The Overlook Hotel, a popular, historic summer destination in the Colorado Rockies, closes every winter due to its snowy inaccessibility. Aspiring writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) accepts a position as the hotel’s winter caretaker, bringing along his wife and young son to the empty hotel for the season. Between patrolling the grounds and light maintenance, Jack is hoping to have plenty of peace and quiet to focus on his writing. However, isolated and subject to the supernatural forces lurking within the hotel, Jack’s mental wellbeing begins to deteriorate. He becomes a great risk to his family and himself (the most sterile and spoiler-free way to say that!).
In addition to some awesome, classic imagery, "The Shining" likely draws power from the numerous interpretations it provides the audience. From the very first revelation that the hotel was built on a Native American burial ground to the hotel’s art and architecture, a story about the folly of Manifest Destiny emerges. Repeated warnings on the dangers of isolation and the early meetings with Danny’s psychologist shows the dangerous power and dark side lurking in all human minds. And, forgive my leaving the obvious, "The Shining" is clearly a classic ghost story with visits from the eerie, wooden Guests of past seasons.
But for me, the most powerful story was that of Jack’s alcoholism. It was pretty clear (in my eyes) that "The Shining" was a metaphor for a father’s destructive alcohol abuse. The winter representing his isolating coldness and the maze-like hotel hallways and—well—the actual maze representing Wendy and Danny’s feelings of entrapment. Ironically, Stephen King allegedly didn’t care for the film for leaving the book’s family and alcoholism themes out but I thought they were pervasive. The movie wasn’t powerful to me for because it was a real-story of an axe wielding mad man, but because that is likely what it feels like to be stuck in an abusive relationship.
The Shining was the fourth and final Stanley Kubrick film I will screen this year and his track record with me is mixed; but I gotta respect his style. I think he’s great because he was willing to swing for the fences. He put all of himself into his craft—sometimes to confusing effect and other times inspiring greatness. Despite "The Shining"’s initial slowness and clunky dialogue, the film is genuinely creepy and exciting. Like all Kubrick films, it is technically brilliant and its characters are his most painfully real. I liked it a lot!