With the impending release of Kimberly Peirce’s revamp of Biran de Palma’s 1976 Carrie, I felt compelled to expand my knowledge of the Stephen King oeuvre. Though I’ve seen various references to and hodgepodge clips of The Shining, never had I watched the entire movie. Aside from the iconic opening scene of winding roads and hilly forests, and the snowy, labyrinthine ending, I was completely clueless about the chronological plot in between. So, over two appropriately stormy evenings, I settled into watching the first and second half.
In terms of mood, I don’t think I need to convince you that Kubrick hits more than one home run with this film. It’s ominous, bizarre, and just esoteric enough to get under your skin. His ability to maintain the balance between subtle macabre (sparse dialogue and long, silent scenes) with the blatantly grotesque (flashes of hacked, dead bodies and blood pouring from the elevator shafts) is exceptionally effective. Even more memorable was the high pitched, tonal noise used at pivotal moments, an unnerving mix of beep and buzz. Kubrick would stretch out scenes with excruciating length with this simple, unadorned soundtrack.
Some of my favourite scenes involved little Danny as he pedaled on his toy trike through the long, luxurious hallways. Just the simple rhythmic hum of his tires moving from carpet to hardwood was enough to agitate my anxiety, wondering which direction he would choose to turn. And, of course, one cannot forget that moment when he encounters the twin girls in those baby blue dresses.
The last thirty minutes of The Shining, though, seems to unravel off the spool. I would never go so far as to call it boring, but perhaps predictable would be more accurate. The mood so carefully orchestrated throughout the three quarters of the film dissolves into a chase scene and the anti-climactic death of Jack, lost and frozen in the maze.
Unfortunately, I have not read the source material, Stephen King’s novel of the same name, so I don’t have any way of knowing where or when Kubrick took plot liberties. The ending, however, seems to incite extensive debate, and I can understand why. Even now, I’m still unsure how that July 4, 1921 photograph figures into the mythology of The Overlook Hotel. Granted, I have a few theories, but none of them feel substantial enough to hold on to (which could very well be the intention – leaving the audience in a perpetual state of confusion).
If you’re interested in digging deeper into the mythology of this film, check out The Overlook Hotel blog. The content is a fascinating but eerie collection of Kubrick’s production notes, original art, cultural references and excerpts of King’s original manuscript.