Entering the Labyrinth of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Roger Luckhurst offers a critical and entertaining survey of Kubrick’s horror masterpiece
Roger Luckhurst, The Shining (Palgrave, 2013).
Roger Luckhurst, The Shining (Palgrave, 2013).

In the thirty-seven years since its premiere, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) has been the subject of heated debate. Based on a bestselling novel by Stephen King, the adaptation was dismissed by the author as ‘maddening, perverse, and disappointing’. His judgement was not unique. Critics and audiences alike found the film bewildering and strange, not knowing whether to take it as an art film or a low-brow horror shocker. Yet, as Roger Luckhurst points out in his excellent book, The Shining (BFI Classics, 2013), despite its chilly opening reception the film is now regarded as ‘one of the most admired horror films in cinema history’.

Luckhurst’s take on The Shining manages to pierce the lid on thirty years of critical discussion, and to yield a fresh perspective on one of cinema’s most discussed and perplexing films. The book addresses Stanley Kubrick’s status as a distinctive auteur filmmaker, but dismisses the tendency of critics to see deliberate intention in every move and gesture. Instead, Luckhurst reads The Shining within the broader cultural and historical context of late 1970s-early 1980s American culture. Insightful connections are made to films like The Amityville Horror (1979), The Omen (1976), Poltergeist and The Evil Dead (both released in 1982). Through its representation of prescient children, telepathy, and horror, Luckhurst reveals how The Shining expresses widely-held anxieties about traditional gender roles, the nuclear family, and histories of repressed trauma and violence.

Roger Luckhurst’s book is accessible, entertaining, and rigorous. His approach skilfully reveals how The Shining resists any single approach to interpretation. Instead, Luckhurst offers a sequence of readings on key themes and motifs that recur throughout the film: from Kubrick’s innovative use of the Steadicam, to the influence of ancient myth, fairy tales, and the Gothic. The book draws on an impressively eclectic library of sources, ranging Freud and critical theory, to production histories, to behind-the-scenes interviews. Among the highlights is Luckhurst’s pointed discussion of race and racism in the film; his generous revaluation of Shelley Duvall’s underrated performance; and a sustained analysis of the ‘naval scene’ in Room 237. The book is brimming with full-colour stills and illustrations, allowing readers to revisit familiar scenes with renewed appreciation. Luckhurst’s critical and entertaining survey helps to explain why The Shining remains one of cinema’s most enduring and enigmatic films.

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