Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Space Oddities: The Shining

One of the most iconic and memorable horror films created, Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' (1980) utilizes music, familiarity with inconsistency, and the questionable abuse of the actors to induce a sense of fear. Right from the start of this film, the music plays a vital role in the atmosphere and mood as the story unfolds. The setting and the characters are all rather ordinary but are paired with contrasting music and supernatural situations which makes it unfamiliar. The rather cruel treatment of the actors, while stressful for them, enhances their performances and makes it all much more believable and horrifying.

Fig. 1 'The Shining' (1980)

The film is an adaptation of Stephen King's novel, which is more about the supernatural than the film adaptation. It is a shame that the movie adaptation did not follow the novel more, perhaps it would have allowed the film to make more sense. In the film it is unclear if Jack (Jack Nicholson) is going insane and experiencing hallucinations or possibly being possessed by ghosts, namely Delbert Grady (Phillip Stone). Although Jack's son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), seems to be some sort of psychic or medium, the ghosts appear to have little impact on the actual plot,"Dead twins haunt Danny and then stop haunting him...the ghosts aren't quite subjective and they aren't quite real...the films most startling horrific images seem overbearing and perhaps even irrelevant," (Maslin, 1980).  It appears as though Kubrick couldn't decide between if he wanted to make a ghost story or a psychological horror.

Fig. 2 The Dead Twins
Although the plot may appear to be inconsistent at times, perhaps it was done on purpose to create unease. Kubrick doesn't want to create a sense of comfort or safety, but he also doesn't overuse jump-scares to shock the audience. Instead, he uses contrast to create constant tension and confusion which makes 'The Shining' an extremely effective horror film. He puts relatively ordinary characters, who are struggling with relatable and common struggles, into a generic, familiar environment. Jack is struggling with writer's block and possibly alcoholism, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) attempts to keep her son happy and healthy, and Danny (disregarding he is apparently a psychic/medium) just wants to play with his toys. However, the events that unfold within the hotel are anything but ordinary, making this film very unsettling and frightening. The randomness of the ghosts and/or hallucinations in this normal environment is part of what creates a sense of confusion and fear.

This unsettling clash between ordinary characters and environments with supernatural events and the mental deterioration of Jack is magnified by the film's sounds and score. Kubrick is known for his use of music to enhance the atmosphere of his films, and 'The Shining' was no exception. The score used gave of this feeling of an imminent and constant threat, no matter what the rest of the environment is suggesting. For example, the first scene of the film shows a serene and beautiful landscape as a small distance car cruises smoothly on winding roads. However the music does not match this environment, in fact it tells the audience that something very bad is about to happen before we even know who the characters are or where the 'bad things' are going to take place. Despite the bright coloured, open spaces in the hotel, menacing sounds prevent us from feeling safety in these normally familiar spaces, "...Bartok's eerily precise Music for Strings, Percussion and Harp extends over the bleak countryside through which the family drive, Ligeti and Penderecki underline the huge hotel's depopulated spaces," (Malcolm, 2014).

Fig. 3 Danny playing on the bright carpet.
On top of this, the real emotions and tension within the actors makes the horror of the situation even more believable and immersive. You can hear the tension in the actor's voices and see it in their performance. This is most likely due to the fact that Kubrick forced them to perform over and over again until they became visibly distressed, "...the actors themselves vibrate with unease. There is one take involving Scatman Crothers that Kubrick famously repeated 160 times...was it a mind game designed to convince the actors they were trapped in the hotel with another madman, their director?" (Ebert, 2006).

It is unclear if Kubrick kept the plot between the supernatural and insanity deliberately or if he just couldn't decide between the two. Like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he presents scenes that leaves the viewer wondering why it was shown and if it actually had any significance. An example of this is the closing scene where Jack is seen in a photo from 1921. This is impossible because Jack became the caretaker some time after 1970, when Delbert Grady killed his wife and daughters. While this, and many other scenes (mostly ones involving ghosts) are questionable in terms of their usefulness, it remains possible that this was all done knowingly. Even though Stephen King himself dislikes Kubrick's adaptation of 'The Shining', it is a memorable and effective horror film even with its slight inconsistency and flaws.

Ebert, R. (2006) The Shining At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-shining-1980 Accessed on: 24/11/2015
Malcolm, D. (2014) From the Archive, 2 October 1980: Stanley Kubrick's The Shining - Review At: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/oct/02/the-shining-stanley-kubrick-jack-nicholson-review-1980 Accessed on: 24/11/2015
Maslin, J. (1980) Movie Review The Shining At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF1738E270BC4B51DFB366838B699EDE Accessed on: 24/11/2015

Illustration List:
Figure 1. The Shining [Poster] At: http://www.cinemasterpieces.com/82011/shinfeb12.jpg Accessed on: 24/11/2015
Figure 2. The Dead Twins [Film Still] At: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1590198/images/o-THE-SHINING-facebook.jpg Accessed on: 24/11/2015
Figure 3. Danny playing on the bright carpet [Film Still] At: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/32A7bTalgAE/maxresdefault.jpg Accessed on: 24/11/2015

1 comment:

  1. Nice one, Dee :)
    That Kubrick likes to keep us guessing, eh?