Friday, October 3, 2014

Totally Superfluous Movie Review (Halloween Edition): The Shining

Next in my month of horror movies: The Shining. Another great horror movie. I’ve been a big fan of Stephen King since I was kid, and have read many of his books, including The Shining. I know that King was not a huge fan of what Stanley Kubrick did with this movie, because he felt it changed some of the messages of the book. King felt the movie downplayed the influence of the supernatural and the dark forces in the hotel, instead placing the motivation toward evil and violent actions within the main character, Jack Torrance.  In fact, he thought casting Jack Nicholson was a bad move, because it clued viewers in that Jack was going to go mad at some point in the movie.

Even when he's trying to make a good impression, he looks creepy
Social psychologists have long studied the interplay of internal motivations within people and the external environment. However, the film does still suggest that the Overlook reinforced the darkness of Jack’s character, giving him a venue where such actions could occur.

The film begins with Jack interviewing for a job as winter caretaker at the Overlook, an ornate hotel placed in a secluded, beautiful area of the Rocky Mountains. The general manager explains that the hotel closes during the winter months because of the brutal snow that makes the mountain roads impassable and difficult to keep clean. As a result, the hotel hires a caretaker to stay in the hotel during winter months to keep the boiler running, do routine maintenance, and generally look after the hotel and grounds. Jack also learns that a previous caretaker lost his mind and murdered his wife and two daughters, before killing himself. Cozy. So maybe babysitting ghosts is part of the caretaker's job...

We then meet Wendy, Jack’s wife, and Danny, their son, as well as Danny’s “imaginary” friend Tony. Why do I put imaginary in quotes? Well, I’ll get to that later. This was actually the first time I’ve noticed that Wendy is reading “The Catcher in the Rye” during this scene.

Insert favorite conspiracy theory here
Danny, or more specifically Tony, tells Wendy that he doesn’t want to go to the Overlook, but refuses to say why. We also learn that Danny has no friends his age where they live – since they only moved there 3 weeks ago – so it doesn’t seem to be the social isolation of the Overlook that has him concerned. Tony – correctly – informs Danny that Jack has gotten the job and that they will be going to the Overlook soon. A terrifying vision of blood rushing out of the elevators at the Overlook sends Danny into shock, and Wendy calls in a doctor to check him out.

The doctor examines Danny and, finding no real problems, tells Wendy that Danny should be fine. She asks Wendy for more details about Danny’s history, and learns that Jack, a recovering alcoholic, once dislocated Danny’s shoulder while drunk. Hmmm, wonder if Wendy mentioned she and Danny were about to spend several months in a hotel with Jack, and little to no contact with the outside world. But hey, what could possibly go wrong?

The family heads up to the hotel, where they receive a tour of the grounds and meet, among others, Dick Hallorann, the head chef. Danny is surprised to learn that Dick also has some psychic abilities. Dick’s grandmother called the gift “shining.” Dick tells Danny that in addition to some people who can “shine,” there are also places that “shine.” Danny asks Dick if there’s anything bad in the hotel, but Dick insists there’s nothing to be worried about. The place isn’t bad – it’s just shiny. 

Jack and Wendy also learn that the hotel was built on ancient Indian burial ground. Yes, this is one of the more trite portions of the story. But it doesn’t seem that the actions of the previous caretaker are what caused the problems in the hotel, or Danny’s fears. In fact, later events in the story seem to suggest that the darkness at the Overlook is actually what caused the caretaker to go crazy in the first place. Pissed off Native American spirits is the only answer they give to why this place brings out the worst in people. Of course, some of the color combinations might have also set some people off.

The horror
The hotel clears out, leaving the Torrance family as the only occupants – well, the only living ones anyway. The movie does many things to pull you into the crazy, disorganized world, where days blur into each other. For instance, title cards flash up days of the week: Thursday, Wednesday, etc., but without any additional context – a month and date, where this particular Wednesday falls from the previous title card and so on. The viewer becomes as confused as the characters in the movie, who don’t have other people or events to help them distinguish one day from the next. Wendy plays with Danny and chats up the local law enforcement on the radio. Danny, when he isn’t playing with Wendy, tools around the hotel in his hot wheels. Jack clicks away at his typewriter, throws balls around, and generally behaves like a douche.

On one of Danny’s rides around the hotel, he runs into the two daughters of the previous caretaker. Though he reminds himself that Dick told him these things aren’t real, just echoes of the past, the girls call Danny by name and ask him to come play with them. This is the first indication that the forces in the hotel aren’t just lingering events, but sentient forces that can interact with the world of the living.

Just as Danny decides to check out room 237, Jack begins screaming in his sleep. Though Jack seems already dark and disturbed from the beginning, the dream that he has re-enacted the actions of the previous caretaker seems to truly scare him. He tells Wendy that he feels like he’s losing his mind; some part of him recognizes that something isn’t right, even if at other times he seems to welcome the darkness of the Overlook. This is (unfortunately for all involved) Jack’s last moment of lucidity.

Danny wanders into the room, having been attacked by something in room 237, and Wendy – believing that no one else is in the hotel – accuses Jack of hurting Danny. Jack angrily stomps down to the ballroom, where he finds the bar – which was emptied when the last employees left – fully stocked and manned by Lloyd. Jack shares his frustrations over several glasses of Jack Daniels, when Wendy bursts in to tell Jack that Danny was actually attacked by a crazy woman in the hotel.

Jack goes to room 237 to investigate, where he finds what appears at first to be a young and attractive woman in the bathtub. Like any stereotypical man who thinks with – well, you know – Jack temporarily forgets that this woman apparently tried to murder his son and sees this as a great opportunity for getting laid. But his libido quickly drops to zero when he watches the young woman transform into an old, partially decayed woman.

Jeez, Lloyd, how much did I drink?
Jack returns to the family’s apartment and, rather than fess up to his apparent ‘beer goggles,’ he lies and tells Wendy there is no one else in the hotel. Meanwhile, Danny is catatonic, but Jack refuses to explore the option of leaving the hotel to get help. He once again storms off.

Wendy goes to find Jack to plead with him once again, and is appalled to discover that Jack has been writing the most boring (and totally plagiarized) novel ever.

The one note novel then seems to carry over into the dialogue of the movie, as Danny ceases speaking any dialogue beyond repeatedly requesting Bacardi and Grenadine. Or maybe he was talking about something else? After all, he’s way too young to drink. He literally has to spell it out for Wendy (and the viewer) before we realize that Danny is actually talking about murder.

Silly kid. Should have said edicimoh. Okay, maybe not.

Dick Hallorann, who feels Danny’s fragile state all the way from Miami, catches a flight back to Denver, and drives up to the Overlook to check things out, where things don’t turn out so well for him. Poor Dick. He’s got enough shine for him to feel the darkness of the Overlook from Miami Beach, but not enough to see a wounded Jack hiding with an axe 5 feet away. If shining were my gift, I’d return it. It seems to cause a lot of trouble.

Wendy stumbles upon a yiffing party and hightails it out of there.

The rest of the movie consists of running around – Danny running away from Jack, Jack chasing Danny with an axe, and Wendy running from one macabre image after another. Wendy and Danny finally find each other, and Jack freezes to death in the labyrinth.

It seems the final message of the film is that the Overlook attracts the darkest, most disturbed personalities, and helps push them to do the evil actions already lurking within them. It then swallows the dark person whole, making them part of the place forever – even going so far as to rewrite history to make them a fixture of the hotel. The film ends by zooming in on a picture of Jack at a party, dated in the 1920s.

Only a supersmart kid and an incredibly resourceful wife are able to escape.

The question I’ve always had about the movie is: Who is Tony? Is he a side of Danny’s personality, a dissociative identity Danny created to protect himself from things that would be painful or dangerous? Is he a spirit or some other supernatural being that uses Danny’s “shining” ability to interact with him? I’m guessing it would be the former, considering that certain things are hidden from Danny – like Tony’s initial visions of the Overlook. If Danny had his own shining ability, that allowed him to talk to Tony, he wouldn’t need Tony to show him things. Which leads to the bigger question – what dark things has Danny already seen that would spark this psychological division?

This is perhaps the most interesting lingering question (to me anyway). Dissociative identity disorder (what has been in the past known as multiple personalities or split personality) generally occurs among people who have experienced extreme, and repeated, trauma. When the traumatic event occurs, they dissociate – they pretend they are someone else, or that they are simply watching something happen without experiencing it – as a defense mechanism. This becomes a learned behavior so that over time, the response gets faster and more automatic at the sign of any potential trauma. Maybe the actions of his drunk father brought it on? Perhaps the dislocated shoulder wasn’t the only incident. Or maybe Danny saw many other terrible things with his shining.

I’ll be honest – I really like the movie, though I think the acting is pretty crappy at times. What makes the movie so good is the compelling story and the legit creep factor of many of these scenes. And a few WTF scenes thrown in for good measure. And with that, I give you this picture again.

Superfluously yours,

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