By Jessica Rafalko
A common litmus test for something’s relevance to our culture is whether or not it has been parodied on “The Simpsons.” So, as a Simpsons nerd of epic proportions, I have received a decent education about what movies matter.
“The Shining” is one of these movies. I had already seen the “Simpsons” spoof (Homer’s psychotic outburst in a snowcapped hotel), so I was not entirely unprepared when I went to the Campus Theatre to see this film. “The Shining” was playing as part of the theater’s “Horror Month”—the goal of which, I assume, is to frighten an audience of adults so badly that they’re crying for their mommies when the end credits roll.
“The Shining,” Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 novel, stars Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a teacher-turned-writer who volunteers to be the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. He brings his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), with him. The family intends to spend several months watching over the hotel, located atop a precipitous mountain whose snow-covered roads become impassable in the winter. The Torrance trio is alone in the enormous hotel, as the staff and visitors leave at the start of each winter.
The Overlook Hotel, as Jack learns from its manager at the start of the movie, has been tainted by tragedy. We are told that a previous caretaker, mad with cabin fever, killed his wife and daughters before committing suicide. In some instances, Kubrick foreshadows too much. This drains the movie of some of its suspense—giving us a notion of how the Torrances’ story might end—but also sets an appropriately chilling tone for the rest of the film.
The set-up seems to be half the battle for Kubrick, anyway. He devotes much of the film’s first half to exposition. We are given a tour of the hotel—the kitchen, the lounge, the cramped apartment and bathroom the Torrances must share. The almost languorous pace of the film contributes to its eeriness, but also makes it easy for us to zone out during the more monotonous moments.
We also learn Danny has “the shining”: the ability to see into the past, the future and the minds of others. Danny’s visions (most strikingly a cascade of crimson blood that rushes from a hotel elevator and floods a hallway) are a precursor to the unexplainable, frightening and downright bizarre images Kubrick accosts us with in the second half of the film.
As visually compelling (and twisted) as the film is, the true scares come from Jack’s eventual psychosis. Kubrick does not frighten us with spectacular gore; Nicholson scared viewers with a perfectly unhinged performance. As Jack pursues Wendy up a flight of stairs, pleading with her to drop the baseball bat she’s brought in self-defense, assuring her that he simply wants to “bash [her] brains in”—we squirm in our seats. This is a man we would never want to encounter, a man whose behavior is all the more disturbing because he is a father and a husband.
Watching what happens to the Torrances, their domestic strife times a thousand, is absolutely terrifying. And to think, this seemed so funny when I saw Homer Simpson doing it.