The Shining

USA/UK 1980, 144 mins
Director: Stanley Kubrick

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away the film’s ending.

Aspiring writer Jack Torrance travels to a remote Colorado hotel with his wife and son to take up the position of winter caretaker. In a place haunted by ghosts from the past, which his gifted son becomes all too aware of, Jack gradually loses his sanity. Stanley Kubrick’s ambition to make ‘the world’s scariest movie’ was realised when he read Stephen King’s novel. The result, subject to years of critical discourse and re-evaluation, is as visually stunning as it is terrifying.

A contemporary review
The central horror of The Shining is family life. For a child there can be few characters more frightening than his angry father. Danny, despite his stoicism, is terrorised by his father. Wendy is terrorised by her violent husband. Jack is frustrated to the point of rejection and violent aggression towards his family. It is a nice picture of American home life.

The Shining, the least admired major American film in the past year, is an accidental but none the less effective reworking of Kramer vs. Kramer, one of the most admired films of the past year. Both treat the collapsing single child family. Kubrick makes no attempt to deal with this subject from the social point of view. The psychology is dealt with in broad strokes; the characters, with the exception of Danny, are grotesque masks. There are, of course, real people behind the masks, but who they are is like saying what will they become. The three people alone in the overlit Overlook Hotel are similar to the three characters in Sartre’s play, Huis Clos. They are in the hell of each other. Danny sees his father as an eye-rolling lunatic. Jack sees Wendy as a weak, whining housewife, and Wendy sees nothing. Until the end of the story she seems completely devoid of psychic power. It is almost as if The Shining is showing that bright people are more capable of understanding telepathically than less bright people.

The family hierarchy, Dad, Mom and kid, is very strong. The equivalent hierarchy in the Overlook Hotel itself is the idea of the maze in which they are lost, both inside and out. The more intelligent you are the easier it is for you to solve the puzzle of the maze. The only character who can get out of the maze is Danny. Not because of his psychic ability but because of his high intelligence. They seem to go together in Kubrick’s behaviourist view. The maze is not treated in the manner of Last Year at Marienbad. In Marienbad the labyrinth of the hotel is a philosophical question. It cannot be solved. It can only be apprehended and interpreted. In The Shining the maze is a Sunday morning puzzle, and the most intelligent member of the family will always come up with the correct solution first.

There is a sense in the Overlook Hotel that it represents the world after the bombs have gone off; the loneliness, the incredible store of food, ways to survive.

The Shining may be the first film of the post-nuclear age to come. A bizarre follow-up to Dr Strangelove. The music of Penderecki, the Dies Irae of the Auschwitz Cantata, creates an exactly post-apocalyptic tone. The music of Ligeti and Bartók is music for the world that followed the Second Vienna School of Strauss and Mahler. The Ligeti has a mocking tone as if laughing at all past music and at people with notions of fixed values. The Bartók is wonderfully lyrical, but who, among ordinary filmgoers, would hear the strong music of Bela Bartók and think instinctively that it is lyrical and dance-like? But there was a time when Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge was considered unacceptable and esoteric by his own publisher.

The Shining has a lot in common with post-war music. It seems technically brilliant and yet fundamentally heartless. It seems deliberately clever and yet remains enigmatic. Kubrick has tried to bridge a gap which has occurred in the language of film. How can you express dissonance and fragmentation, the essential features of our present lives, in a manner which respects traditional harmonies? Can disorder ever be expressed in an orderly way? Kubrick has reached the limits of conservative film art in The Shining. It used to be thought that the antonym of art was nature. But this Shakespearian opposition is no longer true. Art and nature are both by definition devoted to order. The opposite of art is enigma.

The Shining is not an enigmatic film. It is actually about enigma. That is why Kubrick is instinctively drawn to technology in his work, camera technology in particular. The machine is better able to cope with enigma than the human hand. Most enigmatic paintings from Cimabue’s Crucifix to de Chirico’s piazzas somehow suggest the presence of a machine. The Shining is about this machine that cannot be seen. It is, if you like, the machine in the ghost.

Shining denotes the ability to communicate telepathically, to see backwards into the past and forwards into the future. The Shining is nothing more nor less than a metaphor for the cinema itself. Film has the shining. Danny is probably the director of the movie. He is certainly identified with the camera. The Steadicam tracking shots through the hotel corridors and then in the maze evoke the exhilaration of a small boy racing about on his tricycle. He imagines himself to be a machine.

In The Shining, Kubrick plays with the Steadicam like a toy. It is essentially childlike. He wants to find out all the things he can do with his latest acquisition. Danny’s visions are represented in cuts, in montage, so the boy is not only the camera he is also the moviola. The director-child is seeing his own parents and the world around him. In a way the hotel becomes his doll’s house, like the model in Albee’s Tiny Alice, and his father and mother are turned into his neurotic children. If they go crazy from time to time he can still control them with his superior intelligence and visionary ability. Film, after all, is the art of seeing and showing from a fresh point of view. But the boy is not an artist. He is before art, and after it. Picasso said it took him ten years to draw like Raphael and a lifetime to draw like a child. There is the child in all of us. There is the artist in all of us, and to varying degrees we are all capable of shining.

If the cinema was born around 1900 then he is 80 years old today. The Shining reminds us how far the cinema has come and how much it has stayed the same. It shines bits of an enigmatic film future which in the last image turns out to be a still from the past. There is no immutable order of experience when the past becomes a picture of what might have been.
Paul Mayersberg, Sight and Sound, Winter 1980/1

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Production Companies: Warner Bros., Hawk Films, Peregrine Productions, Producer Circle Company
Executive Producer: Jan Harlan
Producer: Stanley Kubrick
Production Accountant: Jo Gregory
Assistant Production Accountant: Paul Cadiou *
Production Manager: Douglas Twiddy
Production Assistant: Emilio D’Alessandro
Assistant to the Producer: Andros Epaminondas
Production Secretaries: Pat Pennelegion, Marlene Butland
Producer’s Secretary: Margaret Adams
Personal Assistant to the Director: Leon Vitali
Production Assistant: Ray Andrews *
Location Research: Jan Schlubach, Katharina Kubrick, Murray Close
Assistant Directors: Brian Cook, Terry Needham, Michael Stevenson
Continuity: June Randall
Casting: James Liggat
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Based on the novel by: Stephen King
Director of Photography: John Alcott
2nd Unit Photographer: Douglas Milsome
2nd Unit Photography: MacGillivray-Freeman Films
Helicopter Photography: MacGillivray-Freeman Films
Camera Operators: Kelvin Pike, James Devis
Focus Assistants: Douglas Milsome, Maurice Arnold
Camera Assistants: Peter Robinson, Martin Kenzie, Danny Shelmerdine
Grips: Dennis Lewis
Steadicam Operator: Garrett Brown
Gaffers: Lou Bogue, Larry Smith
Video Operator: Dan Grimmel
Special Effects: Alan Whibley, Les Hillman, Dick Parker *
Editor: Ray Lovejoy
Assistant Editors: Gill Smith, Gordon Stainforth
2nd Assistant Editors: Adam Unger, Steve Pickard
Production Designer: Roy Walker
Art Director: Les Tomkins
Additional Art Director: Norman Dorme *
Décor Artist: Robert Walker
Set Dresser: Tessa Davies
Draughtsmen: John Fenner, Michael Lamont, Michael Boone
Property Master: Peter Hancock
Propmen: Barry Arnold, Philip McDonald, Peter Spencer
Prop Buyers: Edward Rodrigo, Karen Brookes
Construction Manager: Len Fury
Drapes: Barry Wilson
Master Plasterer: Tom Tarry
Head Rigger: Jim Kelly
Head Carpenter: Fred Gunning
Head Painter: Del Smith
Costume Designer: Milena Canonero
Wardrobe Supervisors: Ken Lawton, Ron Beck
Wardrobe Assistants: Ian Hickinbottom, Veronica McAuliffe
Make-up: Tom Smith
Make-up Artist: Barbara Daly
Title Design: Chapman Beauvais
Titles: National Screen Service Ltd.
Colour Grading: Eddie Gordon
Music: Bela Bartók, Krzysztof Penderecki, Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind, György Ligeti
20s Music Advisers: Brian Rust, John Wadley
Sound Recording: Ivan Sharrock, Richard Daniel
Boom Operators: Ken Weston, Michael Charman
Dubbing Mixers: Bill Rowe, Ray Merrin
Sound Editors: Wyn Ryder, Dino Di Campo, Jack Knight
Hotel Consultant: Tad Michel
Studio: EMI-Elstree Studios

Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance)
Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrance)
Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrance)
Scatman Crothers (Dick Hallorann)
Barry Nelson (Stuart Ullman)
Philip Stone (Delbert Grady)
Joe Turkel (Lloyd)
Anne Jackson (doctor)
Tony Burton (Larry Durkin)
Lia Beldam (young woman in bath)
Billie Gibson (old woman in bath)
Barry Dennen (Bill Watson)
David Baxt (1st forest ranger)
Manning Redwood (2nd forest ranger)
Lisa Burns, Louise Burns (Grady daughters)
Robin Pappas (nurse)
Alison Coleridge (Susie, the secretary)
Burnell Tucker (policeman)
Jana Sheldon (stewardess)
Kate Phelps (receptionist)
Norman Gay (injured guest)

USA/UK 1980©
144 mins
Digital 4K (extended version)

* Uncredited

Never miss an issue with Sight and Sound, the BFI’s internationally renowned film magazine. Subscribe from just £25*
*Price based on a 6-month print subscription (UK only). More info: sightandsoundsubs.bfi.org.uk

Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.

Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at bfi.org.uk/join

We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.

See something different today on player.bfi.org.uk

Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at www.bfi.org.uk/signup

Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email