Jan 6th 08
How Stanley Kubrick’s Editing Conveys a Horrifying Supernatural Vision in The Shining
During a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s horror film The Shining (1980), when Danny envisions the girls in a hallway of the Overlook Hotel, Kubrick’s editing in both the classical and montage style heightens suspense, creates dramatic tension, and suggests Danny’s psychological state.
The scene opens with an extreme long shot tracking Danny as he rides his tricycle away from the camera, down a hallway in the Overlook. Danny goes through a doorway in the distance and turns, riding out of sight. Kubrick holds this shot for another few seconds, suggesting that Danny has just entered a dangerous place to where the camera is afraid to follow.
This effectively foreshadows imminent peril, so that when Kubrick finally cuts to a close tracking shot of Danny from behind as he approaches a turn in the hallway, the viewer, in trepidation, anticipates something around the bend.
Danny turns the corner and comes to an abrupt halt when he sees the two girls from his earlier vision standing at the end of the hallway. Allowing the viewer to absorb the shock, Kubrick maintains the shot slightly beyond the peak of the “content curve”—that is, as Louis Giannetti explains in Understanding Movies, “the point in a shot at which the audience has been able to assimilate most of its information” (159). This creates a sense of time being extended, like in a dream or, as with Danny, a vision.
Following the logic of classical editing, Kubrick cuts to a reverse angle reaction shot of Danny in close-up that focuses the viewer’s attention on the subtleties of his demeanor—wide eyes, characteristic of Danny’s “shining” experiences, and the rapid rise and fall of his chest. Clearly, Danny sees the girls and is extremely terrified.
Kubrick cuts back to the reverse angle of the girls, allowing the viewer to watch with Danny as they speak, “Hello, Danny.”
Again, Kubrick prolongs this shot before cutting to another close-up of Danny. Holding on Danny’s face while the girls speak the next line, “Come and play with us,” Kubrick emphasizes Danny’s petrified state in which he is too frightened to move.
Kubrick then shifts back to the girls for their line, “Come and play with us Danny,” and sustains the shot with which, by now, the viewer is quite familiar. The slow rhythm of Kubrick’s editing sets the viewer up to be startled when, next, at precisely the point we grow accustomed to the pacing, he breaks the rhythm by jump cutting to a closer shot down the same hallway, where we see a disturbing image of the girls massacred on the floor, with blood splattered across the walls and an axe in the middle of the floor.
This shot is cut extremely short, far before the peak of the content curve, thus not allowing the viewer to fully assimilate the alarming sight. This subjectively indicates the way in which the horrific images are flashing through Danny’s mind.
At this point in the scene, the rhythm of the editing picks up speed. Kubrick quickly cuts back to the girls standing at the end of the hallway; however, in this shot, the camera has moved closer to them.
Just as they finish their next line, “Forever,” Kubrick unforgivingly repeats the shot of the murder, again holding it for only a brief moment before rapidly cutting to a reaction shot of Danny’s face, twisted in horror.
Keeping with the fast-paced editing, Kubrick almost immediately cuts to an even closer shot of the girls as they speak, “And ever.” In true montage style, these successively tighter shots of the girls convey Danny’s increasingly panicked psychological state.
Another jump cut to the murder scene is instantly followed by a medium shot of the girls that, nearer to the viewer than ever, stirs intense emotions of fear and a feeling of impending doom. The fast edits create a sense of speed, perhaps mirroring Danny’s quickening heart rate as he grows more and more distressed.
After the girls say their final line, “And ever,” Kubrick cuts one last time to the bloody shot of the girls on the floor before promptly returning to the reverse angle close-up of Danny, who, with his mouth agape, throws his hands over his eyes. The camera stays with Danny as he cautiously lowers one of his hands to see if the girls are still there, evoking an unbearable feeling of suspense because the viewer, like Danny, is uncertain if the frightening event is over.
A reverse angle answers our question with a long shot of the empty hallway. By pulling back the camera and returning to a slower editing pace, Kubrick informs us that the vision is indeed over and everything is back to normal.
Kubrick’s editing in this scene is significant because, throughout the film, it is characteristic of Danny’s supernatural visions. Thus, whether consciously or not, the viewer has a sense of when another terrifying vision is around the corner, generating anticipation that helps to sustain the film’s suspense.
Here is the scene again, presented shot-for-shot as it appears in the film. You can also watch it on YouTube. Until next time, Adam.
All stills Copyright © 1980 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
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