Paul Malikkal


The Shining (1980)

Paul Malikkal

I'm beginning to think that great horror is also great tragedy. When I see Mia Farrow recoil in horror at the sight of her own child at the climax of Rosemary's Baby, I feel both emotions that Aristotle deemed essential for resonant tragedy-- fear and pity. Not only, do we recognize a disastrous state of affairs (fear), but we mourn that such an awful fate should befall this character in particular this character who we've grown instinctively protective of over the course of the film (pity.)

REDRUM, The Grady Twins, the fellatio-performing bear, the gallons of blood flooding in from the elevators: the spine-chilling indelibility of these images is testament enough to accomplishment as a horror director, as an orchestrator of fear. But the second half of Aristotle's equation, that I think The Shining's missing. In a Paris Review Interview, Stephen King explained his famous contempt for the movie:

"Too cold. No sense of emotional investment in the family whatsoever on his part. I felt that the treatment of Shelley Duvall as Wendy—I mean, talk about insulting to women. She’s basically a scream machine. There’s no sense of her involvement in the family dynamic at all. And Kubrick didn’t seem to have any idea that Jack Nicholson was playing the same motorcycle psycho that he played in all those biker films he did—Hells Angels on Wheels, The Wild Ride, The Rebel Rousers, and Easy Rider. The guy is crazy. So where is the tragedy if the guy shows up for his job interview and he’s already bonkers? No, I hated what Kubrick did with that."

Unlike King, I think Wendy is far more than just "a scream machine," largely owing Shelley Duvall's dutiful-turned-determined take on the character. And I also think his suggestion that Nicholson's decision to play Jack as "the same motorcycle psycho that he played in all those biker films," flew over Kubrick's head improbable considering that he's talking about the most controlling director the medium's ever seen. But I find the rest of his remarks more or less accurate.

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