Friday, January 25, 2013

Snowbound in Hell: Big Stan K. and the Subversion of Expectations

The Shining (1980; Stanley Kubrick; screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson, based on the novel by Stephen King)

How will watching The Shining make you more individualistic? Make you a better person?
Not if you look at it as author Stephen King intended, as just another snoozeville haunted house story; a decently-written, more populist rehash of ground better covered by Shirley Jackson, Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson.

When this film was released in 1980, despite its being unbearably tense when first seen in a theater,
I was one of those knuckleheads who was “disappointed.”
A maladjusted and obdurate teenage creep, I was burning through Stephen King’s books, practically worshiping the man at the time (now, I simply respect him), and Stanley Kubrick’s changes annoyed me.
Boy, was I stupid!

Ignorant of film history at the time, I failed to see Big Stan’s grand adventure to rearrange the genre to suit his needs!

In my present view, the film is an always-entertaining, perfectly-paced Ingmar Bergman-esque sick-humor primer on how to avoid a bad marriage—and for a younger viewer it is an introduction on what to do when “Daddy starts drinking again,” or, “Mommy is the star of her own melodrama” (or worse, a combination of the two).

Because let’s get one thing straight here: it is both parents who are the problem in Kubrick’s The Shining. Even in the less-politically correct 1980s, a viewer could tell that the childishly-dressed, twitchy woman smoked in excess around her kid, and made too many excuses for her husband’s drunken behavior.

It’s really Danny Vs. Jack and Wendy—she’s as bad for the kid as the father!

The Horror Renaissance (Some Background)
Although a critical and artistic success, 1976’s Barry Lyndon was not boffo box office, and its creator Stanley Kubrick (SK) was certainly hip to the demands of the marketplace.

He’d turned down The Heretic: Exorcist II  when Warner Brothers offered him the gig (which became a flop for John Boorman in 1977), but it had planted a seed in SK’s head, similar to when Warner Brothers execs were trying to get the director to create something for the Easy Rider-influenced “youth market.” He listened, and what he eventually gave them was A Clockwork Orange (1971).

Meanwhile, it would have been impossible for SK not to notice the shift of the Horror Movie genre from cheap and sleazy B-pictures for grindhouses and double-bills, to A-list headliners at first-runs: From the provinces of AIP, Corman and Hammer to the heartland of Universal, Paramount and United Artists.

The fuse of the Horror Renaissance was lit with the financial success and more importantly sober artistic consideration by “serious critics” of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). By 1973 the Renaissance was in full bloom with the release of Friedkin/Blatty’s The Exorcist—even as that punk Friedkin was strutting around bragging that his movie “was not” a horror picture.

The Horror Renaissance was aided by the emergence of Savage Cinema, spearheaded by Penn/Beatty’s Bonnie & Clyde (1967) as well as Peckinpah’s blood-splattered The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, and given a boost by the ultraviolence of Kubrick’s own A Clockwork Orange, and later Taxi Driver (which shared special makeup effects wizard Dick Smith with The Exorcist).
If gore and psychotic violence could go mainstream, MPAA notwithstanding, so could Horror.

With the one-two punch of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972; inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring from 1960) and the awesome The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974; Tobe Hooper), the doors were blown off: the super-intense, nihilistic, “human identity is meat” psychosis-epic was here. It was the heavy bummer “feel-bad” LSD trip as horror movie we’d been expecting for years. [Add 1970’s Joe (John G. Avildsen) to the mix and you could create a mind-roasting trilogy on the “Death of the Summer of Love.”]

Big names and fortunes were being made off this once-disreputable genre: Richard Donner found glory with the gory The Omen (1976); Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive (1974) was released and re-released; Michael Winner (RIP) created the truly grotesque and macabre The Sentinel (1977); Brian De Palma was incredibly prolific, creating standouts like the Hitchcock/William Castle-esque Siamese twins psycho-thriller Sisters in 1973, and then in 1976 turning Stephen King’s turgid page-turner Carrie into a blood-splatter psychokinetic opera (while “borrowing” the ending of Boorman’s Deliverance); and then there was 1975’s Jaws (yes, it is a horror film), breaking all box office records and forever changing the rules of movie marketing.

Kubrick the auteur had explored his Big Themes using the war, crime and science fiction genres; it was about time to explore the possibilities that Horror could offer.
Around 1976 or ’77, Warner Bros. forwarded the galleys of King’s then-unpublished third novel, The Shining, to SK, and he said, Yes, jumping in with both feet.

SK to Michel Ciment in an interview around the time of the film’s release:
 “A story of the supernatural cannot be taken apart and analyzed too closely. The ultimate test of its rationale is whether it is good enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. If you submit it to a completely logical and detailed analysis it will eventually appear absurd. In his essay on the uncanny, Das Unheimliche, Freud said that the uncanny is the only feeling which is more powerfully experienced in art than in life. If the genre required any justification, I should think this alone would serve as its credentials.”

Big Stan was always pushing the envelope, and The Shining would be no different.
It would be Postmodern in the sense that he knows you know about horror movies; and all that that implies: You’ve seen horror spoofs and Dracula pitching cereal—why waste time with the usual “spooky haus” exposition?
It had already been done to death in flicks like The Haunting (1963; Robert Wise, based on Shirley Jackson’s novel), William Castle’s 13 Ghosts (1960) and The Legend of Hell House (1973; John Hough; script by Richard Matheson, from his novel).
An iconoclast like SK ain’t standing around for that, let’s move on!

The standing of The Shining as a best seller only is important to Stanley as a factor for publicity; the book wasn’t some “classic.” He was going to make it his.

Personally, I think the decision to adapt King’s book was not only a grab at market recognition, but a “borrowing” from the playbook of his former partner James B. Harris: the pulpier the source novel, the more opportunities to plant weird seeds in fertile ground, and explore offbeat topics—and less worries about criticism for straying from sacred texts.

This was a tactic the director started using with Red Alert, converting it far from its original tone into Dr. Strangelove (1964); and continued through with the adaptation of The Short-Timers, by Gustav Hasford, for Full Metal Jacket, as well as Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle later for Eyes Wide Shut (1999; the only SK film I cannot like: Tom Cruise’s acting really bugs me).

“With The Shining, the problem was to extract the essential plot and to re-invent the sections of the story that were weak,” said the auteur. “The characters needed to be developed a bit differently than they were in the novel.”

Co-screenwriter Diane Johnson, in John Baxter’s excellent Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (1997), says:
“Family hate seemed quite important. We decided that… this was a central element.”

The plot is a simple one, and SK wastes no time piling on the foreshadowing from the beginning (multiple references to Grimm’s fairy tales and other grim fantasies, like “ghost ships;” the Overlook being built on sacred Apache burial grounds; and an intense and creepy formalism), so we shouldn’t be surprised when things go sour quickly. 

The Synopsis
A single-child family, the Torrances, moves into an isolated, haunted hotel to be winter caretakers.
The husband is Jack, a man who claims to be a writer, and who has taught school in the past. Why he is out of work now isn’t explained, nor why they moved from Vermont to Colorado. But his past as a violent drunk may have had something to do with it.
Danny, the young son, has burgeoning psychic powers, and has created an imaginary friend to help deal with the visions he sees but doesn’t want.
Wendy means well, but isn’t much assistance. For some reason, she’s one of those people who can’t help but be insipid.
The Overlook Hotel, it turns out, is a repository for certain types of psychic energy, and if you have “the shining,” as Halloran, the elderly head chef at the hotel (played by a very subdued Scatman Crothers), calls this type of ESP, you can see phantoms, or at least feel their presence.
Meanwhile, Jack seems to be the reincarnation of a previous prestigious habituĂ© of the resort, and the Overlook wants him back—primarily to get at Danny and his powers…

The Script
Kubrick’s mastery of mundane dialog (“Cozy!” “This may be the biggest, most beautiful place I've ever been in!” “I’m intrigued.”) helps to ratchet up the tension. These clichĂ©s they are spewing cannot be trusted; what are they really trying to say? What are they desperately trying to conceal? Concentrating on the lying language of vague pleasantries, SK produces a hyper-reality that is quite disconcerting.

SK has discarded elements of King’s novel like the hedge animals, the overdrawn “about-to-explode boiler” metaphor, and the Lovecraftian manta-ray-monster disappearing into the night sky. But even more, like “Redrum!” could have been ditched, I feel—but had he done that, along with the changes he had already made (like the maze), chess whiz SK would have given warning of his greatest trick: killing the book’s second favorite character, Overlook chef Dick Halloran.
Shah mat!

The cook’s brutal murder was an incredible shock to everybody who had read the novel—he was a sweet and beloved character who saved the mom and kid!

With that assassination, Kubrick managed to increase the tension further: Not even the people who’d read the book knew what to expect—even in the film’s final minutes.
Meta-filmmaking, anticipating outside knowledge and excess baggage—
SK knew we knew how the book ended—and to heck with that!
Let’s pull the rug out some more.
You wanna go help that kid? Here’s an ax to the chest.

Followed by that incredible shot of Jack Torrance finally revealing his true essence after tasting blood: monster, gargoyle, killer.
SK’s only doing what a good horror director should do. He’s upping the ante.

Meanwhile, I think Halloran knows he will die: that look on his face when he gets Danny’s “message” gives it away.
But why in the hell was he ever at the Overlook in the first place?
He knows enough of the place’s bad juju to warn the boy away from room 237, but he keeps working in the kitchens for years?
Could he have been feeding off the hotel in his own way?
The “Halloran” of the film doesn’t have to be the saintly “Halloran” of King’s book.
When you are older, do your “shining” powers change? Was he grooving on some crazy hoodoo? Was Halloran bumpin’ uglies round some haunted strange?
The Nubian goddesses on the wall of his Florida condo could be a clue there…
Is the chef now allowing himself to be sacrificed to atone for his past sins?
But with his death, is Halloran trapped in the Overlook as well?

Early in the film Halloran comments to Danny about how a place can keep memories or impressions (and other psychic events, we presume), and how some people can sense these “memories” due to the “shining” (being “sensitive” or having ESP), but using that big brain of his, I bet SK postulated that the realm of the supernatural would be just as “unknowable” as the hyper-evolved extraterrestrials of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Overlook seems like a hive mind of gnarly psychic energy, and I could see the hotel thriving on cycles of bad family tragedies—plenty of rotten unions out there to choose from… I’ll bet the Grady marriage was as bad as the Torrance’s, as well.

Jack as Jack
When the film was first released, many viewers were confused, seeing Nicholson play “himself” as we’d seen him at awards shows and whatnot.
This may seem contradictory, but I think you’re supposed to watch The Shining and forget everything you know about Nicholson.
Visionary SK was the first to cast Nicholson in a role as himself.

Contemporary gossip sites have “blind items” about how awful Nicholson treats his girlfriends; and I wonder if Kubrick was repeating the trick he performed with Barry Lyndon: Casting Ryan O’Neal as a vain, shallow and thick-headed brute because he was one.
Did Stanley see the monster that was within Nicholson?
At approximately one hour and 20 minutes, Jack and Wendy have their post-room 237 confrontation, and as Jack stalks out of the room, for a nanosecond he makes eye contact with the camera and it is unnerving. Raw, nightmarish, powerful and so real.
Did SK bring out the “real” Nicholson?

Of course Jack Torrance’s nuts. This guy is bad news—why wait by casting a “nice guy” as King had originally envisioned?

So why does an obvious madman like Torrance get hired? Because no sane person would take the job, especially after hearing the story about Delbert Grady slaughtering his family during a bought of “cabin fever.”

Aside from any supernatural reasoning, the Overlook Hotel human management has to hire Jack Torrance—he’s probably the only person applying for the job. His being the reincarnated ghost sent out into the world to procreate and bring back “shining” children to further energize the Overlook has no bearing on HR’s decision.

That is a delicious and weird notion, however: that psychic/supernatural abilities are transmitted genetically through the father via his past from the spirit world. (Delbert Grady’s daughters also showed signs of “shining” the Overlook’s true nature, so Jack Torrance isn’t the only one.)

Wendy is just as important to this family drama in her passivity, emptiness and immaturity as Jack is with his huffing and puffing.

Since SK was referencing Freud, I’ll take that route regarding her back-story: her daddy was probably a mean drunk, like Jack—but to Wendy’s mom, never to his daughter.  
Wendy’s Daddy was probably really sloppy and nice to her—after breaking Grandma’s collarbone. I bet young Wendy got lots and lots and lots of her daddy’s special hugs…

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Wendy “trapped” Jack into marriage by getting pregnant.

Wendy and Jack shouldn’t be together. A “normal” dynamic (loveless bickering couples, we’ve all been them!) could have been maintained had they never left civilization (and had to confront their true selves): Wendy would get a prescription for Valium; Jack would be a philandering substitute teacher with a drinking problem; and Danny would discover comic books, reefer and punk rock.

Notice the art direction in the Torrance apartment in Boulder, Colorado: There are books everywhere; overflowing! I’ve got a very decent personal library, but the sheer tonnage of books in their apartment is upsetting.
But makes sense: in those paperbacks are plenty of places for the family to hide from each other. (The hint is Wendy’s reading of The Catcher in the Rye, that cultified paean to escapism.)

But the Overlook, despite its huge size, seems to have no books (comparatively)—and the shallow and dopey flicks being broadcast from Denver (Summer of ’42, really? Yeesh!) aren’t enough mental stimulation.

Pathetic almost-battered wife, Wendy’s a mess from the get-go, and what is up with her costume design? Anyone who thinks these are accidents just isn’t looking. These are her choices (provided through the director’s vision).

Wendy comes across as a whipped dog, a far cry from Shelley Duvall’s usual characters. (I especially love her drag-racing sexual manipulator in Robert Altman’s underrated Brewster McCloud (1970); Duvall’s first film role; the director discovered her in a florist’s shop.)

Really, why did Shelley agree to this role? It is thankless, and nearly ruined her mental health by all accounts—was it hubris? Did Duvall think that after wrapping Altman and Woody Allen around her finger she could do the same with Grandmaster Stanley?
And did The Man With the Owl Eyes notice that and use it to his advantage?

Because I think the incredible lack of chemistry between Nicholson and Shelley Duvall is expressly on purpose. One of Jack Torrance’s main complaints to Lloyd is how Wendy’s always holding things over him (like how he dislocated Danny’s arm); in other words, how she’s playing her own passive-aggressive games.

Did SK sense SD was conniving in some sort of starlet way, and whip around a sacrifice-the-rook-to-score-the-queen double-whammy on her by using SD’s emotional devastation to enhance the film? Because when she screams, “JACK! DON’T!” as Nicholson is pounding the bathroom door to splinters, it sounds so real.
Which “Jack” is she pleading to “don’t”?
That’s very unsettling on all levels.

So why doesn’t Wendy use the porcelain top of the cistern to smash out the glass in the bathroom at this moment? Well, she’s not too bright, is she? Jack the emotional bully would never marry anyone as smart (or smarter) than him; and we’ve already seen her tug at the dry-goods storage door for a few long seconds before realizing the bolt was latched.

Her learning curve may be improving (like not falling for Jack’s lies anymore), but after Halloran is slaughtered, we expect her to get the chop, in only a matter of time.

Our confidence is not improved when, late in the film, Wendy starts seeing spectral ghouls, like the infamous bare-assed dog-suit-on-tuxedo blowjob scene (a tribute to the climax of Shivers (1977), David Cronenberg’s first feature, when all the tenants of the apartment complex are letting loose with their sexual fetishes).

It was Halloran’s sacrifice that saved her in the first place, and Jack’s pursuit of Danny which gives her the breathing room to notice the Overlook’s frenzied anticipation of fresh “shining” blood. I do not think she has any powers per se, I just think the poor girl is being overwhelmed by the director’s wise decision not to let the pace flag. These apparitions may not make sense, but they are threatening and pointedly “uncanny.”

The Boy
Now the real important stuff:
Although a center of attention (from his parents and the Overlook), the child himself does not do much to impact the direction of the plot at first, except provide opportunities for exposition.
The nightmarish Jack/Wendy dynamic would exist with or without the boy; other reasons to antagonize each other would be found.
Danny is acted upon, like most small children in reality. He’s in the tug of war between his parents (although Jack would get rid of both of them), and he only communicates his “visions” after he’s attacked in room 237.
Otherwise, he’s running and screaming for help.

But when Danny starts walking backwards (another subversion brought into play) through the snow, he is no longer the McGuffin of the movie (a device to keep the plot moving; from Hitchcock); he rightfully becomes its hero.
He is acting on the situation, being incredibly resourceful, and changing his destiny. And the timing is important, because by this point in the film, we are expecting everyone to die.

Perhaps inspired by the fairy tales already referenced, SK having Danny’s retracing his steps in the snow is one of those rare moments in cinema that shows a young character actually being unexpectedly ingenious—Dr. Seuss’ The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953; Roy Rowland) is another one, when the boy knocks his penknife against the side of the metronome to imitate its ticking, fooling the sleeping Dr. Terwilliker so he can steal the key to the jail. (Jeez, wouldn’t it be great if SK screened Dr. T at some point? Even if just for kicks…)

I’m also reminded of the structure of the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971; Mel Stuart), where Charlie doesn’t do much—and in fact, disobeys—but by returning the everlasting gobstopper at the end, he utterly redeems himself, and is made completely worthy of the Wonka inheritance.

And until then, Mr. Wonka has been a bit monstrous himself—not quite Jack Torrance level of intensity, but certainly with a higher body-count. In both films, the boys’ earnest, direct actions pull a switcheroo on the audience’s perception of the protagonists: Wonka becomes a loving, if Old Testament, father; and Jack Torrance is not as smart as he thinks he is—the moment he goes the wrong direction in the maze, the audience knows he is doomed.

Retracing his steps is the proof, the final nail in the coffin if you will, that the boy deserves to survive: he’s showing willfulness and intelligence.
We know he’s a smart, brooding boy with nascent-ESP powers; but so were the Grady girls—one tried to burn down the Overlook, but they still didn’t make it.

Inspired to survive, I feel that Danny figured out walking backwards on his own: it wasn’t something taught to him, or read in a book, or even “shined” to him in a vision. It’s just a smart little boy showing initiative under incredible pressure. Whew!

The Dark Side
In one of his drafts, SK had the film end with the ghosts of the Torrances around a table, watching the new caretakers being shown around.

But once SK developed the character of Jack as the worst aspects of a father—Nicholson claims to have used Charles Manson as the inspiration for his performance—I think the director knew that he couldn’t let Jack “win.”

Embracing the beast in himself, Jack Torrance has also forsaken something SK prizes above rubies: intelligence. And as such, doesn’t deserve to “win.”
When you look at Kubrick’s “heroes” (protagonists, actually), the ones who “win” (succeed in their missions) do it because they are not just brave, but smart:
Major Kong fixes the bomb-bay doors; Bowman figures out the airlock maneuver; Alex gets “cured.”

Kubrick’s “losers,” like Humbert Humbert, Redmond Barry, or Bill in Eyes Wide Shut, are blinded by something, usually their own “cleverness.” These guys think they are so smart, but they are fooling themselves, and they are driven more by delusional compulsion than anything else, usually to their doom.

In The Shining, we have both: the smart winner (dark horse Danny, showing his true colors in the final length); and the clever, beautiful loser: Jack, a man full of sound and fury unquestionably indicating he’s full of “nothing.” But Jack is so cool! Hmmmm, yes he is…

There’s something exceptionally attractive about Jack Torrance: To allow yourself to plunge into your monstrous nature, to fuel and feed a rage that is unstoppable, to relieve yourself of civilization—to become an animal.

But that is only attractive if you don’t want to be part of civilization anyway, if you think it’s not worth it, too much of a hassle, man.

And in that case, you have the wrong idea, thinking that being part of society means you’ll be uncool. It really just means being responsible for yourself and your surroundings. This might include rules, boundaries, diplomacy, love and hard work, but never rules out having fun or thinking for yourself, nor does it mean being weak and acquiescent to your passive-aggressive partner.

Wildman Jack Nicholson’s image is just as pernicious a negative influence on Young Artistic Males as the personas of Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Cobain, John Belushi, Lenny Bruce, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Keith Richards, and multitudes more. Like I said, I think SK saw that in the actor. In a sense, Jack Nicholson was playing a guy who wanted to be “Jack Nicholson.”

In actuality, despite his pride, Jack Torrance is not a strong man. He needs alcohol and books to prop himself up. He’s a frustrated intellectual, like one of those genius slobs enamored with Rimbaud or Kerouac who ends up on Skid Row. He’s the smartest drunk at the party, and boy, oh boy, doesn’t he have a silver tongue?

You don’t want to be like this. Trust me, the East Village and Williamsburg are overflowing with on-the-edge-of-middle-age-frustrated-writers (and other creative types) who wish something as interesting as ghostly possession and telepathic children would occur to them as they mutter snarky comments into their beers…

The End
And how disappointed the Overlook must be with Jack at the conclusion: At least Delbert Grady delivered up his two precious girls—in nice, tidy chunks…
No more free booze for you, Mr. Torrance! Orders of the house! Back into the photo you go!

So who was the “1921 Jack Torrance”? I doubt he was the caretaker, maybe some enforcer, bouncer or major domo: from Torrance’s personality, I guess a guy who collects debts and breaks legs.
A steady diet of booze, pussy and violence would keep him happy, and he reads a bestseller a year and the newspaper every day to maintain an intellectual superiority to everyone around him.

Some ghost must have told Grady that he had “always been the caretaker,” but in Torrance’s vision, Grady is just a waiter.

So in the ghostly encounter that the next possessed caretaker has, will Torrance be only a janitor—or a cook?

While I tend to agree with Stanley about the Grady Girls—“the twins”—being his own, not Diane Arbus’ inspiration (because SK was a young shutterbug covering the same sordid NYC beat back in the 1940s and ’50s, so the same forces would have influenced both of these photographers), you can be certain SK screened a variety of films as part of his research for The Shining in addition to whatever he saw in his attempts “to see everything” released, and that there would be many, many horror films among them.

Specifically SK showed David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977; also a film about a “bad father”) to his crew as inspiration for mood.

“Kubrick paid me the highest compliment,” David Lynch says in an old interview. Friends of Lynch were invited to his home to see what Kubrick called “my favorite film,” Eraserhead

Now I can only speculate as to what SK screened—
So, as well as anything I mentioned previously, other films I am sure that SK screened as R&D include:

Ingmar Bergman’s The Hour of the Wolf (1968), for the ghosts and couple’s dynamic—

Jeremiah Johnson (1972; directed by Kubrick’s friend and future actor, Sydney Pollack), for the concept of the sacred Indian burial ground and extreme violence in the snow—

Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass II (1955; for the inspiration of “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” where a character, possessed by an alien intelligence, types “Now is the time for all good men to” over and over to prove his sanity), and his The Stone Tape (1972; directed by Peter Sasdy; for a unique and logical look at the potential science behind a haunted house, that’s also still a scary movie)—

Dutchman (1966; Anthony Harvey) Harvey—Kubrick’s old editor! With a modern “ghost” vibe; the title references the legendary ghost ship The Flying Dutchman, but set in a single subway car.
Still gripping drama, hardly dated at all—it is more about class differences, and the cerebral vs. sensual, than race (at least until the end).
Like an urban Ingmar Bergman movie, with a greater undercurrent of violence and dirty, naughty sex, star Shirley Knight is scorching hot as the type of brilliant unpredictable crazy gal we’ve all gone bonkers over at some point. If anything, she could be the bathtub woman from room 237 before she committed suicide; she’s that dangerous and packed with perverted psychic energy…

I have it on very good word that SK also screened Werner Herzog’s Signs of Life (1968) and the 1929 film The Phantom Carriage in preparation—
But personally, I would love to think of him screening Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), as well, but especially Woody Allen’s acidic tribute to Bergman, Interiors (1978)… Now there’s a spooky film!

If you’re looking for a double-feature to aid further individuation by becoming a better human being, may I suggest
Michael Haneke’s recent and very aptly-named Amour (“Love;” 2012)?

It is the flipside to The Shining: another coldly formal, beautifully shot and art-directed mother-father-child chamber-piece epic, but because Amour’s septuagenarians are a happy couple—these people do love each other, very much—what happens to them makes the film emotionally devastating.

Death will always come in the ugliest of ways; can we be brave enough to deal with it with love and selflessness?
Haneke’s couple are not saints—no one is—and their humanity brings the pain. It is raw, unadulterated emotion, and feels so true.
Because it is a film, I know there is manipulation involved but the trick of the good filmmaker is to do it without being noticed. At this Haneke is a master.

Perhaps this is my own self-manipulation, but I feel that this may be Haneke’s most personal film; why else is Isabelle Huppert’s husband in the film a dead-ringer for the director 20 years ago? I haven’t read anything about the film beyond headlines and headers, and I don’t want to know anything about it beyond what I saw and what it meant to me. I want to keep this cinematic experience personal and unique to me and my interpretations.

I am avoiding even a simple interview with the director. (Maybe I’ll watch the Oscars just for this vision in black strutting across the Academy’s stage…Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I’ll watch the Oscars!)

I leave The Shining cheerful because I know I’m better than these people and can learn from their mistakes; I leave Amour sad because I can only hope that I can learn from these lovely people’s efforts.


  1. Lovely piece - I feel a bit more kindly to Wendy than you (mainly because I like characters in horror movies that have such unfettered and honest reactions to the situations unfolding around them), but your argument of her complicity in her fate is persuasive. Curious what you make of Jack's assertion that Wendy's a horror film nut.

  2. DR: thank you for taking the time!
    I should look into that further since it is another example of the "meta" (referencing horror films). But I really can't see her digging horror films. But I could see Jack dragging her to horror films to get a sadistic glee from her shrieks.

    BTW, I'm really kicking myself for not figuring out a way to comment that Nicholson got his start working with horror icon Boris Karloff, whom he mentions in Vivian K.'s documentary

  3. This is amusing:

    Nice spoof

  4. Great point about the genius of casting Nicholson as himself, an ugly misogynistic monster. Same with Ryan O'Neal. Along those lines, trying giving Eyes Wide Shut another go, thinking of his casting of Tom Cruise in the same way -- delusionally self-important in a status-obssessed world, meaninglessly materialistic, aspirational toward something he doesn't really get, cuckolded by his wife who's superior to him, but psychologically trapped by a system that only values her for her looks. Basically, a tool.

    1. Oscarchoy! Thank you for your comments. I agree with you and do think that Kubrick tried to go for a hat-trick of "casting them as themselves" with Tommy C., but...something went very wrong. I think TC's force of "personality" overwhelmed anything SK was trying to accomplish. Or else I'm allergic to Cruise.
      Once again, thanks for reading!