“Shining,” as hotel chef Dick Halloran explains it to little Danny Torrence, refers to the ability to communicate without uttering a word. If that is the case, no director knows how to make his films shine better than Stanley Kubrick does. He did it with revolutionary consequences in 2001: A Space Odyssey and he does it again in The Shining, a masterpiece of terrifying imagery.
When Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) decides to take a job as caretaker of a remote Rocky Mountain resort for the deserted winter season he expects to take advantage of the isolation to get some writing done. Mention of a past tragedy involving a winter caretaker who broke down and killed his family just makes Jack grin (and we all know how Jack can grin). He assures everyone that he and his family will be just fine.
His son Danny (Danny Lloyd) knows differently, however. Through horrifically creepy clairvoyant episodes and conversations with his index finger (Danny’s imaginary friend Tony lives in the little boy’s mouth and speaks through his finger), Danny starts to get a bad vibe about the place. Jack’s wife (Shelley Duvall) is oblivious to any irregularity until the snow starts to fall and Jack begins to go a bit stir crazy. He’s caught in what turns out to be one of the worst cases of writer’s block in history and, as predicted earlier, the isolation starts to take its toll. The maze of a hotel that Kubrick has created and filmed so ingeniously becomes a character of its own working as a metaphor for the inside of Jack’s mind. We follow the characters through the never-ending hallways and cavernous ballrooms, tensing every muscle in our bodies – just waiting for Jack to snap. And nobody snaps like Jack.
Kubrick creates a spine-tingling masterpiece by keeping the standard horror film out of his movie. Sure there’s scary music when things are about to go wrong and there’s blood and talking index fingers, but Kubrick goes a few steps further. This is an internal film, after all, which turns the situation into the villain. The scares come not from the faceless slasher lurking around the corner, but from the father staring at you in broad daylight. And he’s the main character! We’re supposed to root for him (and a lot of people still do!), despite the fate that has been predetermined for him within the first ten minutes of the film.
Now considered classic “Jack,” Nicholson’s performance steals the show as a man locked inside his own head. It’s actually hard to watch the end of the film now and not hear all the spoofs and imitations it has spawned. Nevertheless, The Shining will forever be considered a classic, as it should be, as much for Kubrick’s genius as for Nicholson’s.