I had the opportunity to watch the 4K restoration of The Shining on the big screen the other day (I’d hoped to see it in Dolby, but wasn’t able to go until a later non-Dolby screening). I wanted a refresher before Doctor Sleep (even though I think that scene from Ready Player One gives me more than enough of a recap) and frankly this is a horror classic. It deserves to be seen in theaters. Except, I kinda don’t really like this movie. Let’s back up a second.
There is a reason it’s such a classic of the genre. It’s one of the rare horror films that is able to be terrifying on a superficial level. The images are haunting and the overall feel is so chilling, it has been giving nightmares to the masses for nearly 40 years. Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance is iconic, and no one has ever been able to look at twins the same way since. If we’re strictly looking at this as a straight up stand alone horror film, I would agree that it’s incredible.
However (and that is a big HOWEVER). I am quite the Stephen King fan girl. King famously came out against Kubrick’s interpretation and I absolutely agree with him. It completely misses the entire point of the story.
First off, there are some things I can forgive, that are typically lost in adaptations. I can deal with Wendy being a one dimensional scream queen (even if I can’t buy why she and Jack are together). I can accept Halloran hardly doing anything, showing up only to be killed quickly instead of being an integral part of the third act. I am even okay with minimizing the use of Danny’s powers, although how are you gonna call it The Shining if there’s hardly any shining, and do casual viewers understand how Halloran knew Danny was in trouble? All of that I can forgive. I’ll go one step further and I’ll applaud some of the elements Kubrick added in like the hedge maze, Room 237, and basically all the quintessential creepy crawlies we know this film for.
Where I draw the line is the characterization of Jack. The film firmly establishes him as the villain. True, he’s not intentionally evil, but he’s clearly the big bad running around and causing trouble. The problem is Jack is not supposed to be the villain. He is a victim of the Overlook Hotel, and the Overlook is meant as a metaphor for Jack’s alcoholism. (It’s pretty well documented that King was battling his own addiction demons when writing this, which is why the book is so powerful in that respect). The film brings up Jack’s struggle, but only as a way of doubling down on his malevolent character. All of the layers and nuance and meaning of the story are obliterated with every swing of his ax. For shame