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‘The Shining’: Celebrating 41 Years of the Legendary Horror Film

Even after four decades, Stanley Kubrick’s genre-defining legacy continues to inspire

Rolling Stone India May 27, 2021

A still from Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining.'

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The Shining is more than a movie – it’s a pop culture phenomenon. Initially released on May 23rd, 1980, this week marks the film’s 41st anniversary. Upon release, it received mixed reviews, but today, it is unanimously believed that this Stanley Kubrick film is an exceptional cinematic feat. 

There is more than what meets the eye in this four-decade-old classic. Based on the 1977 homonymous novel by Stephen King, The Shining is termed as cinematic greatness for its tactful play with the human psyche. Kubrick employs face-on jumpscares and human-like spirits for a visual impact but supports the narrative by introducing a psychologically unnerving aspect – the large-looming feeling of discomfort and helplessness. He traps the audience in the confines of the Overlook Hotel along with the Torrence Family as horrifying events unfurl. The Shining’s portrayal of horror is more cerebral than visual, with just the right amount of gore and an impeccable blend of dialogue, music (by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind), and action. Slow-paced moments – of which we see ample – accentuate the underlying premonition of a rendezvous with a hidden spirit in the hotel.

Kubrick’s inspiration behind the film was to make an artful experience that would be commercially viable. His previous projects failed because of overkill of cinematic elements and a lack of commercial appeal. His notorious perfectionism and relentless effort to sort through a truck-full of horror novels eventually landed him thoroughly engrossed in King’s novel. The book itself is based on a real-life isolated location – the Stanley Hotel in Colorado – where King previously stayed with his wife in 1974 and encountered supernatural occurrences. Kubrick has his own set of visions to draw from. His original inspiration was a short story called The Blue Hotel by Stephen Crane. The misdirection in the short story helped Kubrick complexify the movie’s plot, making the audience wonder if the hotel is truly haunted or a mind-trick caused by isolation. Kubrick, speaking on his theme, stated, “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.”

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In the last four decades, The Shining’s massive impact on filmmaking has markedly changed the horror genre. Once snobbishly tossed around, the genre now harbors some of the greatest cinematic talents. Adam Robitel, the director of The Taking of Deborah Logan, says Stanley Kubrick inspired him to go to film school. Many creators pay homage to the legendary filmmaker by featuring The Shining Easter eggs in their work. We see an orange printed carpet in Toy Story 3, the appearance of the Grady twins in Ready Player One and even rediscover the same ‘eerie’ feeling in Get Out.

The movie’s sequel, Doctor Sleep, directed by Mike Flanagan, came nearly 40 years after the original’s release and takes us back on an unpleasant visit to the Overlook Hotel with Danny (Ewan McGregor). The psychological horror sequel is based on the homonymic Stephen King 2013 novel. 

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