Stanley Kubrick is widely regarded as one of the greatest film directors that’s ever lived. His films look deep into the human psyche on a level that nobody had managed to achieve before and we can still see influencing cinema today. The man took on and mastered many genres, he redefined Sci-fi with 2001: A Space Odyssey, showed us the horrors of Vietnam in the war movie Full Metal Jacket and helped define the epic with Sparticus. One of his most successful and well known movies however would change the Horror genre forever, that film is The Shining.
The story follows a recovering alcoholic and writer named Jack Torrence (played by Jack Nicholson) who has taken up a job as an off season caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, located in the isolated Colorado Rockies. He brings along his wife Wendy and son Danny to stay in this currently abandoned hotel. Danny has what is called ‘the shining’, a psychic ability to see ghosts of the buildings horrifying past. Whilst this is going on Jack becomes slowly possessed by the spirits which drive him into becoming an insane axe murderer, trying to hunt down his family.
The film is actually based on a book of the same name written by none other than Stephen King, author of other titles such as The Green Mile, It, Carrie and Misery to name a few. Kubrick made quite a few changes to the story in his film rather controversially, something that wasn’t appreciated by King. Kubrick wanted to ground the film in as much realism as possible, he removed many of the highly supernatural elements of the story, things like objects and topiary animals coming to life and obvious ghost referencing were all ditched to keep it as realistic as possible.
In interviews he talks about why he made these decisions, he explains that when people refer to ghosts they have seen that they remark on how they are as real as any person, like flesh and blood stood before them, many ghosts are shown in the movie but all appear as if really there. This decision confused many viewers but adds to the unnerving mystery of the film, keeping you at constant level of uneasy throughout.
Kubrick aimed to play on genuine psychological fears, though The Shining could all be put down to ghostly possession there are a host of realistic fears displayed over the course of the film. The most obvious being a fear of loneliness through Jack’s isolation. Then in a more subtle tone we see a fear of age as a beautiful young woman transforms into a decrepit zombie like figure before Jack’s eyes. He experiences a whole host of our most basic fears which could be the real cause of his fall into complete madness.
The Shining is regarded as one of the best horror films in history and it’s no surprise. You can watch it and be spooked by the supernatural or be shaken by the reality of it all, it straddles the line so well that it’s hard to say what truly causes Jack’s demise, however it has kept us thinking for nearly 40 years and will continue to so for many more.