I didn’t plan to write about The Shining just yet. I decided to include it as a christmas movie for two reasons. 1) It’s at least partly set in December–close enough. 2) A number of christmases ago, I discovered that my oldest daughter had never seen The Shining.
Where had I failed??
Obviously it was imperative that we remedy this egregious oversight. She loved it. I did too. Again. As always. This may be partly because I’d not seen it in a few years. Odd because it’s one of my all time favorite films and one of the best made films ever, on par, at least in my Great Films Pantheon, with Psycho.
Purely as a horror movie, The Shining is flat out unsettling and not just for its now iconic creep factors. On the level of isolation/paranoia/insanity/group dysfunction, The Shining (along with Night Of The Living Dead) also paves the way for such films as The Thing, Session 9, Event Horizon, and Black Mountain Side.
I also realized Kubrick is pretty sadistic. From a sound design standpoint, the film becomes an ordeal, an endurance test with my kid literally wincing her way through it. As for the scare chords for the murder of Scatman Crothers, I’ve never known whether to call them homage to Hitchcock or outright theft.
But Kubrick was a genius as well. Like a 200 IQ. It should come as no surprise that he makes a film that can be “read” as much as seen. If you can wade through its conspiracy theory aspects, Rodney Ascher’s documentary Room 237 offers some eye-openers. One thing it doesn’t cover, however, is Danny’s hero journey.
It’s no secret Kubrick was familiar with Joseph Campbell, and one thing Campbell discusses is the hero leaving one state and achieving a higher one. Danny starts out lacking awareness and comes to it by the end of the film. The rest falls right into place.
Danny leaves the normal, mundane world shortly after he receives his call to adventure: his first vision of the elevator as he brushes his teeth. He travels to the special world on top of a mountain which was often associated with the sacred, the gods, the spirit world, etc.
In the gameroom Danny sees the twins, a signal he has crossed the threshold from the regular world into the other world. Next he meets the mentor, Scatman Crothers, who instructs him about the nature of his special gift.
The rest of his visions (the twins who now speak to him, the elevator, the woman in room 237) prepare him for the final confrontation with the monster. It’s no accident this confrontation takes place in a maze (interestingly not in the book). Ascher deals with this in Room 237, so let’s look at the parent-as-monster.
This is nothing new: Apsu vs. Ea, Tiamat vs. Marduk, Ouranos vs. Chronos, Chronos vs. Zeus, the evil parent figure in so many fairy tales. This is what Danny defeats before returning to the regular world. Grossly oversimplified I admit, but it works.
That’s not to say I don’t have issues with Kubrick. Looking at The Shining as a standalone film is one thing, but as an adaptation, that’s quite another. Kubrick shows Shelley Duvall, for instance, as basically the brains of the outfit.
She’s the doer. She makes the meals, handles communication with the ranger station, checks the boiler. Essentially she runs the joint. She’s also one of the most annoying, unlikeable characters I’ve ever seen. Indeed, one of Stephen King’s major beefs with the film is its lack of character arc. The man’s got a point. I don’t care what happens to any of these people.
Everyone but Scatman Crothers is annoying, and his presence in the film is, at best, a minimal plot device. His counterpart in the novel is much more substantial, and there are other problems with his character (for details, check out Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror).
And let’s be honest. Kubrick has a long standing tradition of disregarding the endings of novels along with some key plot points.
A word of warning. I’m one of those people. For good and/or ill, I won’t let go of the source material. That means anyone who accompanies me to a movie based on a novel is on a fool’s errand.
True, Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick collaborated on the novel and screenplay of 2001: A Space Odyssey developing both pretty much simultaneously. Still, Clarke took issue with Kubrick’s handling of a few plot points. Likewise, Peter George helped adapt his novel Red Alert into Dr. Strangelove. Strangelove wasn’t in the novel.
At the other end, Anthony Burgess was no fan of Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange nor the American version of the novel which he felt was “deeply flawed.” The U.S. publisher feared Americans wouldn’t buy into the real ending despite its chilling but often unrecognized implications. When it comes to The Shining, well, Stephen King has had a number of longstanding, bitter, justifiable gripes of his own.
Finally, I understand that these are adaptations. I get that. I do. Still, the phrase “based on” can be wielded like a cudgel in order to beat the source material into submission. I dearly love Kubrick’s Shining, indeed all of his work (even Barry Lyndon), but if I’m looking for a faithful film version of a novel, I’m not grabbing a Kubrick film.