The Shining 40 Years On (Halloween Special)

Halloween 2020 is near!! The scariest day of the year and not just because it’s my birthday! With the entire world simultaneously living the same horrific isolation-induced COVID-19 nightmare this Halloween is truly the most terrifying ever! Therefore only the most frightening ultimate-seclusion movie will do. Hence ‘The Shining’ it is. Released May 23rd 1980 this 4o year horror thriller is arguably the scariest movie ever made. After all, nothing is more petrifying than being locked up in a remote domicile with your family! ha ha

Directed by the late great Stanley Kubrick, ‘The Shining’ is an adaptation of horror novelist Stephen King’s 1977 book of the same name. Though it is no secret that King vehemently detested Kubrick’s version of his masterpiece. That said, King might be alone in his convictions given that Kubrick is considered one of the greatest cinematic directors of all time. I personally do not like scary violent movies, but the brilliance of this psychological thriller cannot be overlooked. This film’s best quality is that compared with other horror flicks there’s limited amounts of gore, yet maximum amounts of spook. Set in the distant Colorado Rockies, the movie opens with short tempered alcoholic writer/former teacher Jack Torrance (fabulously played by the legendary Jack Nicholson) meeting with hotel executives of the antiquated colossal Overlook Resort to discuss Jack’s prospects of serving as the live-in caretaker in the winter off-season when the lodge is closed. Jack is warned of the mental health toll associated with sheer isolation as listed in the job description (due to the remoteness of the snowy mountainous location that makes road travel impossible for the better half of 5 months) as well as the hotel’s grim past (several homicides particularly in Room 237 where the previous caretaker axed his own family to death). However, with limited employment options and the desire to write a book, want-to-be scribe Jack accepts the job and thus begins the tediousness of his self-appointed exclusion with timid wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and psychic son Danny (Danny Lloyd) in tow. {Fast fact: the interior of the Overlook Hotel was created in Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire England, but the exterior is actually the Timberline Lodge in Oregon}

As the threesome embark on their faraway journey through the elevated alpine terrain, the long winding drive at the beginning of the movie punctuates just how inaccessible the Overlook Hotel is, especially during wintertime. Once there, it doesn’t take long for odd events to slowly start unfolding. Filmmaker Kubrick’s clever approach of taking his time to build the characters as they steadily descend into madness truly maximizes the level of absorption and commitment viewers invest in the story. With the baron emptiness of the hotel, it’s the disconcerting calm that echoes throughout the many stately rooms that leaves audiences saturated in trepidation. The film also brilliantly maximizes sound to create the consternation we all know is coming, but when? The not knowing is what keeps audiences on the edge of their seats. This film radiates in its ability to conjure up the most unnerving anxiety by utilizing the simplest scenes and sounds. Case in point; the long shots of little Danny barreling across the hotel’s vast open spaces on his tricycle, loudly traversing infinite hardwood floors abruptly coupled with eerie quiet as he then rides over the many throw rugs. With each turn he blindly rounds the corners not knowing what he may find down endless hallways dripping with murderous memories of violent days gone by.  

The slow but captivating pace of the movie exemplifies the utter monotony and boredom associated with confinement and how the days blur with indiscriminate time. The uninterrupted nothingness makes work of play. The irony is, all play and no work is really what makes Jack a dull boy, not the other way around. Yes, too much free time is not a good thing as an idle mind invites dark thoughts like a welcomed guest. From the onset Jack is already an abusive intolerable father/husband but the tedium transforms him into a most frightening unbearable monster. The movie also includes many random titles (4pm) which also contributes to the menacing mood of monotony. Viewers can’t help but feel the agony of Jack’s commonsense wife Wendy having to manage a progressively deranged spouse and an increasingly unhinged child. To clarify ‘shining’ in this movie refers to the ability to see past and future events (aka clairvoyant/medium), which little traumatized son Danny can do (along with The Overlook’s head chef Dick Halloran played by Scatman Crothers; incidentally born May 23rd), which causes Danny to become catatonic as the dreadfulness of the situation heightens. Since this timeless gem is well worth the watch, especially at Halloween, I will stop there in case there are some who haven’t seen this movie yet.

With the storyline stenciled out, what life lessons could a horror film built on exile-induced insanity offer up to viewers? It’s worth mentioning that people have been trying to figure out the meaning of this movie since its release! Is it just a scary show about the delusions associated with isolation or is there something deeper buried in the foundation of the script?

At face value it appears that the underlying life lesson is to resist social isolation, but in fact it is more about the danger of history repeating itself. But what history specifically? There have been many interpretations floated, particularly about Room 237 which represents the most heinous of all evils. So much so that American director Rodney Ascher made a documentary in 2012 entitled ‘Room 237’ focusing explicitly on such explanations. One of them being the cultural assimilation of Native Americans since according to the movie’s dialogue the hotel is built on a Native American burial mound. This could be (in part), however if/when filmmakers embed hidden meanings into movies they tend to be quite subdue. That said, I think this evolution of thought process is on the right track but perhaps the meaning of Room 237 encapsulates an even broader and deeper element of America’s darkest history. Slavery. So how did I come to this original conclusion? It might not be widely known but the number ‘237’ is the country code for the African nation of Cameroon, which was one of the main points of departure on the ‘Slave Coast’. In fact John Punch, America’s 1st documented African slave is thought to have come from none other than Cameroon! Think about it – the ‘n’ word is used and the only person Jack actually kills in this movie is the kind helpful servant – the ‘black’ chef. Furthermore, if you ask me the beautiful woman Jack encounters in the Room 237 represents the seductive powers of this terrible evil that cloaked the US for centuries – turning from a much-desired endeavor, into the most sinister festering rot. So if the main message is about the elite enslaving and confining people against their will, then what do we make of disturbing little Danny and the telepathic chef’s spine-chilling ability to drift between past and future events?

My guess is that this unnerving skill is attributed to how vile shadows of the past will always be repeated if not halted in their icy tracks. Director Kubrick hammers this home with flashbacks of slaughter via the creepy twins, and the admonitions via the tidal wave of blood gushing out of the ground zero elevator, not to mention the near possessed Danny’s constant verbal repetitions of ‘REDRUM, REDRUM… It’s just murder having to listen to it over and over again! All of this is done to convey the message that there will always be those ‘bright’ individuals who bear witness to threats of history reprised. Their insightfulness sees what is to come before the rest of us do. Though whether they choose to ‘shine’ light on the problem and act to stop the carnage is another story. Then again, who really knows the meaning of this movie. This is part of the appeal that lures so many to revisit this 40 year-old staple fright film like an old friend; each time experiencing something different. That said, I’m certain the message on some level is Déjà Vu.  Past vs. Future – the best way to predict future behavior is by identifying patterns of past behavior. Learn to recognize that we have been here before – so let’s never return (e.g. slavery, genocide, holocaust). This includes the banishment associated with COVID-19 as well as the affliction itself. It’s enough to turn the sanest of us mad.

PS. On the topic of isolation and ghostly resorts, I once had an overnight at a spectacular enormous historical mansion inn on route to my final destination. Part of the charm was that the lodgings had no TV or internet service in order to escape the outside world. I was really looking forward to it. That was until I arrived and found out I was the only guest! Once I resolved the fact that it was just me and the innkeeper for the night I was then informed that the innkeeper was leaving at 6pm and would not return until the morning. WHAT! With the keys handed over – I was alone for the night in this huge old spooky Victorian Manor full of numerous themed guest rooms that were all empty! Yikes! So what happened you ask? Well I don’t really buy into paranormal occurrences as I’m of the mind that most supernatural claims can be refuted or explained by science (e.g. door slamming = windows open…). That said, two odd unexplainable events happened to me at that inn. The first; I felt something tap my shoulder three times and when I quickly looked back I thought I saw someone but on second glance no one was there. The second; while in my room organizing my stuff I saw a silhouette pass by my interior glass door, but again no one was there. What made it worse was that both incidents happened in broad daylight – not at night! Oh brother. Each episode did give me chills, but I was confident there was a logical explanation, so I spent the night by myself determined not to let my imagination run wild. However, when the innkeeper returned the next morning with a smirk, and cheekily asked me if I enjoyed my stay it made me wonder. Good thing I have an open mind. Though I have never been happier to leave such an aesthetically beautiful haunt in my life. A true BOO story! Have a safe Halloween everyone.

NOTE: ‘The Shining’ is playing on many big screens this Halloween, and in Calgary it’s playing at the Canyon Meadows Theater.

The actual place I stayed – alone! Happy Halloween.

12 thoughts on “The Shining 40 Years On (Halloween Special)

  1. First off, Happy Birthday Dr. Hart!!!

    I saw this movie a while back and enjoyed it. I like the isolation aspect of it. I know there’s a lot interpretations and theories in this movie to which you mentioned. I think there’s a documentary on Netflix about Room 237 and delves into stuff. Even something about Kubrick helping NASA fake the moon landings. So stupid.

    It’s funny about this movie, I feel like I know more about the behind the scenes. Poor Shelley Duvall, it’s terrifying hearing some stories how she was treated.

    No TV? No internet? Maybe you did escape the outside world, literally. Sounds like time travel haha. As scary as no TV or internet sound, I always wanted to stay in some sort of spooky place and test my luck. I’m also not someone who believes in any kinda paranormal occurrences but who knows!

    Thanks for another movie review so quickly. Your takes are very fun, interesting and informative! I may actually watch it tonight to maybe get another perspective. Have a spooky Halloween!

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    1. Hi Christopher: You’re so right about the many odd interpretations about this movie’s meaning, and faking the moon landing is definitely the most outlandish one of all. I like my interpretation better. ha ha – Do watch it again. Since I’ve seen this movie a few time and I’m not so afraid of Jack Nicholson’s role I could really enjoy just what an amazing actor he truly is. He’s my all time favorite actor and I just loved him in some of the more endearing roles he’s played too. What a star. Do try to give The Shining another watch sometime. All the best and thanks for the BD wishes. Stay safe this Halloween!

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      1. What are some of your favorite Jack Nicholson movies that you would recommend? I know he’s a beloved actor but besides The Shining, my filmography of him starts with 1989’s Batman. I know One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is considered to be one of the greatest movies but never seen it haha

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      2. Hi Christopher: Sorry for the delay in response. It’s been a busy week and with the US Elections happening right now it’s been crazy so in order to keep my sanity I thought I better catch up on a few things. I loved Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta GIve, As Good As It Gets, Terms of Endearment, and even The Bucket List. All movies where Jack shows his softer side for sure. That said, Chinatown, The Departed… showcase his fantastic acting chops too. There are so many great Jack Nicholson movies – he’s truly so great and thankfully he’s left us so many incredible pieces of work. He is the one movie star I would feel so privileged to meet. He’s just the best on every level. Stay well Christopher.

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      3. I’m going on 6 hours watching the election race. Nervous but staying positive and trying to breathe. Wish us luck.

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      4. Only 6 hours? ha ha – CNN has been running all day at the Hart House! Either way we wish America good luck for sure. Let’s just hope whoever loses the election does not promote social unrest. Peace is best.

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      5. Does the Hart House still have the election on!? What a disgrace. I don’t know if you saw our sorry excuse of a President press conference. He’s basically setting our democracy back 250 years.

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      6. CNN still on – TV is ready to blow – as is all of NA! We are all waiting on pins and needles because we all just want what’s best for the USA and that includes protecting and maintaining democracy. Better to take time to get it right. Waiting – especially for a good thing is worth it! Stay strong Christopher. 🙂

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      7. It’s official Dr. Hart!!! Joseph R. Biden will be our next president. Yay for democracy. I know this is a movie blog, but this is just a historic day. With saying that, our country is still broken and truthfully I don’t know if it can be fixed. 70 million people still voted for Trump. I guess I’ll try to remain optimistic. It’s a good day!

        Lastly, I think it’s pretty awesome we will have our first female Vice President. Madame VP sounds pretty cool! Ok back to movies 🙂

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      8. This is a good day! God Bless America! I just hope for peace in these troubled times. The Owen Hart Foundation did a very nice post today on all of our social media to congratulate America on its democratic process. Be sure to go check it out! Also, we are so happy about Kamala Harris becoming the first woman VP and first black woman VP! This is the progress society needs. Enjoy the day! Go Joe – oldest president ever elected – it’s about time we again honor the wisdom that age brings! Stay safe and healthy Christopher!

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  2. Happy birthday! Mine was actually at the start of the month, so its nice to know we share the same month. Have a wonderful day!

    Thanks for sharing. The Shining is my favourite Stanley Kubrick film. I had seen it dozens of time since I was a kid & I never found it scary to be honest, but one time a few years ago I was watching it, & I just got creeped out in parts, particularly the scene where Danny is playing darts & sees the twins. I don’t know how to explain that.

    Kubrick’s use of the camera here is amazing as always, & I think it was Martin Scorsese I saw point out in an interview on Kubrick about the axe scene where the camera followed the swing of the axe which I didn’t notice before. It was an interesting observation. The really fast zooms on certain scares do add to it because they’re quite startling.

    Your story about that manor inn sounds like quite a spooky experience. It made me think of my first trip to London with Mum in 2014. Not the same type of experience, but the hotel we stayed at was The Brick Lane Hotel in Whitechapel (I have a strong interest in the Ripper & wanted to stay in the area), which used to be the pub where Mary Ann Nichols was seen drinking in there hours before she became a victim. On our first night I think it was Mum got really spooked out very badly after watching some ghost hunting shows, which wasn’t helped when staying in the area (it is still scary).

    Mum & I also stayed at the Timberline Lodge in 2012, & it is a lovely place. I enjoyed reading your piece on this too.

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    1. Wow Brett, you are born in October too. Interesting. I’m a Scorpio but I don’t really buy into that stuff. So cool that you actually stayed at the Timberline Lodge with your mum and so many other places too. How great is that! Sounds like you are a really great son. I think mums are the best and hanging out with them is awesome. I know I do tons with my kids too. ha ha

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