Adapted from Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s film is considered to be one of the greatest horror movies of all time. The film’s protagonist, Jack Torrance, is an aspiring novelist and recovering alcoholic who is offered to serve as the caretaker of the isolated and infamous Overlook Hotel in Colorado. The hotel’s previous caretaker allegedly lost control over his senses and murdered his family, and then committed suicide. Jack’s wife, Wendy, and their five-year-old son Danny, accompany him to spend the winter at the hotel. Danny, who is gifted with psychic abilities, ‘the shining’, gets an insight into the gruesome past of the hotel. Supernatural apparitions start haunting them. A ghastly winter storm leaves the Torrance family snowed in for days when Jack’s sanity starts disintegrating under the influence of the sinister forces, which endanger the lives of his wife and son.
Before the Shining, Kubrick directed Barry Lyndon which was criticised for being a drag. Disappointed, Kubrick was determined to direct a film that would be aligned with the interests of the audience. Being an auteur and a perfectionist, the director was very particular about his shots. The film took over an arduous 12 months to take form due to his finicky nature, and primarily due to his ongoing conflict with Sheely Duvall, the actress who played Wendy in the film. Kubrick not only reprimanded and criticised the actor, even for her best performance, but he would also impose his methodical techniques on her, pushing herself to the brink of insanity. Even Stephen king criticised her performance stating, “She’s basically just there to scream and be stupid, and that’s not the woman I wrote about.” Duvall was overwhelmed by the stress and began losing her hair as a result. Jack Nicholson, who played Jack Torrance, was apparently left frustrated by the Kubrick’s idiosyncratic, whimsical nature where he changed the script before every take.
When asked about the reason behind him being persuasive on shooting multiple takes for one scene until it reaches perfection, Stanley Kubrick responded: “It happens when actors are unprepared. You cannot act without knowing dialogue. If actors have to think about the words, they can’t work on the emotion. So you end up doing thirty takes of something. And still, you can see the concentration in their eyes; they don’t know their lines. So you just shoot it and shoot it and hope you can get something out of it in pieces.”
Kubrick, however, was very sensitive towards Danny Lloyd and aware of the effects of such a heavy film on a nascent mind. He was protective of Danny and never let slip about his role in the movie, something which the child actor found out eleven years after starring in the masterpiece. As an adult, Danny Lloyd fondly remembers the director: “Stanley was great,” he said. “I remember him playing ball with me, playing catch, stuff like that. He was a big guy with a beard, but I don’t remember ever being scared of him or intimidated or anything.”
Despite the controversies of misogyny and madness as well as King’s jibe at Kubrick’s adaptation saying that The Shining was one of the only adaptations of his novels he could “remember hating”, the film was one of the most influential and terrifying cinematic pictures in the history of horror. It has been the study subject for film buffs and cinephiles for generations, a focus in which many come up with new theories and thematic analyses. The filmmaking history is like a treasure hunt; one never knows what one might stumble upon. Among the bizarre and interesting events that occurred while filming The Shining included Danny Lloyd coming up with the famous finger waggle himself or Kubrick’s assistant typing out pages of ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, the most interesting would be how Jack Nicholson fit into his role of Jack Torrance.
Kubrick, who is known for his notoriety of perfection, and often criticised for being neurotic, wanted a perfect depiction of Jack Torrance’s gradual descent into madness. Although Jack Nicholson was still reeling from the success of his Oscar-winning performance, Kubrick believed he could push Jack to be a better version of himself. To add to the dreadfully unsettling atmosphere of the film, he came up with an ingenious weapon to unleash the madman that lay sleeping within Jack Nicholson: cheese sandwiches. Jack Nicholson loathed cheese sandwiches. To foster the sense of disgust, frustration and rage within the actor, Kubrick fed him cheese sandwiches continuously for two weeks. The result was indeed fantastic because the frustration drove Jack Nicholson to deliver a phenomenal and legendary performance as the unnerving and frenzied Jack Torrance, a homicidal maniac lusting for blood. This was quite typical of Kubrick who would go to any lengths to appease his keen eye for details and direction.
Listed by Martin Scorsese as one of his favourite films, in which he said: “Kubrick made a majestically terrifying movie, where what you don’t see or comprehend shadows every move the characters make,” The Shining is a Kubrickian masterpiece that shall continue traumatising generations with the grotesque psychological rollercoaster ride it forces its audience to experience.
Well, it is clear to us, now: All Cheese and no ham made Jack an angry boy!
“Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. You didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in! Gonna bash ’em right the fuck in!”