THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Such a parody of a horror film as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining probably is all that its inspirational souce material, Stephen King’s novel, deserves; but it’s thin, vapid, illogical, silly—and outrageously entertaining almost from the start. The film manages to be both vacuous and overloaded—like tiramisu; one keeps imagining it will amount to something until the closing shot of a portentous old photograph on a hotel wall lets one know one’s been had. Kubrick whips up a family frenzy in which a vicious, rampaging alcoholic, former schoolteacher John Torrance, terrorizes his wife, a subtly nagging martyr, and telepathic young son with an axe. The boy’s clever navigation of a snowstorm-clad maze ultimately saves the long, long night.

The Torrances have moved into the closed, isolated Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains for the winter; Papa Jack will be caretaker when he isn’t writing the great American novel. But the place looks strangely familiar to the transplanted New Englander, and things go horribly wrong when he falls off the wagon. The storm caps his chilly disposition.

The plot becomes a vague allegory of Kubrick’s own biography. A quarter-century earlier, former fashion photographer Kubrick, from the Bronx, turned to Hollywood cinema. But after producer-star Kirk Douglas ruined his Spartacus (1960), Kubrick—oooooo, did he get mad! He traded in America, permanently moved to Britain, and fantasized committing mayhem against Americans and America. (“Care for a some blood, Dr. Strangelove?”) Still a fashion photographer at heart, Kubrick cannot let his murderous impulses stand. In The Shining he ends by leaving his surrogate out in the cold.

The Shining is a helluva lot more fun than other Kubrick films; however, it is, visually, for all its rapid, delirious trackings, very, very dull—with one notable exception: Kubrick and color cinematographer John Alcott make of “the shining”—the visual equivalent of a New England foghorn—an eerily lovely image. It’s a small thing, but it would remain the best thing that Kubrick’s frivolous eye ever imagined.

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