Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Shining

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is a masterpiece. Let's get that out of the way. How much of a masterpiece it is, I don't know, and whether it's a masterpiece on the level of 2001 or Dr. Strangelove is doubtful, but it is a masterpiece none the less.

And the single reason why it is a masterpiece is that it never gives any indication of how a viewer should feel about it.

Is it a story about a recovering alcoholic writer and abusive father who's former demons spark up when he relocates his family to live in an isolated mountain top hotel for the off season?

Or does he actually sell his soul to the devil for a drink in that scene at the bar, forever doomed to repeat this horrible experience for the rest of eternity?

Maybe it's a film about a mother who is desperately trying to save her son from a deranged and abusive husband who tries to murder them after falling off the deep end into insanity?

Or maybe it's about an emotionally abused child who buries his pain so deep inside that he creates an alternate personality and horror fantasy in his mind in which the abusive drunken father who terrifies him is driven into a murderous rage? Is the entire hotel a stand in for the kid's imagination?

How about it's an object of study because of it's mysterious auteur who rarely ever gave interviews and even more rarely ever spoke about his work? As if the artist has left his art in order for paranoid intellectuals to sift through in hopes of unlocking something about Kubrick's inherent inner genius?

But then the film is more yet. It's a brilliant psychological experience in which we encounter first hand the madness going on inside the head of each and every character. It's also an exercise in perfect film form and style.

Every note on the score is calibrated to coincide with what is happening on screen; every performance plunging deep into the madness and torment of these characters as it escalates. Every perfectly composed frame indicating a certain unease that must be lurking just below the surface.

It's also a European art film dragged through the dung heap of American popular culture.

And an adaptation of a great American horror novel.

It's also a perfect example of how to build tone and mood up until a breaking point in which all holy hell breaks lose, in this case, in an extended sequence of terror that is so frightening in how engaging it is that you don't care how it ends, just for the love of god let it end already.

And with that, it's also a hell of a genre flick.

At the end of the day, there is no relief from this film. That's why we keep coming back to it. That's why there is soon going to a feature length documentary trying to shed some light on it and explain all of it's mysteries.

So, The Shining is a masterpiece then not only because Kubrick gives us no easy in or out or indication of what all of this means, but because, no matter which angle you look at it from, it's nearly flawless from all of them.

Whether wanting to sift through the mysteries of the plot, look at pretty pictures for two and a half hours or just have the holy fucking bejesus scared out of you, you'll walk away feeling sure you've seen a masterpiece every time.

That's what truly makes it special: It's a masterpiece in it's details which all come together to create an even bigger masterpiece.


  1. Good review Mike. Been a long time since I saw this, but damn, does it still scare the hell out of me. It's all about atmosphere and pacing and that's what made me the most terrified.

  2. Nice review! I have just written one myself too. I love this film and I completely agree on the masterpiece thing. Here's the link to my review if interested: