[Originally published in slightly different form in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]
Stephen Kingâ€™s The Shining is basically a novel of character: Isolated with his family for a winter at a snowed-in resort hotel, Jack Torrance faces the collapse of his own mind from an overload of alcoholism, suppressed violence, writerâ€™s block, and personal failure. His sonâ€™s clairvoyanceâ€”the titular â€œshineâ€â€”is the mechanism whereby the boy is able to save himself and his mother, though not, alas, his father. Well, characterization and warmth have never been the hallmark of Stanley Kubrickâ€™s work, so itâ€™s no wonder that his film of The Shining is ultimately more Kubrick than King. No satisfactory relationship is ever established between the boyâ€™s â€œshiningâ€ and the rest of the plot; and Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), far from fighting against a gradual crumbling of his reason, seems prone to it from the outset. The fatalism of the filmâ€™s approach to Jackâ€”underscored by Kubrickâ€™s relentless use of Wendy Carlosâ€™s synthesizer variations on the Dies Iraeâ€”serves perfectly the Swiftian misanthropy of the creator of Dr. Strangelove, Clockwork Orange, and Barry Lyndon. Kubrickâ€™s view of man is as characteristically 18th-century as his devotion to stylistic formalism. No romantic Roderick Usher disintegration for Kubrickâ€™s Jack Torrance: itâ€™s strictly â€œOrders from the House.â€ Milieu, not character, is the basis of the madness and of the film itself. The Shining might be (like The Omen, The Exorcist, and their host of imitators) a â€œDevil made me do itâ€ movie, where lack of responsibility for oneâ€™s actions is â€œexplainedâ€ by supernatural intervention; but Kubrick is more concrete about the identity of his Devil.