Stanley Kubrick's The Shining Essay

2526 words - 10 pages

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) initially received quite a bit of negative criticism. The film irritated many Stephen King fans (and King himself) because it differed so greatly from the novel. The Shining also disappointed many filmgoers who expected a conventional slasher film. After all, Kubrick said it would be "the scariest horror movie of all time."1 Kubrick's films, however, never fully conform to their respective genres; they transcend generic expectations. In the same way that 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is not just another outer-space sci-fi flick, The Shining is not a typical horror movie. The monsters in The Shining originate not from dark wooded areas, but from the recesses of the mysterious human mind-in broad daylight, at that. Perhaps Kubrick said The Shining is "the scariest horror movie of all time" not because it offers a bit of suspense, blood, and gore, but because it shines a light on the inherently evil nature of humankind on psychological and sociological levels.

After Kubrick bought the rights to Stephen King's 1977 novel The Shining and hired novelist Diane Johnson to help write the screenplay, both Johnson and Kubrick read Freud's essay on "The Uncanny" and Bruno Bettelheim's book about fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment.2 Kubrick obviously wanted to surpass the intellectual depth of contemporary horror films such as The Exorcist and Omen. He said he was attracted to Stephen King's novel because "there's something inherently wrong with the human personality. There's an evil side to it. One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious: we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly." 2

In order to transfer his vision of the "dark side" to the screen, however, Kubrick had to substantially alter the story in King's novel. With the help of Johnson, Kubrick threw out most of King's ectoplasmic interventions-many ghosts, the demonic elevator, the deadly drainpipe, the swarming wasps, and the sinister hedge animals that come to life. Apparently Kubrick could not find special effects to animate the shrubbery in a satisfactory manner. 2

Kubrick also dispensed with virtually all of Jack Torrance's troubled history and his gradual descent into insanity. Jessie Horsting, author of Stephen King at the Movies, said, " I loathed The Shining when it first came out-as Stephen still does. And the principal reason is that in the film, you knew from the start that Jack was crazy. And that, to me, killed the suspense. It killed the entire subtext of the book. It ruined it, and I hated it."3

Indeed, King has often complained about Kubrick's film, saying its full title should be Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. In 1997, King got the chance to redeem his story as executive producer for Stephen King's The Shining. The six-hour ABC miniseries contained King's original ghouls and spooky shrubbery. Steven Weber (of Wings) and his oversized croquet...

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