Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Shining (1980)

Cinema Sweetheart's Rating: 6 out of 10
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Rated: R
Genre: Horror, Drama, Mystery
Runtime: 142 minutes
Other Versions: The Shining (1997)

When Jack Torrance (Nicholson) signs up to be the caretaker for the Overlook Hotel while it's closed for the winter, he has no idea what sorts of horrors await him, his loving wife Wendy (Duvall), and their son Danny (Lloyd).  Even stories of some of the horrors that occurred in he hotel are not enough to dissuade him, and he cheerfully takes the job, thinking that it's going to be the easiest money he's ever made.  All he has to do is keep the elements outside from affecting the hotel; keep the boilers burning, etc.  Easy.  And besides, it will give him time to work on his writing; something which Jack has been having quite a bit of trouble with lately.  Everything is going to work out pretty well for the Torrances.  But, there are things lurking in the shadows; things the family is certainly not prepared for.  Danny claims to have an "imaginary friend" named Tony, a little boy who supposedly lives in Danny's mouth and hides in his stomach.  Not only that, but he's having visions.  Visions of things that have happened and things that have yet to occur.  Bloody things happened in this hotel, and bloody things are yet to come.  The hotel starts to have an effect on Jack, as well, turning him from loving husband and father to a maniacal killer; will Wendy and Danny be able to stop him, or will all of Jack's worst nightmares come true?

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is one of those films I felt I just had to experience, especially as a lover of classic horror cinema.  I had constantly seen the title listed alongside with other "classics" such as The Silence of the Lambs and Psycho.  "If you're interested in these sorts of films, " I told myself, "then you had better watch The Shining."  I had been trying for months to watch it, but either found myself too busy, or found that my friends weren't very interested in watching with me.  And half the fun of watching a scary movie is watching it with a friend.  So, finally, I seized my opportunity (and my brother/movie buddy) this summer, and sat down to watch it one rainy Friday afternoon.  While The Silence of the Lambs and Psycho far exceeded my expectations, The Shining left me feeling a bit disappointed as it fell just shy of the mark.

I guess you could say that a chunk of my disappointment stemmed from the fact that I had put too much stock in this movie completely knocking my socks off.  Now, normally, I go into this films, attempting to keep my expectations as neutral as possible.  Not LOW, per se, but neutral.  That way, I won't be swayed by prior prejudices.   But, this was one film that I was excited about.  Probably because it had been on my "To-Watch" list for about three years.  And even before that, it was one of those films that I was pretty interested in watching, but just too scared to actually pick up.  That being said, I've been waiting to watch this movie for years--that's a lot of expectation.  However, high expectations only covered a small portion of my frustrations.  My issue I think, deals with Kubrick's directing style.  I'll have to check out a couple more of his films, but I'm starting to think I'm just not a Kubrick fan.

For me, Jack Nicholson was wonderful.  He absolutely stole the show, and as I watched the film, I found myself silently wishing that there would be more Jack scenes.  He was deliciously creepy.  And I love that sort of character in a horror film.  Not those that are outright scary, or horrible, but those that are creepy and still very human.  I love those sorts of villains.  There is just something so sinister about characters who just become sort of unhinged.  It makes it scarier because it makes you wonder if something like this could happen to anyone; your dad or your brother; neighbor, cousin, sister, grandpa, etc.  Very creepy.  But, there is more to Nicholson's portrayal of Jack Torrance than just a crazed ax-murderer possessed by evil spirits.  He's a family man, a loving husband and father, and he makes us feel for him.

Villains like Hannibal Lecter don't exactly illicit sympathy.  He's more of the guy who gets voicemail messages sounding something like this: "Hey, Dr. Lecter.  I just wanted to let you know that I'm not going to be able to make it to your dinner party on Saturday.  Nothing personal, but I just don't feel comfortable attending an event where I can't be sure if I'm going to be a member of the party or the dinner."  Jack Torrance, however, is a sympathetic character.  There is one scene, in fact, where my heart simply melts for him.  Wendy rushes to his aid after hearing him screaming and crying in his sleep, apparently from a nightmare.  Startled, he falls to the floor, and sits there, drooling, blubbering, and sobbing, as he tells her that he had the most awful dream, where he killed both her and Danny, chopping the bodies up into little pieces.  The pain is so raw, so real, you can't help but feel for him.  In those few minutes, all of Jack's behavior up to this point and afterward is put into perspective: he's not a bad man.  He's just under the influence of forces he cannot control.

Shelley Duvall was also wonderful as her respective character Wendy.  With her big eyes and sweet disposition, it was hard not to like her.  I think she also provided a wonderful foil to Jack's character, in that while he was dealing with frustration, anger, addiction, and possessive spirit, she's a quiet, gentle presence, who calmly puts up with everything that happens, while still maintaining order and reason in the family.  She's reserved, but strong.  And even though she's strong, she's still vulnerable, and that makes us root for her.  She's the underdog, and we don't want anything to happen to her.

Above all else, this movie was just very strange.  Much of it didn't make any sense.  I was confused, very creeped out, and mostly left with more questions than answers when all was said and done. All in all, it was a decent movie, but it just didn't wow me.  I guess if someone came up to me and said, "CS, should I watch The Shining?"  I guess I would say yes.  It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either.  Still, if you're interested in the genre like I am, I think it's just something you should check out.  At least you'd get all the references from Internet memes, right?

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