First things first. I took my son to see The Shining at the American Film Institute Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland (they are running a Jack Nicholson retrospective). The theater is ornate and massive and brings back the feel and style of the old movie house.
But not even the hallowed ground of a theater honoring film can persuade people to behave in a respectful fashion during a movie. We had two fools in the front who found particular dramatic scenes funny and laughed and laughed and laughed . . . and laughed some more. We also had two couples to our right who presumed if a character wasn’t talking, that was their cue to talk. Stanley Kubrick films have long stretches of no dialogue.
Going to films is more and more difficult given the crude behavior of movie patrons, who cannot shut th f*** up, are now eating full meals during the show, and are otherwise oblivious to anyone around them. Worse, those who are quiet, including myself, are often forced to simply accept the noise. I have interceded a few times. It has worked less often than not, because if you correct a young person in public, apparently, that is a humiliation too great to endure, and what follows is aggression and louder “I paid my ticket” talking. Now, I’ve made the film less enjoyable for additional rows.
Okay. To the movie. Kubrick’s picture is methodical and creepy, It opens abruptly with an aerial shot of Jack Torrance (Nicholson) driving for his interview at the Overlook Hotel to an ominous electronic score (think John Carpenter). Torrance gets the job as the hotel’s winter caretaker, where he esconces his timid wife (Shelly Duvall) and his son (Danny Lloyd), who has the ability to see visions and occasionally communicate with like-talented people (i.e., he “shines”) such as the hotel’s head chef, Scatman Crothers. Danny’s ability is also telling him that the Overlook Hotel is dangerous, a fact Crothers confirms. Soon, the hotel insinuates itself into Torrance’s mind, turns him against his family, and he goes berserk.
The film is very scary, often terrifying. Kubrick gives us the time to get to know the family, and all is not well: Torrance has had recent problems with drink, injuring Danny in the process. He is also a condescending prick, which in turn makes his wife more jittery, which in turns makes Torrance angrier and more removed. With this fodder, the spirits of the hotel work themselves on Nicholson.
The imagery is unforgettable, be it Danny riding his big wheel (tracked by stedicam) through the halls of the Overlook, only to bump into gruesome visions, or the forbidding snow-covered hedge maze, the locale for the final scene. Lloyd is very good: he is withdrawn but sweet, trying to deal with a wretched home life and an amazing but confusing gift. Duvall, whose performance has been criticized as annoying (she was nominated for a Razzie), is, in fact, very annoying, but it is a great performance nonetheless. She is trying to hold the family together, as Nicholson is trying to destroy it, and her worry feeds his suspicion. The hotel has to work on something; it has to find an “in” to get to Nicholson, which it does through Duvall, who is nervous and peppy and cloying. Obviously, she doesn’t deserve to be murdered. But the spirits of the hotel don’t need to much to convince Nicholson.
The only partial negative is Nicholson. He’s very good as a man driven to insanity, but the performance has two faults. First, Nicholson does not show much to recommend him when he has full sanity. He’s superior and sarcastic and he doesn’t connect with his family. As such, when he is enticed by the hotel, there’s not much of struggle there. He’s ready to fix them up right and there really was no question. Second, there are too many “Heeeeeeere’s Johnnies” in his performance. Nicholson goes so over-the-top that he becomes cartoonish. Still, it’s a minor criticism and presumes the necessity of a struggle for Nicholson’s soul.