Friday, January 09, 2015

The Shining (1980)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

My brother and I had been meaning to see The Shining for a while. We knew very little about the movie except that Jack Nicholson was in it and that he uttered the sentence, "Here's Johnny!" We finally got it from Netflix.

The movie starts with a man trying to get a job at a hotel as its winter caretaker. The hotel wasn't built for winter residence, so everyone packs up and leaves. They still need someone to take care of the place, so they're looking to hire Jack Nolan (played by Nicholson) to stay the entire stretch with his wife and son. Before Nolan agrees, the manager feels compelled to tell Nolan that one of the previous caretakers went nuts and killed his family. Nolan, like many of Nicholson's characters, looks like he's about ready to crack and go nuts as it is. Still, he feels that he's up to the job. He's trying to make it as a writer and would welcome five months of quiet. As for his wife and child, they won't mind.

The next scene is the wife (played by Shelly Duval) speaking to a doctor. It seems that the son has this imaginary friend that lives inside of him. He also had an episode where he just froze and blacked out. We also learn that Jack Nolan used to drink, but stopped when he hurt his son.

Jack Nolan accepts the job and takes the family up to the hotel. It's the last day of the season and everyone's preparing to leave. We get to meet the head chef, who seems to have these special powers that the son also has. (It's better if you watch the movie. I can't possibly do the scene justice.) The Nolans will be by themselves, left with what appears to be enough supplies to last the whole five months. At least, it had better be. The winters are pretty harsh. The only way up or down is on a snowmobile. They'll have a phone and a CB radio in case they need emergency help.

Everything goes well for a while, but things start to deteriorate a few months in. Jack Nolan is the kind of guy that's dominant and possessive and comes across as arrogant when challenged. (Jack Nicholson seems to play this kind of character perfectly.) His wife is worried about their son, who thinks he heard something coming from one of the rooms. Jack Nolan won't leave for anything because he signed the contract and he's sticking with it to the end.

I am going to discuss more of the plot now, and I will have to give away some important details. If you don't want to know too much, then now's the time to stop reading. Are you sure you want to know?

There's almost no way to contact the outside world. This is a big problem because things keep going downhill. Jack Nolan keeps getting more and more psychotic. At one point, he gets locked in a pantry. A man, who we learn to be the ghost of the previous caretaker, frees him. Jack eventually goes after the wife and child. It would be nice if they could get some outside help, but the phone lines go down and Jack has figured out how to disable the radio.

Now, here's where the major details come in, and I mean major. The head chef has used his gift to figure out that something's wrong at the hotel. He goes all the way back to the hotel to help them, but doesn't bring anyone along and goes unarmed. He asks a friend for a snowmobile, saying that he found out that Jack Nolan isn't all that he was cracked up to be, but doesn't ask for the friend or the police to go with him. Jack ends up killing him. (When I say major details, I mean major details.)

I'm about to say something that may or may not totally ruin the movie for you. Yes, I'm basically giving away the end, so skip the next paragraph if that bothers you. Jack chases his son into a hedge maze on the hotel grounds. It's not that difficult because of the snow. The son is able to elude the father by backtracking and running out of the maze to safety. Jack isn't able to get out so quickly and dies in the hedge maze. The mother and son escape. At the end of the movie, you see a picture dated in the 1920's with Jack Nolan standing front and center. You're left wondering how much is real and how much is imagination.

I have to wonder who'd take their entire family to the middle of nowhere in the first place. I could see it being a good job for some loner who doesn't mind the solitude. I can also understand that there might be issues with hiring two people. However, dragging a family along like that just isn't right. At the very least, they'd have to pull their young son out of school for two months.

Overall, the movie has a very low-budget feel to it. (There were a few overhead scenes where you could see the shadow of a helicopter.) Perhaps it's simply that the movie is so old and that I'm used to a better quality of film. It's not that the film is grainy or that the sound is bad. It just doesn't have the same luster that modern films have.

As I said, Nicholson was perfect in this role. Jack Nolan was supposed to be scary, aggressive and mean and Nicholson came across as all of those things. Shelly Duval played a scared wife perfectly. In the beginning, you get the impression that she knows better than to stay with her husband, but can't quite bring herself to acknowledge it.

The movie is based on a Stephen King novel, although other reviews on Epinions seem to indicate that it didn't stay that true. As usual, I haven't read the book first. One of these days, I'm going to read a book before I see the movie that's based on it. 


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