Monday, 9 January 2017

The Shining (1980)

Fig 1: Poster
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) is a psychological horror, horror, drama and thriller film, which was (slightly) based on Stephen King's 1977 novel The Shining. This movie tells the story of Jack Torrance a novelist, who takes a job as the winter caretaker of the huge and isolated hotel called Overlook Hotel. He moves there with his wife (Wendy) and young son (Danny) ignoring the previous warning of the manager, who tells him the story of the former caretaker Grady who went insane and chopped up his family with an axe and then shot himself. It seems that Danny has the power called 'The Shining' which enables him to see past and future events. Danny meets Hallorann, the hotel cook who also possesses the power of 'Shining' and warns him about the hotel and Room 237. As time passes Danny keeps having visions of people from the past who have died at the hotel meanwhile Jack starts to slowly drive himself to insanity. Jack numerously 'interacts' with dead people from the past, his aggression and insanity is fuelled by Grady, who tells him to kill his family. He goes on to do the same thing Grady did in the past with an axe and started his search in the huge hotel to find Wendy and Danny to kill them. The mother and son lock themselves into the bathroom, where Danny fits through the tiny window and makes his escape, while Wendy is stuck in there as Jack starts to axe down the wooden door. He is interrupted and leaves giving a chance to Wendy to make her escape. Jack kills Hallorann and rushes after Danny, who hides in the maze garden. As Danny finds his way out of the maze and leaves the hotel (and Jack) behind with Wendy, the tired and slightly injured Jack freezes to death inside the maze. The last shot shows an old picture from 1921 of "the best people", but Jack is on the image as well right at the front, as if he was always belonging there or as if the hotel collects the souls.
Fig 2: The frozen Jack
"It is a multi-layered exploration of the psyche, the spiritual realm, surrealism, ancient mythology and the satanic occult elite that rule the West, as the theme of pedophilic generational bloodlines parasitically manipulate the under class through the false promise of worldly prosperity. " (Dyer, 2015) The story is very symbolic and it has different meanings and symbols hidden in character's behaviour, the things they say and see and even the hotel itself.  In the movie it is mentioned that the building was built on an ancient Native American burial ground, which could symbolise the political issues of modern America and their relationship with history. When Jack start to communicate with the ghosts especially with Lloyd (the bartender) and Grady, it is seen by Jack that he could be one of 'the best people' but only if he follows the instructions of Grady who suggest that he 'corrects' his family members, in which Jack is required to get rid of them, killing them. That is the point where his aggression and unstable mental state starts to really show and he completely looses himself.
Fig 3: Grady and Jack's conversation in the red bathroom
"The maze is interesting for its dual usage as well: symbolizing both Jack’s psyche and his writing of the fiction into his reality..." (Dyer, 2015) There are some places and object during the movie that symbolise characters, especially Jack's psyche. The Hotel could be a symbol of Jacks mind, as the long corridors appear as a maze, easy to get lost in and they are never ending. There is also a suggestion that the specific carpet that is in focus when Danny is playing on it is another maze. Lastly there is a model of the maze garden that represents the real on outside the hotel. When Danny hides from Jack inside the maze, the young boy tricks Jack by stepping backwards on his own footprints than jumping away and leaving no trace for Jack to follow. As Jack does not finds his way out of it, by the morning he is frozen to death, which represents how he is stuck in a maze of his mental state and will never get out of it.
Fig 4: Jack standing over the maze model
"The scares are some of the most iconic ever put on screen and the film is tense and highly atmospheric – so tight that its able to make the audience jump at title cards – the whole experience is like walking up a staircase which gradually gets narrower." (s.n., 2013) The tension is slowly built during the movie and it keeps the audience at the edge of their seats. At the beginning the viewer might feel a little tension, which is created by Jack behaviour (his strange behaviour is already showing at the beginning of the film), or by the huge empty hotel with endless corridors and huge amount of rooms. But as the story goes on, the tension is escalated along with Jack's madness. In the novel written by Stephen King all the weird events are caused by supernatural beings, while in the film it appears to be more of a mental state. While supernatural can make people feel fear, the breakdown of someone loosing their mind creates another type of discomfort or tension. The build up of the events is so well done that even the sudden title card appearances is enough to make the viewer jump.
Fig 5: Jack's frightening look
"Stanley didn't travel, so he never went to Oregon where the exteriors were done. Whenever you see actors outside, they're in the backlot of Elstree Studios in London. The snow was made of formaldehyde and salt, while the fog was finely sprayed vegetable oil." (Harlan, s.d.) Whenever the hotel was shown from the outside, those were real videos of the hotel, however as soon as the camera shows an interior shot, those were built to replicate other hotel rooms. Overlook Hotel is shown as a huge hotel and the fact that the film is set in winter time, while no residences around, makes the hotel appear much emptier and helps to give it a look that it is dangerous and unsettling. As Danny rides his bicycle on the endlessly long, connected corridors or when he plays on the carpet with (cage like ) geometric patterns, the environment makes the characters appear tiny and vulnerable. Furthermore, the snow (which is artificial) and the fog around the hotel suggest that it is incredibly challenging or impossible to escape and it is much difficult to survive in winter than in any other seasons. "A world away from the dusty, peeling interiors usually seen in horror movies, the hotel interior envisioned by Kubrick is spacious and modern. The set generates tension not through claustrophobia and dark spaces, but with high ceilings and lonely expanses." (Lambie, 2016) These little hidden unsettling things are what makes the environment appear much more dangerous and scary. They did not need to build the hotel how the usual horror film hotels look, with dark and gloomy corners with ghosts and monsters lurking in the rooms and corridors, as even though there are ghosts in the story, they appear as real people or more like hallucinations they are not what frightens the audience. They achieved the high tension by putting three 'little' characters in a enormous and empty hotel for isolation slowly creep upon them and starts questioning reality and sanity. 
Fig 6: Exterior of the Overlook Hotel before winter
Fig 7: Danny tricycle through the hotel
While the tension is high, distracting the audience from other details that sets the mood, such as lighting and colour, it is clear that those factors heighten fear in the viewer. Kubrick is known for his excellent usage of composition, colours and lighting. For example, the bathroom where Jack and  Grady have a conversation about 'correcting' his family, the room is partly, bright and vibrant red. Red colour is already associated with violence and danger, which suggests Jack current psyche, emphasised by him being alone with Grady, discussing murder of their families in a red room.  "The room is utterly unlike any other in the hotel – it’s as though it’s a direct projection of Jack’s violent mind, which it almost certainly is. It’s but one example of how Kubrick uses colour and design to reflect the mood of his characters." (Lambie, 2016) There are other rooms and places in and around the hotel that shows how well he can show emotions and symbolising things with the setting, colours, shapes or lighting. The lighting could be claimed that it is poor, compared to usual horror environments, as it does not give sharp and strong shadows, rather all seem to be created by the original artificial lighting of the hotel's lights and chandeliers. This gives a sense of realism to the film, as it does not appear as theatrical. Also symmetry and centralising things or characters often can be seen throughout the movie, drawing focus to specific things or creating uneasiness with the 'perfect' and sinister symmetry.
Fig 8: Examples of Kubrick's sets
 "It’s also incredibly frightening – the music is a massive help here, made up of classical pieces and eerie, string-heavy motifs; a large part of the movie’s effectiveness comes from the strength of its soundtrack; its truly horrifying and wonderfully atmospheric, almost dizzying in intensity." (s.n., 2013) While, the plot of the movie is not big and quite expected, the music plays an important role in keeping the audience at the edge of their seats (just like the environment). then the music intensifies, it builds up tension, suggesting that something is going to happen, readying the audience of an upcoming event or perhaps a jump-scare. When the music seems to reach its high point and the viewer is ready for whatever is going to happen, sometimes they cut the music of right away and nothing happens for a little while, putting back the viewer to ease. However just when it seems like the potential danger or threat is gone, that is when a sudden event happens, which scares the audience much effectively than if it would have happened right after the build-up. This creates the high tension as the audience learns not to expect what is going to happen depending on the music, while it also sets a mood and keeps the viewers interested despite the simple plot.

"Kubrick has little interest in his characters as people, using them more as vehicles for thematic ideas or allegory." (s.n., 2013) Kubrick does not try to create connection between the characters and the audience, or even create strong relationship and bond between the characters. The lack of connection with the characters leaves them feeling a little cold towards the viewers, however all the 'main' characters have a significantly important and individual role in the film and represent different meanings in the story. "Past transgressions don't need to be spelled out to clarify that Jack is not a model parent." (Fox, 2012) Firstly, Jack who plays the 'main' character's role and the father is appears to have mental illnesses at some level even from the start. The way he uses his facial expressions, especially towards the end perfectly represent his state of mind; looking creepily up from under and lowering his bottom lip to show his teeth. Furthermore, when he holds Danny, there is not much caring or emotions behind his actions, but rather look sinister and scary. Also there is a suggestion that he is abusive not only towards Wendy, but Danny too and he seems to blame Danny for a few things in the past."We begin to suspect Danny has been abused as his alternate persona appears to be a spirit named “Tony,” who lives in Danny’s mouth and stomach." (Dyer, 2015) Perhaps, Danny's 'imagery friend' Tony helps him to cope with the treatment he gets from his father or Danny is schizophrenic and Tony is his alter-ego. It also has been suggested that Tony is a spirit or ghost that either possessed him or just simply lives within the young boy. Some studies seemed to believe that younger children are able to see and communicate with ghosts, which might be the reason why he sees the twins and can communicate with Tony, but that might be not the motive behind giving him the ability to connect with spirits, as other characters are able to do the same, despite them being grown adults. "Duvall is often criticised in this role but her performance is fantastic – she’s mousy and meek but that’s the character ... Kubrick basically tortured her with extended takes and the strain, stress and anguish actually add to her performance." (s.n., 2013) Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) is a character that comes off as a very annoying and weak person and many people blame the actress for it, however the character was meant to be so quiet and/or over the top. The actress was under high pressure, which allowed her to preform such a expressive role. Wendy is an extremely timid character and she accepts Jack's aggression quietly; however her husband starts to show his murderous tendencies, she becomes very frightened and her reactions might seem over-the-top, especially if we take in consideration that that type of acting was used in the past, but does not really appear anymore, but the audience need to understand that this is possibly how most people would reacted in that kind of situation with knowing no help is on the way.
Fig 9: Jack holding Danny
Fig 10: Frightened Wendy
The Shining is praised to be one, if not the best horror films ever created, as it does not depend on monsters to frighten the audience, but cleverly uses mise-en-scene, such as environment set-ups, music, character portrayals, hidden meaning and symbols in order to create tension and fear. It's not only a perfect example for exploration of psychological matters, but it displays a different view on supernatural (while the supernatural does not overpower). Due to its  uniqueness, there are only a very few horror and even not horror genre movies that are this powerful (even with a simple plot) and sets high standards for future films; as well as creates some of the most iconic scenes, characters and props, such as the carpet, the twins and Jack's 'Here's Johnny!'
Fig 11: The twins
Fig 12: The famous carpet
Fig 13: 'Here's Johnny!' scene


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