Nov 30, 2008

Classics: The Shining

This is the third time I see this magnificent movie and I think this is the time that it scared me the most.
It made me miss Kubrick so much. I miss him like you miss a long lost friend. Like you miss someone you love. I want him back.
The Shining is from 1980. Nobody makes movies like it anymore. Fiercely intelligent, and so beautiful it makes you want to cry.
This time I realized that The Shining is about the resentment of the American male, the fear of emasculation, embodied with over the top rightness by Jack Nicholson. His Jack Torrance is arrogant, smug, tyrannical, childish, needy, selfish. In short, a bastard, and all this before he even goes crazy. The terror of this movie is that the father wants to annihilate his family. He hates Wendy, his mousy wife, and he hates his son, who has replaced him as first in line for the mother's affections. So he takes the child out of school to live in utter isolation. He takes his family to a remote hotel, not even asking whether they like the idea or not, so he can write. So he can be a man. It turns out he feels emasculated by her. It turns out that he was a drinker and he was violent to the kid and she made him stop drinking, which he will not forgive. He blames her for all his failures and now her and the kid are going to have to pay the price. This has nothing to do with ghosts or murders past. This is who he is.
Shelley Duvall, an inspired piece of casting, as Wendy, is the virtual opposite of Jack. She is mild tempered, and extremely selfless and compliant. You keep waiting for her to put her foot down, to have some lip, but she stands by her man, coddling the artist in him, supporting him (which makes him angrier) until she feels threatened by him. And then she fights tooth and nail to save the child. It turns out that Jack's rage is warranted: his wife is indeed stronger and more capable than him.
A lot of very creepy wonderful things happen to this happy family that have become the stuff of cinematic history, as is always the case in the indelible images created by Stanley Kubrick. Creepy dead twins, and elevators oozing blood and the most gorgeous steadicam and dolly work in the history of film, but it is the psychological accuracy of the family portrait that makes The Shining such a fantastic movie.
Looking at Nicholson's performance now, I think that he made the absolute right choice (or was made to by Kubrick; in a documentary he says that he wanted to be more realistic and Kubrick said that realistic was "real but it's not interesting") to go out of his mind in such a loud, histrionic way. What nails the performance is 1) that he is truly on a major meltdown, no need to be shy about it and 2) it is darkly funny. He's very funny in a very scary way. Technically, it is the work of a very accomplished actor. Take a look again at the way he uses his voice: it seems that every word is charged with a different feeling. It is astonishingly precise. And his energy, his male dominance, his arrogance, are just right. He is a major asshole, and you couldn't find someone more American. It's sad that Nicholson tried to replicate it in the movies he made after and became a parody of himself. But the performance is right for the movie. Nobody can hear the words "Heeeere's Johnny" the same way ever again.
And who doesn't love that child swishing down the immense hotel corridors with his hot wheels? The muffled sound on the carpet, the rough sound on the wood. The creepy music by 20th Century composers like Ligeti and Penderecki. Bartok.
What amazing beauty.

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