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Classic Movie Review: The Shining

Original movie poster for The Shining, a yellow background with a horrified face in the letters of the title

I wanted to get this out in time for Halloween, but no worries. The Shining is a classic, worth revisiting at any time of year.

Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt

No. Especially compared to other horror films where women are unnecessarily sexualized or tortured in gendered ways, or where female fear is exploited.

Passes the Bechdel test = 0/2 pts

Nope. The only other woman with lines is the child psychologist talking about Danny.

Woman as main and/or supporting character = 3/3 pts

Shelley Duvall plays Wendy. As wife of the unhinged Jack (Jack Nicholson), her performance is not as iconic as his (See: infamous still of Nicholson’s face coming through the door he’s just hacked through. See also: the million academic theses on Jack and the zero academic theses on Wendy.)

Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts

I saw this movie for the first time this year. To me, it definitely stands the test of time! The plot hits familiar horror beats (I would’ve known it was Stephen King even if no one told me) but it’s still fun and scary.

It’s also always cool to see a classic and understand the pop culture references. I’d recommend it to a modern viewer.

Gif of flood of blood pouring down the hallways of the Overlook Hotel

…I admit this is my favorite gif used for periods

Above and Beyond the General Media = 2/5 pts

Gif of Wendy screaming as Jack's axe breaks through the bathroom door

Let’s not look at Jack for once.

I thought about giving 3 points but I’m not feeling generous today. The feminist character I’m going to talk about is of course Wendy.

I like that Wendy is portrayed positively as a worthy, understanding mother of her “unique” child. I like that she fought back against her husband to protect herself and her son, but also that she shows fear and other emotions. Very little of the literature I read for this post spent any time on Wendy as a character; those that did brushed her aside as weak (or, worse, tried to explain away her perceived weakness by insisting she’s a “better” character in the book). I do not agree. To me it isn’t a bad thing to have a female character show fear.

A feminist idea that comes up a lot in discussions of horror is that of the Final Girl. The Final Girl is the lone survivor of a slasher film and typically the one to take the (male) villain down. Some people see the trope as a positive one, because it means a female character is strong and capable. I’m more of the opinion I read in Carol J. Clover’s papers (Clover coined the phrase the Final Girl. One of her papers is available in full here, or you can check out the abridged Wikipedia explanation here), which points out that the Final Girl must always resort to masculine traits of violence in order to survive (there are other problematic trends, such as Final Girls usually being sexually chaste, but I’m just focusing on the use of violence here).

The reason I threw The Shining a few points in this section is because it does not ask that of Wendy (or if so, to a self-defense level, not a calculatingly violent level). Like 2014’s The Babadook, The Shining gives us an ending that does not fit a stereotyped masculine solution.

Now, I can see how at the time a meek, screaming Shelley Duvall would have annoyed women tired of seeing that trope. I do think I perceive her differently as a modern viewer because I have seen enough of the Strong Woman Trope to be tired of it. I liked Wendy displaying a natural reaction to her situation.

That being said, Wendy is a thin character and we don’t get to know her motivations. We see Jack’s breakdown in great detail, but know almost nothing of Wendy’s inner thoughts and feelings. So the movie can’t get full points in this section, because while I liked the character portrayal, it didn’t go above and beyond.

Score: 10/15

Image of Scale of Inclusivity score, yellow number ten inside a pink Venus symbol

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2 Comments »

  1. I think people simply stating that Wendy was “better” in the book is understated, because really what should be said is that her character is far more fleshed out in the book. You get to see what she’s thinking and feeling throughout the entire narrative instead of the focus being on Jack and Danny. She’s been through hell and back and is a “strong” character, so to speak, but she also has realistic reactions and feelings to what’s happening to her and her son, and she’s more of a “mama bear” in the book in my opinion. I like the Kubrick movie as a movie itself, but it is really quite different from the novel, the essence of it is different. And I think that Wendy in the movie filled that (especially at the time) tired trope and didn’t embody the character King had written. I’d seriously recommend reading the book just for seeing that side of it, because there is so much you can’t really pack into a movie, but the movie is good as its own entity. 🙂

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