The Shining

The Shining Study Guide

Written, directed, and produced by Stanley Kubrick, The Shining was released by Warner Brothers in 1980 and based on Stephen King's novel of the same name. It was the twelfth feature film by Kubrick and was met with colossal critical success. Today, The Shining occupies a legendary place in film history and is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest horror films of all time.

After reading the novel by Stephen King, Warner Bros executive John Calley sent a galley copy of the book to Kubrick, who often retreated to his office to read. Each day, Kubrick's secretary would hear the sound of books hitting the wall as Kubrick grew tired of them. One day, the secretary noticed she hadn't heard a book thudding against the wall in a while. She entered Kubrick's office to make sure everything was alright and found him enthralled by The Shining (Lobrutto 412).

Already known for his ambitious approach to shooting and set design from films like Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971), Stanley Kubrick reportedly spent over a year shooting The Shining, often obsessing over details like the famous bloody elevator scene, which itself was shot over the course of one whole year. Shelley Duvall, who played Wendy in the film, has said that filming the scene in which Jack Nicholson, who plays Jack Torrance, breaks down the door of their hotel bathroom took three days and 60 prop doors to achieve (IMDb).

According to legend, Kubrick also mistreated his actors over the course of filming in order to achieve the performance he wanted. Already known for his exhaustive days on set, Kubrick often did 70-80 takes on a single camera setup, which, according to John Boorman, enabled the actors to give "performances that came out of extremity, exhaustion" (Lobrutto 431). Kubrick also reportedly told members of the crew to resist treating Shelley Duvall with any sympathy and often picked on her in order to develop her character, Wendy, as hopeless and brittle. While on set, Jack Nicholson was fed only cheese sandwiches, which he detested, to lend him an air of irritation while portraying Jack (IMDb).

Life on the set of The Shining wasn't just arduous for the cast, however—it was also draining on Kubrick's crew. Because the set of The Shining was built on a Warner Bros soundstage, Kubrick ordered an eight by 30-foot backing that would imitate natural sunlight flooding the hotel windows. In total, this backing contained 860 1000-watt lamps, each spaced two feet from its neighbor, which amounted to a heat source so intense that crew members could not safely walk from one side of the backing to the other (417-418). Kubrick also held staff screenings of films like David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) and Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) to get the whole cast and crew in the right mood (IMDb).

Once the now celebrated film was finished, Stephen King commented, "I think [Kubrick] wants to hurt people with this movie. I think that he really wants to make a movie that will hurt people" (Lobrutto 409). Although this statement could easily refer to the film's taxing impact on its cast and crew, King was almost certainly referring to the film's impact on its audience. Even today, viewing the film provides an unique experience of fear and pleasure.