In the mid-90s I was fascinated by the Danish TV series The Kingdom. The story happened in a hospital which was a labyrinth building that played an active and determining role in the action – a structure built on unsafe ground claimed by ghosts and haunted by crimes of the past. I had discovered a great and original director named Lars Von Trier. Now 15 years later a discussion on the Internet list doubled by the coincidence of the screening of The Shining on ARTE-TV reveals me what may have been one of the sources of inspiration of Von Trier.


The film is an adaptation of a book by Stephen King, although the writer had many reservations and critics about Kubrick’s version, who took the characters and the basic story but moved the emphasis on what seemed to him to be more relevant and expressive. As in a few of King’s other novels the principal character is a writer who hides in the mountains in order to find the tranquility for his creation, and finds horror instead and the tranquility and power of nature becoming soon a threat. Kubrick was no strange from the recluse position, as a few years before the making of the film he had retreated into an isolated house he had bought, actually starting a personal evolution towards the image of the great director with sparse output he took in the last decades of his life. The frustrated writer story is however only the surface, as we soon get into a much more complicated epic with multiple layers of horrors and incertitude, where family relationship drama, ghosts, haunted manors, supernatural powers interleave and place the viewer in the situation of never being sure from what perspective the story should be considered. The answer is that it is probably about all of these and more that would be revealed when thinking about the film after the projection or seeing it again.

(video source Robobos)

Jack Nicholson plays the lead role and this is one of his powerful creations in a type of roles in which insanity takes control not only of the character but also places under question the sanity of the whole world around him. The question critics asked was whether his stronger than life acting did not shadow completely the other actors and characters. His partner in the film is Shelley Duvall, an anti-Hitchcock female character (opposite to Hitchcock’s blond and beautiful heroines). She was so overwhelmed by the work with Kubrick and Nicholson that her career crashed after this film. The musical score is dominated by Gyorgy Ligetti’s Lontano but also includes other significant excerpts from Berlioz (directed by von Karajan) and Bartok. It is however the exceptional cinematography that makes this film unforgettable. As the hotel isolated in the mountains and cut from the outer world by the winter storms plays a central role in the action the filming of the deserted rooms in the huge and empty hotel (when it does not become populated by ghosts) provide the opportunity of an aesthetic exercise which is valuable in itself, but together with the acting and the music provides one of the most consistent visions in any horror movie I have seen. Always on the edge with technical inventions Kubrick used here the Steadicam which allows for a stable holding of the camera with unusual angles to film the kid running though the endless corridors from the lower angle of his toy. The effect is amazing.

(video source blackchevy316)

The initial reception of the film by critics was rather negative, adding to the cool reception by King. Themes like alcoholism or the disintegration of the family were considered as downplayed.  My opinion is that they are there for anybody who wants to interpret the story through one of these angles but they are not the only ones possible. The very last sequence changes the perspective and provides a very different reading through which the film can be seen, one that has hints planted in some of the previous dialogs and situations. The presence of the native American as ‘true owners’ of the ground where the hotel is built is also mentioned in several sequences and provide an alternate reading. As time passed this film (which was also a commercial success from start) started to gain critical acclaim and gathered interest from aficionados of Kubrick and of the horror film genre. I had seen it for the first time only now but my impression if that as with many other good films it gets better at each viewing.