The Shining by Stanley Kubrick (USA, 1980, 144 min.). Looking to put the past behind him and reignite his creative spark, a schoolteacher-turned-writer accepts a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the secluded Colorado Mountains. While Jack Torrance is warned that the ancient resort has a violent and disturbing past, he decides that the solitude will give him the peace that he requires to start his writing project and would be a refreshing change of scenery for his wife and son. As the winter draws nearer, strange events begin to take place throughout the hotel which brings the film’s characters sanity into disrepute and puts their lives in serious jeopardy. As severe psychological strain is relentlessly heaped onto the protagonists, the line between reality and fiction becomes severely distorted. What exactly is behind these unnerving occurrences is shrouded in ambiguity. However, what is clear is that while some seem determined to exorcise the demons from their past, others are doomed to return to them.

Adapted from Steven King’s novel, The Shining draws heavily on Sigmund Freud’s theory of the uncanny. For Freud, people can experience an uncanny sensation in many ways; for instance, when they struggle to distinguish between an inanimate object and an animate one. This basic characteristic of the uncanny theory pervades Kubrick’s film, as we are not only informed by the characters, but witness the Overlook’s clairvoyant abilities which enable it to communicate with the living in the present tense. Kubrick’s continual use of Steadicam and of one-point perspective brings an eerie nature to the hotel grounds and corridors which make the viewer question if they are watching something inanimate come alive before their eyes. Many dreamlike experiences are evoked throughout The Shining, which showcases Freud’s theory that an uncanny sensation may arise within people when they feel they’ve relived experiences from an unremembered past, an experience similar to déjà vu. This occurs when content from our subconscious overlaps into our waking state. The discussion of dreams and the subconscious is relevant to The Shining, as the audience is left questioning whether recurring events and sequences signify that characters are fated to relive a predetermined destiny, or that they are simply projecting and acting out content from their own subconscious. 

With The Shining representing Kubrick’s only entry into the horror genre, the film stands out within the director’s filmography for a number of reasons. The film’s technical prowess is a rarity within the genre; in particular, the iconic utilisation of steadicam tracking shots helps build tension and provides viewers with a unique perspective of the hotel’s interior and exterior. While many modern horror films rely heavily on ‘jump scares’ to frighten audiences, the ambiguous narrative and subtle use of editing throughout The Shining adds a tense psychological dimension to the film which constantly diverts the viewers’ attention. These are just a few reasons why the film remains relevant and is still meticulously analysed thirty-five years after its release.   

Matthew Robertson

University of Edinburgh, Scotland