March 14, 2014

Heeeere’s Johnny!: The Shining at the State Theatre

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As Ithaca is wrapped in a winter storm quite similar to the eerie one that shrouds the Overlook Hotel, the State Theatre prepares to screen Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece The Shining on Saturday, Mar. 15. Constructed in the 1910s and refurbished as a movie house in the ’20s, the State is a living remnant of a nostalgic, bygone era of movie palaces, flappers and Hollywood’s Golden Age, in which parts of The Shining are set — or are they? The concrete elements of that film’s narrative remain uncertain; what is certain is that you have never seen Kubrick’s mastery in lighting, framing, composition and suspenseful tension played out on the big screen like this before. The very atmosphere and history of the theatre promise to make it a thrilling and chilling event.

Onto the film itself: for those that haven’t seen it, this is the perfect time to catch one of the seminal works from, in this critic’s opinion, the greatest cinematic virtuoso the world has ever known. Usually The Shining is a favorite for Halloween season, being one of the only horror-thriller films that is genuinely scary, but to catch it mid-winter when the freezing winds swirl around Cornell and it really feels like you are at the Overlook is a fine substitute. Nearly every film Kubrick released is considered a masterpiece in many circles and The Shining, with echoes of psychological horror, Hitchcockian suspense and layers of bloody American history, stands at the top of the pyramid in the horror genre.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, in his most mesmerizing performance outside of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) is a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic who needs time to work on a new novel. He accepts the job of caretaker at the winter resort in remote, snow-covered Colorado, hoping it will allow him time to finally peck out his book on the typewriter. His biggest mistake is bringing his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and three-year-old clairvoyant son Danny (Danny Lloyd) along with him. As the three of them are shut-in together at the hotel over the course of several months of snow, Jack slowly begins to lose his mind, with murderous results. As Kubrick himself described it, “It’s just the story of one man’s family quietly going insane together.”

The hotel’s chief cook Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), who possesses the same clairvoyant ability as Danny — the “Shining” — warns him that the hotel has a history of dark events and tells him not to look in Room 237, the scene of a double homicide of two young girls. It isn’t long before Danny begins to see these two girls while roaming the infinite corridors of the hotel on his tricycle. Jack grows weary of Wendy for absolutely no reason — is it cabin fever, or is it merely writer’s block? — and before long, he starts making contact with supernatural characters, too.

One of the most genius qualities about the film is that there is nearly no violence or blood to speak of, which is unusual for horror films. The entirety of the movie’s scare is built into its uncanny, slow-mounting tension, which gradually reaches a fever pitch and then becomes something operatic. It’s staged with the precision and the expertly-controlled madness only Kubrick, who put his actors through anywhere from twenty to a hundred takes, could attain. The most unsettling thing about the film is that you never can tell what is real and what isn’t. Like the Overlook’s maze, it’s a labyrinth you get lost in every single time you watch it.

In fact, so many theories have been postulated about the meanings of The Shining that an excellent documentary, Room 237, was made about them and released last year. Kubrick was a wizard at encoding hidden symbols and messages into his films, never more evidently than in this one. Hypothesis about the hidden narratives, storyline and interpretations range from a faked NASA moon landing to the Native American genocide and the myth of the Minotaur.

Don’t miss the chance to experience one of the most hypnotic films ever made by a true magician of the craft of film-making, and starring perhaps the greatest actor of this generation. Jack Nicholson’s iconic line delivered through a slit in the chopped-up doorway is far more frightening on the big screen. This is a movie where danger may come from any point in the story, where it may lurk around any corner of the cavernous hotel, and that makes it all the more compelling and watchable after more than 30 years.

The Shining will play at the State Theatre on Saturday, Mar. 15 at 8pm. Tickets are $5 and the doors open at 7 p.m..