*This post contains spoilers about the film*
Overall Rating: 4.8/5 stars
The Psychopath: 5/5 stars
Jack Torrance is easily one of the most infamous villains in horror movies. Even his eerie appearance, the severely arched eyebrows and malicious grin, reveals Jack’s underlying psychotic tendencies that develop throughout the film. From the beginning of the movie, the audience is made aware of the uncomfortable – to say the least – dynamic of the Torrance family. Wendy discloses to a doctor that Jack is a recovering alcoholic and has recently dislocated Danny’s shoulder when pulling him too forcefully. As Jack spends more and more days alone, writing in the cavernous lounge, he becomes more and more isolated. Jack’s mental breakdown is well-anticipated, as the owner of the hotel mentions that a prior caretaker of the Overlook, Charles Grady, lost his mind and chopped up his family into pieces, which is some obvious foreshadowing. However, Jack’s gradual devolution into insanity exceptionally demonstrates how easily a fairly normal father can turn into a crazed murderer.
Initially, the intense isolation makes Jack extremely bored and frustrated, as he repeatedly throws a tennis ball against the wall. However, Jack’s frustration escalates into an array of psychotic behaviors: Jack has multiple outbursts at Wendy that involve aggressive language; Jack struggles to fall asleep; when he can sleep, Jack experiences terrifying nightmares; he types the same sentence thousands of times; he knocks over dishes in a fit of rage; he hallucinates entire conversations and a grand party. Jack’s psychotic behavior shows in full-force when he discovers Wendy snooping in his writing. Jack inches toward Wendy, mocking her for being worried about Danny and furious that Wendy never thinks of his needs. Even in this scene of great intensity, Jack hardly raises his voice. Instead, he spits insults at Wendy that quietly terrorize her as she backs up the staircase frantically swinging a bat at Jack. After the buildup of anxiety, Jacks screams, “I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m just gonna bash your brain in!”, indicating the permanent shift from alcoholic to full-blown homicidal psychopath.
Furthermore, Jack Torrance is extremely controlling of his family. Jack has an abusive relationship with Danny and Wendy. Jack manipulates Danny when he grabs his son and creepily tells him he loves him and would never hurt him, even though all his actions towards Danny prove opposite.
Jack repeatedly chastises his wife for disrupting his writing and caring too much about their son. Specifically, Jack manipulates his wife when he’s locked in the pantry after his fall down the stairs knocked him unconscious. Jack goes from begging Wendy to let him out, to negotiating that he will forget the whole thing if she unlocks the door, to pretending that he’s dizzy and need to see a doctor because the gash on his head in about twenty seconds, demonstrating the manipulative behavior of a psychopath.
Finally, Jack’s “slasher smile” makes him such a terrifying and iconic psychopath. Jack flashes his killer smile while he’s beating down the bathroom door with an ax, after he kills Dick and while he’s hunting Danny in the maze.
Development of Emotional Terror: 5/5 stars
From the beginning of the film, the audience is aware that this story about the Torrance family relates to the story of Charles Grady, who chopped his wife and two daughters into pieces. As the film continues, the audience is given hints that begin to weave the two stories into one, such as when Jack mentions to Wendy, just a couple days after they move into the hotel, that he’s experiencing de ja vu about the Overlook and that it feels very familiar. At that point in the film, the audience doesn’t know why Jack feels like he’s been at the Overlook before, creating an eerie and unsettling vibe that only grows stronger as the movie progresses. These connections that assimilate the stories of the two caretakers and their families appear as glimpses throughout the film, such as when Jack has a dream that he cuts Wendy and Danny into little pieces and Danny experiences visions of Grady’s dead daughters.
Jack experiences another moment of de ja vu while he’s hallucinating a grand party in the Gold Room. At the party, a waiter spills a drink on Jack’s coat and they go to the restroom together to remove the stain. In the bathroom, Jack recognizes the waiter, who later tells Jack that his name is Delbert Grady. Grady – the name of the previous caretaker who murdered his family at the Overlook years ago. This scene is particularly confusing because all the hints are falling into place, but they don’t quite fit right. The manager of the hotel told Jack that the murder was named Charles Grady – not Delbert Grady; however, the same last name cannot be a coincidence. In the bathroom, Delbert Grady says that he has a wife and two daughters – just like Charles Grady – but he insists he did not kill them. Delbert also says that he’s never been the caretaker of the hotel, instead claiming that Jack has “always been the caretaker” of the Overlook. Furthermore, the scene becomes even creepier as Delbert convinces Jack that Jack’s family needsa a “talking to” and “perhaps a bit more”. The confusion of this scene creates subtle psychological anxiety for the viewers, as they wonder who is Delbert Grady and what’s his connection to Charles Grady; is Delbert Grady some type of ghost that influences caretakers to murder their families; is Delbert Grady even real, or is he just a part of Jack’s psychotic hallucination?
The multiple climaxes of The Shining add to the terror and tension the film creates. When Jack is hacking away at the bathroom door screaming “here’s Johnny!”, when Jack strikes Dick with an ax, killing him, when Jack himself is dead, his eyes frozen open are all moments when the audience is tricked into believing that this is the final act. However, this film is repeatedly builds suspense, presents what appears to be the climax, which releases the built-up stress, only to again build more suspense. This cycle of multiple climaxes toys with and manipulates the emotions of the audience, causing The Shining to be arguably the best horror film of all time.
Real-Life Accuracy: 4.5/5 stars
Part of what makes The Shining so terrifying is its realism. The story focuses on a typical man – Jack Torrance. Sure, he has a bit of a drinking problem; however, at the beginning of the film, he is certainly not the psychotic killer he becomes in the finale. Over the course of the movie, Jack transforms from a composed writer into a crazed murderer. When his work consumes him, when his family frustrates him, when his loneliness turns agonizing, when his life is so dull it becomes overwhelming, Jack completely unravels. This theme of the deterioration of a person and all the qualities that make them human is what’s truly most terrifying about this film, and the possibility that this mental breakdown could happen to anyone at any time make The Shining even more thrilling.
Cinematography: 4.5/5 stars
The creative cinematography adds an entire dimension of psychological terror to the movie. The technique of filming a mirror reflecting the character the instead of filming the actual characters is utilized multiple times throughout the film. This technique deceives the audience and causes them to question what about the Overlook is real and what is not. The camera-work creates even more confusion when following Danny on his tricycle. The camera follows Danny, at his height on the trike, through the complex maze of the hotel; however, the path that Danny – and the camera – takes doesn’t make any sense. Danny starts in the lounge and takes two left turns, which should lead him back into the lounge as he made two ninety-degree turns, adding up to a complete turn-around. However, Danny ends up in the kitchen, which defies all logic and increases the mystery and suspense of the Overlook.
Furthermore, the camera-work conveys recurrent themes of isolation and rage, as there are multiple wide angle shots of Jack writing alone in the spacious and empty lounge, and the camera jerks back and forth which each stroke of the ax as Jack hacks at the bathroom door. Finally, the dollying camera-work inserts the audience into the body and mind of Jack as he chases after Danny in the maze expresses the genuine experience of running through a snow-covered labyrinth, as the camera shakes as Jack shivers and tilts up and down with each footstep. The shot alternates between the footsteps of little Danny and close-ups of Jack’s face, allowing the viewer to feel both the savage need to murder and the frantic need to survive.
Concluding Feelings: 5/5 stars
The movie ends with a shot of Jack’s dead, frozen stare into the camera that fades into a picture hanging on the wall of the Overlook.
The photo is of a group of partiers in the Gold Room with Jack, fit with his menacing smirk, front and center. The photo is dated July 4, 1921. The Shining’s ending is one of the most ambiguous in film, as it unearths a multitude of new mysteries in the conclusion. The film left me wondering how is Jack in that picture from 1921, is Jack an entity of the hotel, or is he absorbed into the Overlook after his death there? The vague finish to the movie unnerves the audience and makes them question everything they thought they knew about the movie. There are two main theories on how the film concludes: the reincarnation theory and the absorption theory. The reincarnation theory suggests that workers at the hotel in 1921 are immortalized in the Overlook and persuade current caretakers to murder their families, such as Delbert Grady wills Charles Grady to chop up his wife and kids and how the man who looks like Jack from 1921 inspires Jack to try to kill his family. The absorption theory proposes that when Jack dies on the hotel grounds, his spirit is absorbed by the Overlook and he’s immortalized there, explaining Delbert Grady’s earlier statement that he’s always been a waiter and Jack’s always been the caretaker at the hotel. The ambiguity of the supernatural aspects in the conclusion of the film force the audience to speculate the real ending, making the film more terrifying (source).