The Shining ★★★★

I snagged this on Blu-ray in a Boxing Day sale at Walmart in 2012 for $7.88 in part because it included $7.50 Movie Cash that I used to go see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Originally, I had planned to write a Reel Rumbles piece for Flickchart pitting the two together, just because I was amused by so tangential a relationship, but then I never got around to actually watching The Shining so that idea fell by the wayside. A shame, because I still think it would have been fun.

It's always daunting going into a movie as widely hailed as this, and I think that had something to do with my procrastination. In this case, the stakes were even higher; it's the all-time favorite movie of one of my dearest friends. Thankfully, I have a mostly favorable initial reaction. (And, yes, having taken about a year to come around on Eyes Wide Shut after hating it in 1999, I'm aware that Kubrick in particular needs time to germinate before a relevant feeling can be cemented.)

I dig "evil house" stories. Not sure why that is, but I do and always have. I think it goes back to Scooby-Doo as a young child, just the idea that a place itself can become the antagonist. The Overlook Hotel is a brilliant set, and what I love most about it is how truly grand it is. There's nary a whiff of Gothic architecture or anything traditionally spooky. You could film anything from a screwball comedy to period drama on the same set and it would work perfectly. It's not the kind of thing I would have even regarded in my younger days, but I take heed these days.

Watching Jack Nicholson come unraveled is always captivating, particularly in the little moments when he's reacting to someone or something else. Just observe how he plays the scene in the bathroom with Grady. It's hard for actors to play a scene like that in large part because they have to be a step behind us, the audience.

But through his eyes, smirk, and posture, what Nicholson does is show us he's already working out the same thing we are...but unlike us, he's in the story and can engage Grady. So instead of the scene dragging because of exposition to get Jack to where we are, it becomes a tennis match, us watching Grady taunt as we expect him to...and wondering how Jack will reply. We want him to confront Grady, to defy him, to be the hero - or at least, signify he wants to be the hero. Jack teases us, though. He tries to bait Grady, and is instead seduced by the power of the dark side.

For most viewers, I'm sure it's when he comes unhinged and attacks with the ax that Nicholson is most satisfying to watch in this picture, but for my money it's all the way back at that bathroom scene where he delivered the strongest part of his performance.

Give Shelley Duvall credit for holding her own throughout, too. Her apologizing for Jack's alcoholic abuse of Danny is another instance of an actor rescuing exposition and using it to tell us about character. She's talking about Jack's alcohol and temper, but her facial reactions and stammering tell us more about her. She's afraid - of what Jack may do to their son, or to her; of whether she can even leave him at all; or of any of the myriad things that oppress abused women that keep them in unhealthy relationships. Her performance in that one scene to the doctor is more telling than an entire secondary sequence of exposition could have been.

My initial chief complaint is that I felt tension escalated too quickly, in the scene where Jack chases Wendy out of the room (lobby?) where he's trying to write. Believe me, as someone who has tried writing, I can completely understand the frustration of other people not regarding what you're trying to do as serious work. It just felt to me to be too much, too early.

I would have preferred to have seen either a similar scene first, indicating that she had already begun to test his patience, or a subsequent scene in which he might have apologized. A textbook domestic abuser would have said, "I'm sorry you made me get angry with you" and Wendy would have accepted the blame for provoking him, rather than holding him accountable for his unfair, volatile behavior.

Without such a scene, though, we're left to piece together that this is just how their relationship has always been; he explodes whenever he does, without even bothering to try to make nice, and without even having to manipulate her into blaming herself for his behavior. We glean as much from the scene in which Wendy tries to dissuade Danny from going to retrieve his firetruck, and in Jack's discussions with Lloyd and Grady, but I still feel that's a character moment we needed to witness.

It's also odd to me how little anyone in this family seems to actually communicate with one another. It's as though Danny and Jack are both attuned to the evil of the Overlook Hotel, but neither makes any effort to engage the other - not to combat it, or even to join it together. Wendy has a relationship with both of them, but they're not very close or healthy relationships.

On a personal note, I got a kick out of seeing Barry Nelson and Scatman Crothers. The former has the distinction of being the very first actor to ever play James Bond, in a 1954 television production of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. The latter I first encountered as a child fan of The Transformers, in which he voiced Jazz. Also, getting 21 checks on iCheckMovies was mighty nice!

How The Shining Entered My Flickchart

The Shining > MGM: When the Lion Roars → #833
The Shining > Electric Earthquake → #417
The Shining < Star Wars → #417
The Shining < Starship Troopers → #417
The Shining < Trees Lounge → #417
The Shining < American Splendor → #417
The Shining > Thirst (1949) → #403
The Shining > Reservoir Dogs → #397
The Shining < The Philadelphia Story → #397
The Shining > Cruel Intentions → #394

The Shining Entered My Flickchart at #394/1666