Hotel during it's off-season. We find out early on that years back, someone who had taken the same position went insane and killed his family, presumably from cabin fever. After all, no one else will be around for a few months. Anyway, Jack Torrence (played by Jack Nicholson) and his family take off there, for a seemingly peaceful season watching over the hotel and living their lives there.

Jack and his wife Wendy's (Shelley Duvall) son has a special talent that nobody seems able to figure out. It's called the 'shining', and it gives him visions of what's happened in the past, and the future. Of course, this might seem like a great talent to have, but when you remember that Danny's visions include the hotel covered in blood and the mutilated bodies of two little girls, he might wish he was just a normal kid.

Sure enough, with time, Jack starts acting a little strange. Either through vacant stares or by verbally ripping his wife a new asshole, it becomes clear to us that Jack's going to experience this maniacal cabin fever like the caretaker who was there years before him.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Lines start getting blurred, and it's difficult to tell if Jack's going crazy being pent up in the house...or if the house itself is making him crazy. Jack loves the house, even feels like he's been there before. But he's too far gone to realize that he's losing his mind. Things get even stranger when Jack starts having visions too - of a different kind. Wandering around the hotel, Jack sees it brimming with the socialites of yesteryear, all engaging in party activities. He even gets a drink from the bartender who's his own mind.

Eventually, the story takes on a different twist. Our fear isn't simply of Jack going crazy with cabin fever - it's that the hotel itself is haunted by it's past horrors. Jack is convinced by one of the ghosts that he has to kill his family, and while all this goes on, it becomes really crystal clear: something bad is going to happen at the Overlook Hotel.

Without giving too much away, that's the general plot of the movie. If you haven't seen the flick and don't want to be spoiled, don't read any further. The rest of the article is for people who've seen the movie...or more specifically, people who've seen the movie a number of times.

The Ending:

* Obviously, the biggest question left about the movie is what the ending meant. After Jack's death, we see a photo on the wall dated '1924' that clearly shows Jack in the picture, indicating what the ghost had told him - he was always the caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. Now, as much as I like this movie, I'm not a big fan of movies that end leaving more questions than answers. I'm not saying you have to have everything tie up perfectly and easily, but there's a little too much to figure out here in my view. Even the most devout Kubrick enthusiasts have different views on what it all meant. Personally, my feeling is that the problem was in the transition between what King wrote and what the movie suggests. Enough elements were changed to give the movie a far different aura than the book, but enough elements were also changed to make this ending a little hard to swallow.

I've read a lot of reviews on this movie, and generally I've found that most of the complaints center around the way the ending shaped up. Some have gone far enough to even call it 'haphazard'. I don't know if I'd go that far, but I would've definitely liked a little more insight.

Production Notes/Other:

* Steven King is not known to particularly like Kubrick's version of the story. Especially in the early-goings, King took a much different approach and the things focused on were almost entirely different. Personally, given what he had to work with, and given that to literally translate a King book on-screen might make a movie eight hours long, I think Kubrick did a great job. Later on, King would bite the bullet and make his own version as a television movie. A television movie which was definitely not met with critical acclaim. So much for that!

* The Overlook Hotel is actually a real hotel - the Timberline Lodge. The lodge owners were so concerned with Kubrick's script calling for room '217' to be especially haunted, Kubrick changed the room number to the fictitious '237'. Hey, if I was ever at Timberline, I wouldn't have stayed in that room either.

* Shelley Duvall definitely wasn't high up on Kubrick's list of people to send flowers. Anyone who's seen the making of The Shining knows that while Kubrick obviously loved Nicholson, he was pretty often annoyed with Shelley. In fact, you can click here to hear Stanley yelling at Shelley on the set.

Hidden Meanings?

I actually only saw the movie for the first time a few months back at a Kubrick film festival here. Afterwards, I saw it a few more times on HBO, and enough questions and curiousities arose that I decided to research it a bit. There's a widespread theory that the movie isn't about what it seems in the least, and as wild as the theory might seem, there's plenty of evidence in the movie itself to support it. The theory is that The Shining isn't really about the murders at the Overlook Hotel. It is about the murder of a race - the race of Native Americans - and the consequences of that murder.

There's a ton of plot devices used to support this claim - everything from Native American products lingering in camera view in the freezer, to the artwork all around the set-built hotel interior, and all sorts of other stuff. But the clencher for those who are of the mind that this film is about the slaughter of the Native American race in their own homeland comes from the very end of the flick, where we see the picture of Jack on the wall. Notice the date - July 4th. Merely a coincidence that the picture was taken on some Independence Day ball, or is that the key to unlocking the movie's true meaning. Independence Day surely isn't a time of celebration for Native Americans, and perhaps the 'weak' American villain of the film is the re-embodiment of the American men who massacred the Indians in earlier years.

Or, maybe, people have too much time on their hands to take a deeper look into movies. You decide.


* From where I'm sitting, the scariest part of the movie isn't Jack wielding an axe or the visions of mutilated girls or blood-flooding elevators. It's the fucking ghost in the bear costume. Until you learn the lore, there's no way you mind can comprehend Wendy walking around the hotel and seeing what's apparently a ghost in a bear costume performing oral sex on another guy. After the two seconds of initial shock and 'what the fucks?', they do this big close-up on the guy to double the terror. My friends and I have lovingly coined him 'Squirrel Man', and to this day he haunts our every step. For those out there who've also been dumbfounded with Squirrel Man's appearance, apparently back in the good old days of the Overlook Hotel, a guy dressed in a bear costume would blow people for cash. Odd how things can become even scarier when you find out what they actually mean.

* Halloran, the nice black guy who first helps Danny understand his powers and then decides to leave home to try to help them, isn't without his fair share of comedy. Next time you watch the flick, pay close attention to the scenes with Halloran at home. In case you can't tell, yes, his apartment is filled with giant posters of nude girls with giant breasts. Shame, Halloran. Shame.

In any event, it's definitely a great movie in my view. Some horror, some mind-fuck, and lots of Jack. If you haven't seen it, see it, and if you have, rent it again to see the famous Squirrel Man.

Oh, and click here to hear some redrum action!

- Matt