“The Shining” by Stanley Kubrick – Horror Movie of All Time

The Shining


Title: “The Shining”

Release Date: 1980

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, etc.



This film could have been another tale of an “evil place” that leads the characters to their doom. However, thanks to Stanley Kubrick’s imagination, “The Shining” became the horror film of all time. For the movie touches upon the deepest mystery of man – the moment when he becomes his own enemy.

“The Shining” is an outstanding adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1980. The director’s version differs slightly from the original, and King himself was not happy with the final result. Perhaps, however, it is in Kubrick’s creative courage that the secret of the film’s brilliance lies. The leading role in “The Shining” was played by Jack Nicholson, who played a budding writer Jack Torrance who arrives with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and six-year-old son Danny (Danny Lloyd) at the Overlook Hotel, located in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

The family is expected to take care of the property during the winter dead season and the area is cut off from the world. Jack wants to use the peace and quiet as an opportunity to focus creatively on his novel. However, the director of the facility warns the new caretaker that a tragedy has occurred here in the past – the man in charge of the resort murdered his family. Soon a growing atmosphere of dread begins to dominate the hotel. Six-year-old Danny is having terrifying dreams and visions. He is haunted, for instance, by twin girls who were killed a few years earlier by their own father at the Overlook. The horror reaches a crescendo when Wendy discovers that Jack, working without memory, is producing thousands of typed pages with only one sentence – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Finally, Jack, with axe in hand, openly attacks his wife and son.

The Shining movie review

“The Shining” – wrong place or psychotic degradation of an immature personality?

The main source of tension in the movie “The Shining” lies in the reasons for Jack’s progressive insanity. Kubrick does not give a clear answer in this regard. The simplest one may be the demonic nature of the hotel built on an Indian burial ground, thus provoking the release of the death instinct. Jack has bizarre visions in which he talks to the “guardians” of this order – the bartender Lloyd and the waiter Grady, which causes the protagonist to become more and more entangled in the dark nature of the remote area. These characters are also connectors to diabolic reality, as if emissaries of hell, urging them on to evil. A hotel cut off from the world is a space where the laws of civilization are suspended. Closure and isolation are compounded by the loss of telephone and radio communication (the latter being destroyed by Jack himself).

Interestingly, the hotel itself is not a dark space. On the contrary, it is dominated by empty, bright interiors and the luminosity of the winter landscape. Evil does not hide its nature, it does not attack unexpectedly – perhaps it comes precisely from the “excess” of rationality in Jack’s life. In the protagonist’s madness, one can see traits of a psyche that cannot stand the clash with the tasks it has set itself. Jack wants to create very much, but he is internally empty and unable to get anything valuable out of himself. He also does not know how to fulfill the role of a husband and father – he does not fit into the social pattern that he is trying to follow. Underneath the character’s polite appearance is the nature of an aggressive alcoholic struggling with his own limitations. This state is emphasized by the words from a children’s song constantly prescribed by the protagonist: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.

The Shining 1980 film analysis

“The Shining” – the myth of the labyrinth and the gift of the shining

Kubrick’s “The Shining” achieves mastery in depicting the protagonist’s loss in his own interior. The chief figure that organizes horror on all its levels is the labyrinth. It appears as the labyrinthine space of the hotel, the labyrinthine garden, and the labyrinthine nature of the course of action. The labyrinth is a figure taken from European mythology, specifically from the myth of Theseus defeating the Minotaur. It is a symbol of cognition, of reaching the truth about oneself and, at the same time, of the difficulty of discovering it. The image of being lost in the labyrinth means mental illness and death – both of these possibilities come true in the case of Jack, who in his pursuit of his wife and son loses his orientation and eventually freezes in the labyrinth of the garden.

However, there is one character in the movie “The Shining” who can solve the mystery of the maze. It is little Danny, endowed with the gift of “the shining”, or telepathy and clairvoyance. From the very beginning he senses an impending disaster and warns his mother about it, writing the word “murder” on the mirror image of the door. The boy is able to mentally summon for help the cook from the hotel – Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), who arrives at the Overlook and falls victim to Jack. During this time, however, Wendy and her son are able to save themselves by escaping.

It is necessary to pay attention to the role of music in “The Shining”, as the musical level co-creates the labyrinthine character of the whole. Pieces of well-known composers build the mood of growing horror and progressive madness.

“The Shining” – the indestructibility of evil

The movie “The Shining” has a surprising ending. Here, an image of Jack appears in a photograph from the Independence Ball held at a hotel in 1921. With this shot, Kubrick not only permanently inscribes an irrational element in his work, but also draws on the tradition of the eternal return of things. Evil here is something indestructible, it remains in constant readiness to reveal itself.

A.Grabicz, „Kino, wehikuł magiczny. Przewodnik osiągnięć filmu fabularnego. Podróż piąta 1974 – 1981”, Kraków 2009.