There’s a certain phenomenon I’ve observed within our species, and it’s the general acceptance that some works of art are just unquestionably masterpieces. A couple weeks ago I wrote an article called ‘Tolkien is Overrated’, and The Lord of the Rings is by far one of the worst offenders, perhaps a close second to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, which, for those of you unaware, opens with over ten minutes of narration before anybody even says a word, yet it’s regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, despite blatantly ignoring the first rule in creative writing: show don’t tell.
From Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there are just certain works of art that we assume are masterpieces because everyone else says so, and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one of them, which I not only find to be a poor adaptation of the novel written by Stephen King, but is also a dismally told story.
In the book, Jack Torrence is a decent man who provides and cares for his wife and child. He’s a recovering alcoholic, yes, who in the past has abused his family during his drunken rampages, but he’s still, by and large, a decent man, just one who had to overcome his own personal demons. In the movie, however, right from the get-go, Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrence as a psychotic maniac.
Even before he reaches the Overlook he already has a permanent sneer on his face, and once he does reach the hotel, it takes hardly any time at all before he starts writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over on his typewriter (which I’ve come to realize people attribute to this film, but is actually a proverb that has existed since the seventeenth century). Jack Torrence has no character arc in the film, he’s merely a vehicle to take the audience to the climactic final scene in the hedge maze.
Speaking of which, in the film it’s ambiguous as to what’s even causing Jack Torrence to go insane. It’s implied that it’s the ghosts that are influencing his mind, sure, but why do they want him to kill his wife and child? Just because they’re evil? In the book, the ghosts want Danny Torrence to be killed within the walls of the Overlook so they could inherit his shining ability, which is so powerful that they’d be able to take solid form and, effectively, come back to life.
In the movie, Stanley Kubrick uses the ghosts as nothing more than an excuse to show some spooky imagery. Ooh, an elevator full of blood! How scary!
Then we have Wendy Torrence, who is reduced to nothing more than – in the words of Stephen King himself – a “screaming dishrag”. She’s an incompetent damsel in distress who does nothing more than flee from her psychotic husband and gawk at ghosts. Her character as a competent mother who would do anything to protect her son has been reduced to a wailing, bumbling buffoon serving no other function than to be the victim to the Overlook hotel.
Even Danny’s character, who is also far more competent in the book, even going so far as to stand up to his father by the end, is reduced to the stock creepy kid we’ve seen in every horror movie since then, wagging his little finger as he mumbles “Redrum” in a voice that sounds like it should be coming from a cartoon frog.
To make a long article short, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining isn’t about a man’s descent into madness, nor is it even really about a family’s struggles with an alcoholic father, but rather architecture. With his sweeping shots patrolling the stylized corridors of the Overlook hotel, I’ll freely admit that The Shining is quite aesthetically pleasing, but in terms of a well told story? It’s subpar, at best.