A story about someone going insane while they are snowed in at an isolated hotel sounds like a typical horror movie affair. However, The Shining is so much more. If it was just that, then the film would not have the kind of iconic reputation that it is has in film history. From Jack Nicholson’s haunting performance as Jack Torrance to John Alcot’s masterful cinematography, The Shining fits comfortably among director Stanley Kubrick’s best work. It delves into the subject of human psychosis with the right amount of ambiguity and theatrics while the mise-en-scene of the Overlook Hotel becomes the subject of mythology.
The film progresses more like a puzzle where subtleties and nuances are slowly discovered rather than immediately processed. Even after the final frame of the film, the viewer does not have the satisfaction of knowing whether or not their interpretation stands on solid ground. There is a lot to be reassessed. In fact, it is the final frame of the film that creates the largest amount of ambiguity. This is why various conspiracy theories and interpretations have been applied to the film. The clearest example of this is the documentary Room 237 which attempts to decipher what The Shining means; citing everything from the genocide of Native Americans to the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Although a huge part of the film, the internal mysteries of the story are not the only characteristic which makes The Shining such a great cinematic experience. Jack Nicholson’s performance is perhaps film history’s definitive descent into madness. As an audience, we go along this ride with him; seeing each triggering moment have an effect on the character of Jack Torrance until the film’s thrilling climax in which he has reached full insanity. Also, young Danny Lloyd’s performance as Jack’s son is haunting as we explore the depths of the Overlook Hotel with him; experiencing every psychologically damaging episode. The hotel itself becomes a profound beast of its own and this is owed to the precise set and production design.
All in all, you do not have to be a fan of the horror genre to appreciate this film. In many ways, the film transcends the genre. If you are looking for something that will be a fitting Halloween night movie as well as a manifestation of cinematic genius, The Shining is probably your best bet. Stanley Kubrick rarely disappoints.