Thursday, 12 December 2013

Film Review - The Shining (1980)

Fig.1 The Shining

The Shining (1980) is another film by famous director Stanley Kubrick, it is also another horror film that has great cinematography and art direction, though unlike Kubrick's other famous film 2001: A Space Odyssey this film has a clear narrative which helps audiences determine the reasons behind specific set design and colour schemes with more ease. The Shining is about a family who spends the winter in a plush hotel in the middle of nowhere, on top of a large mountain, alone, for Jack's work responsibilities, so he can do some writing. As the realisation of isolation kicks in for Jack, in this huge hotel, Jack starts to become mentally ill. Mentally unstable to the point where he starts having visions with old guests of the hotel, and plots to murder his entire family. 

It is not just Jack that is affected, Danny, Jack's son has a special psychic gift that is referred to as "Shining" in the film, that has always been with him, and as the isolation and cabin fever of the family gets worse, that audience sees more clips of Danny and "Tony," the voice behind his "Shining ability, going on about themes of death. Film critic, Thomas Patrick talked about the deterioration of both characters saying "Danny begins to see visions of the past and future.....Meanwhile Jack begins to lose his mind as evil spirits corrupt him and he begins a violence-filled rampage throughout the hallways of the hotel." (Patrick, S.D). One of these visions of Danny's is when Danny is going around on his little bike and sees the twin girls that were mentioned to be brutally murdered by their father, the caretaker of the hotel. A disturbing vision, but it gives audiences a clue of the thoughts of Jack later on in the film when he meets, the known "Caretaker."

Fig.2 Murdered Twin Girls - The Shining

In terms of set design, there are a couple of notable scenes, one of them being the scene where Danny is going down the hallway, with the infamous room, 237, which plays a part in a scene with Jack later on. However in this scene with Danny the first things that are mentioned in terms of its design is the hideous carpet and the low angle camera angle that follows on behind Danny, so audiences see this narrow corridor. The carpet gives off a sickly and strange mesmerising vibe, there are horrible orange, brown and red colours with a highly abstract pattern. The abstract patterns of the carpet may be deliberately so to en-capture audiences, to trap them, pursuing this idea of a claustrophobic atmosphere, where there is little room to escape, along with the narrow corridor. The camera angle mentioned is also an essential part to capture this creepy, claustrophobic, isolated atmosphere, movie critic, Mel Valentin talked about the reasons for this uneasy camera angle and the emotions it highlights. "Like an unseen predator, Kubrick's camera prowls behind Danny, sometimes uncomfortably, claustrophobically  close, as Danny's Big Wheel crosses hardwood and carpeted floors." (Valentin, 2005).

Fig.3 The Shining and The Steadicam

Another scene where Kubrick displays strong set design within The Shining is when Kubrick goes from this dark, claustrophobic atmosphere to a bright and open spaced environment, the change seems to be quite dramatic, is in the bathroom scene where Jack is seen to be talking to the Caretaker. The lighting in this scene is very bright and intense, there is a use of bright blood red and white, it's so bright and intense it could be argued to be quite a violent colour scheme, despite the use of white. It is also unusual because it looks like quite a scientific colour scheme and design, it looks a lot like Kubrick's set design for the colonized areas of his film 2001: A Space Odyssey but this strange d├ęcor takes place in a scene where everyone is dressed as if they're at a formal party in the 1920s. This may be a symbol of the future, the thoughts that Danny, or more so namely Tony, mentions which is of murder and death, which would explain the bright blood red colour, along with the influence a character from the past is having on Jack, encouraging him to murder his "naughty" family, a contrast of both past and future. 

Fig.4 The Shining

Overall The Shining is a greatly crafted horror movie, that uses cameras and set design to really exuberate the feelings of loneliness, isolation and strangely, claustrophobia in such a big environment. It covers the feeling of being followed and watched very well, which is something that a lot of contemporary horror films do to create an uneasy atmosphere. However, in terms of narrative, it can be debated whether Jack actually saw the ghosts of the hotel from the 1920s and talked to them or if he just hallucinated the entire thing and used the Caretaker as a self conscious excuse to why he wants to murder his family, rather than just admitting he has become mentally unstable from the effects of isolation and cabin fever. Film critic, Roger Ebert briefly analyses this idea, saying "..Three people descend into versions of madness or psychic terror, and we cannot depend on any of them for an objective view of what happens. It is this elusive open-endedness that makes Kubrick's film so strangely disturbing." (Ebert, 2006). 

Ebert, R [Online] At: (Accessed on 10.12.13)

Patrick, T [Online] At: (Accessed on 10.12.13)

Valentin, M [Online] At: (Accessed on 10.12.13)

List of Illustrations:
Fig.1 The Shining [Poster Art] At: (Accessed on 10.12.13)

Fig.2 Murdered Twin Girls - The Shining [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 10.12.13)

Fig.3 The Shining and The Steadicam [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 10.12.13)

Fig.4 The Shining [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 10.12.13)

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