Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

My ten great movies #4: The Shining

with 3 comments

For most of the past decade, the Kubrick film on this list would have been Eyes Wide Shut, and while my love for that movie remains undiminished—I think it’s Kubrick’s most humane and emotionally complex work, and endlessly inventive in ways that most viewers tend to underestimate—it’s clear now that The Shining is more central to my experience of the movies. The crucial factor, perhaps unsurprisingly, was my decision to become a writer. Because while there have been a lot of movies about novelists, The Shining is by far our greatest storehouse of images about the inside of a writer’s head. The huge, echoing halls of the Overlook are as good a metaphor as I’ve ever seen for writer’s block or creative standstill, and there isn’t a writer who hasn’t looked at a pile of manuscript and wondered, deep down, if it isn’t basically the same as the stack of pages that Jack Torrance lovingly ruffles in his climactic scene with Wendy.

The visual, aural, and visceral experience of The Shining is so overwhelming that there’s no need to describe it here. Instead, I’d like to talk about the performances, which are the richest that Kubrick—often underrated in his handling of actors—ever managed to elicit. (Full credit should also be given to Stephen King’s original novel, to which the movie is more indebted than is generally acknowledged.) At one point, I thought that the film’s only major flaw is that it was impossible to imagine Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as a married couple, but I’m no longer sure about this: there are marriages this strange and mismatched, and the glimpses of their relationship early on are depressingly plausible. Duvall gives what is simply one of the major female performances in the history of movies, and as David Thomson was among the first to point out, Nicholson is great when he plays crazy, but he’s also strangely tender in his few quiet scenes with his son. “You’ve always been the caretaker,” Grady’s ghost tells Torrance, and his personality suffuses every frame of this incredible labyrinth.

Tomorrow: A masterpiece in six weeks.

Written by nevalalee

May 19, 2015 at 9:00 am

3 Responses

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  1. I have never seen this movie. I think I’m missing out. I must be.

    Maggie Mae

    May 19, 2015 at 3:59 pm

  2. So weird… a month ago I read Dr. Sleep, which is about Danny all grown up, so after that, I decided to back track and read the Shining (I’ve only ever seen the movie)…after that I decided to watch the movie just to compare….ever since than The Shining has been popping up everywhere for me. It’s so weird. But it has inspired me to write a book myself… I just hope I don’t go crazy like Jack :P

    danigeneane

    May 19, 2015 at 4:25 pm

  3. The novel is fantastic, too—I’ve been browsing through it again recently.

    nevalalee

    June 1, 2015 at 9:07 pm


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