MovieChat Forums > The Shining (1980) Discussion > Jack Nicholson: Yes or No?

Jack Nicholson: Yes or No?


Here and elsewhere, I've heard people say that Nicholson was miscast, that he's so creepy that there's no surprise when he turns murderous. They say that the movie would be scarier if a nice guy were corrupted by the Forces Of Evil. But *I* say that if Jack isnt creepy and it isn't obviously a terrible idea for this dysfunctional to be snowbound and isolated for months, then the first act is totally boring!

Seriously, the reason the film is scary is that everyone has an Inner Child inside, whose greatest fear is the parent turning against the child. A father who is creepy to begin with and who is easily corrupted is much scarier than a father who resists the evil ones.

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It took me a second viewing to fully appreciate the film but I really have a hard time imagining anyone else in the role. I know that Stephen King has never liked the film but as one who has not read the novel, I think that Nicholson is chilling and compelling in The Shining.

Jack is an immensely charismatic actor with, even in his calmest and most likeable moments, the slightest hint that he may flip and start bouncing off the walls at any moment, and this works beautifully for Jack Torrance. I agree that he has to have something of a creepiness/oddness about him in the early stages of the story for it to have such a powerful impact.

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I've heard that King based the character of Jack largely on himself and the issues he'd had in the years before writing the book, so I can see why he'd want Jack to be a basically decent guy.

But if Jack is a basically decent guy and Wendy is a tough cookie who isnt afraid to stand up for herself and her kid, like in the book, where's the drama? No, a good book can get away with a slow start, but a dramatic movie needs to start ramping up the tension quite early.

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I think Nicholson is great in the part, because he plays manic really well. The problem for some people is, as you say, nobody is surprised at how he turns murderous. My thoughts are that Nicholson suits the movie even if King doesn't like the movie version. I saw the remake that is closer to the book and when comparing it to the original movie, preferred the movie, so I guess I probably wouldn't like the book.
Mind, to be fair, I like most movie adaptations of Kings books/stories that I have read better than the books themselves.

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Nobody is surprised when he turns murderous — *after* this movie was released. This movie is largely the reason moviegoers have come to expect that. Before 1980, not so much.

King disliked the movie because he had a fundamental disagreement with the director on the nature of the evil. In King’s novel, the hotel *itself* was evil, “infecting” the innocent characters with it. Kubrick could not accept this, and so directed his actors to see their own characters as the evil’s source, brought out by the isolation. Kubrick once called King in the middle of the night during development to ask if he believed in God. Don’t remember his answer, but it’s clear King is a believer while Kubrick was not.

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This movie is largely the reason moviegoers have come to expect that. Before 1980, not so much.

I saw One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest before seeing this so Nicholson turning mad/murderous didn't surprise me at all. He always seems to have that close to edge thing about him.

King disliked the movie because he had a fundamental disagreement with the director on the nature of the evil. In King’s novel, the house *itself* was evil, “infecting” the innocent characters with it. Kubrick could not accept this, and so directed his actors to see their own characters as the evil’s source, brought out by the isolation.

I saw it that the house itself was the source of evil, so if Kubricks intention was it was to imply that it was down to the isolation, he failed for me.

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IMHO Kubrick was right and King was wrong. External threats aren't nearly as terrifying as internal ones. There's nothing on Earth more terrifying than being a child who'd dependent on the parents, but also afraid of them.

And to have the evil influences at the hotel amplify existing problems within the family and its members is much scarier than the corruption of innocents. Because the viewer expects innocents who are being corrupted by Evil Forces to fight back and do the right thing in the end, which does limit the amount of suspense. But if the evil comes in the form of amplifying problems that already bother you or frighten you... it's so much more intimate, and you don't expect a quick-fix, you expect a disaster.

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I think he was perfectly cast and did a fantastic job.

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I read the book just before the movie was released. Upon seeing it as a teenager, I was put off that movie Jack seemed odd and a bit strange right at the start while in the novel his progression to crazy was gradual.

It took a couple of viewings to win me over and I now consider the movie a better version of the story. Nicholson’s portrayal was excellent. I can almost forget how the novel ends (boiler explosion?) but have no trouble recalling the movie in great detail.

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Those people completely missed the point. They assumed Kubrick wanted to an a good man turned bad arc. He didn't. He had no interest that.

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No, you missed the point, Jack is a flawed but ultimately good man driven to evil, which makes for a far more compelling arc than someone who is just batshit crazy from the minute he comes on screen.

Nicholson was miscast and Kubrick obviously didn’t understand the story he was adapting, no more, no less.

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I think the entire casting of the movie was brilliant. There were other issues about the movie but not the casting.
Steven king made his own version of The Shining which was more faithful to the story but the casting left a LOT to be desired at all levels.
Obviously Steven king and I dont agree on the choices, but judging from the ratings of both movies, I am not alone.

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The miniseries was terrible! The Kubrick film remains one of the only movies that actually scared and disturbed me, while the miniseries did nothing at all. I even laughed at the pickled troll TV version of the woman in room 237, whereas the movie version of that scene kept me out of hotel room bathrooms between the ages of 15 and 20.

Also, Steven Weber was such a forgettable nothing of a Jack Torrance. No charisma, no humor, just some bland TV commercial dad. Sure, you know Jack N. is a little off even in the beginning of the movie, but that only adds to the suspense. During the drive through the mountains, you're thinking, Oh, God, this woman and kid are going to be snowed in all winter with this guy!?!

I liked the kid who played Danny better in the TV show, but only because he looked quite a bit like I did in my pre-school years.

Rebecca DeMornay was certainly easier on the eyes than Shelley Duvall, but even that was a negative. Some polished gorgeous woman is married to a failed writer/alcoholic schoolteacher? No. I don't buy it. Duvall with her odd Olive Oyl from Popeye looks and twitchy performance added a lot to the feeling of desperation and failure surrounding Jack Torrance. She was a much better match with the sloppy, balding Nicholson than the scrubbed and polished couple in the TV show. Nicholson and Duvall were perfect. They really captured a family caught in mid-plummet from middle to lower class.

King's 'official' miniseries just did not cut it and has been largely forgotten for good reason.

The only King adaptions that have really worked for me were the original 1976 Carrie, Kubrick's The Shining, Christine, the original '70s Salem's Lot miniseries and the late '80s miniseries of It. The 1994 series of The Stand was not bad, but could have been much better.

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I am going to "slaughter a few sacred cows" here but keep in mind that these are MY OPINIONS.
I am not a Stanley Kubrick fan.
I didn't find the Shining all that "scary"
I DID like the cast choices he made. I DID like his location choice for the movie, even though it was really "too nice" to fit the story line as it was written.
I didnt really originally understand the choice of Shelley Duvall, but I later understood the strength that the character had to stand to to her husband who was going insane. We saw a vulnerability but a strength as well.

In Kings miniseries one of the worst casting choices was Courtland Mead as Danny. I know you liked the choice. For me it was awful.
I used to have a book about the making of The Shining. An interesting note is that Danny Lloyd who played Danny was chosen over 5000 other kids who were originally considered for the part. For a young child he handled the horror PERFECTLY. My two favorite very YOUNG kids in horror movies are Danny Lloyd and Alex vincent of Childs Play (original and part 2)

I liked the fact that King kept the Topiary hedge animals to life in his miniseries.
The hedge maze in Kubricks version was convenient for HIS ending but not faithful to the book.

The BEST adaptation of Steven Kings work was not even a horror film,
STAND BY ME!
Overall I like most or the adaptations of Kings books.
Leaving King to his own work we come up with Maximum Overdrive (a very strange oddity) and The Shining miniseries.
The original "IT" had its good points as well as its limitations.
The movie version has its good points and its bad points. CGI is a great tool but overuse becomes stupid. THIS however is another discussion.

Anyway these are just MY thoughts.

BTW I think King liked Cujo




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I had actually forgotten 'Stand By Me'. You're right, that IS his best adaption by far.

Wow, I cannot understand how anyone could not be terrified by Kubrick's version. I don't really like his cold, sterile style all that much, but here it certainly worked for me.

Interesting that we found Duvall effective for opposing reasons. To me, she seemed like the only kind of woman who would put up with a loser like Torrance for any length of time; insecure, clingy, far from conventionally attractive, etc. while you focused on her strength. I sound quite cynical and negative!

I was hoping to see the topiary animals in the Kubrick film when I first saw it. I read the book immediately before seeing the film and was quite disappointed in their absence. I had actually hoped for some Harryhausen-style stop motion effects. As a 15 year old Sinbad movie junkie that would have been awesome!

The only reason I liked Courtland Mead is that he looked very much like I did as a small boy. (As an adult, there is little resemblance) I admit Danny Lloyd was a much more effective actor. Too bad he never pursued more roles, but probably a much healthier choice for him.

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"Interesting that we found Duvall effective for opposing reasons. To me, she seemed like the only kind of woman who would put up with a loser like Torrance for any length of time; insecure, clingy, far from conventionally attractive, etc. while you focused on her strength."

That's what makes Duvall so great in the part. From the beginning she seems like such a doormat, so obviously grateful to be married to a man she considers to be out of her league, that when the shit hits the fan, you expect her to cave and leave the child completely unprotected. The later scenes of the film wouldn't be nearly as suspenseful if you assume Wendy is capable of standing up to her husband!

IMHO Kubrick was right and King was wrong. There's nothing more terrifying than being a child who is completely dependent on their parents, yet also completely afraid of them. That's much, much scarier than any supernatural threat, and

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"IMHO Kubrick was right and King was wrong. There's nothing more terrifying than being a child who is completely dependent on their parents, yet also completely afraid of them. That's much, much scarier than any supernatural threat, and"

I agree wholeheartedly and that, I think is the key to why I found this movie so frightening, having had some concerns in that regard during my own childhood.

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< I admit Danny Lloyd was a much more effective actor. Too bad he never pursued more roles, but probably a much healthier choice for him >

Danny actually DID pursue more roles but with no success. Maybe others were less impressed with his performance than I was. I dont know.
Anyway, he dropped out of the acting filed at the age of 13.
Today he is a teacher. He doesn't regret anything. he actually thought it was a fun experience.
A side note; he really enjoyed riding the Hot wheels bike indoors. They promised to send it to him after the filming was done. They never sent it.
That was pretty crappy if you ask me.
It would be a nice collectable if it were around today.

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"I liked the fact that King kept the Topiary hedge animals to life in his miniseries."

That was the worst of it for me. The CGI was awful. It also completely missed the point of the novel. In the book, Jack doesn't actually see them move... they move closer and change posture whenever he looks away from them. Kind of like that game you played as a kid.

That's what made it completely creepy. Jack wasn't sure if it was happening for real or just his mind playing tricks on him. By explicitly showing this, the series took all the punch out of that scene. (There was a great Night Gallery? Twilight Zone? ep with Bill Bixby about a statue that creeps up to him only when the lights are out so that he doesn't ever see it move.)

Stand By Me... great movie yup. But you didn't remember The Shawshank Redemption?!

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Shawshank Redemption is probably the best in retrospect. Like many, we tend to forget the movies that are not horror related and that was the case here.
Stand By Me seemed like a piece of Steven Kings life, (Gordy being a writer) and of course much of it was fictional but the bonds of friendship makes it so memorable to me.

Today they would probably completely overdo the CGI of the topiary animals and it could well end up really stupid. This was a problem i had with the recent "IT" part 2.
"Just WISH he Pennywise monster down to a smaller size so we can defeat him.
Yah Right!

Thanks for reminding me of Shawshank.

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The character of Jack is different than the book. Nicholson's performance made sense for this movie.

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Wasn't miscasted.

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For me Nicholson was a mixed bag.

Right out of the blocks, he's creepy and off. You don't get any sense that he's much in love with his wife, or has much of a relationship with his son unlike the book. This is the point where you really needed an actor who could convey warmth and earn our sympathy. Unfortunately, for me, Nicholson's Hollywood reputation and persona were 'too big' for this part. You fully expect him to turn evil since he's almost already there.

As the 'crazy' Jack though, Nicholson nails it.

Compare that to say Bryan Cranston as Walter White in BB. Before BB, Cranston was known for comedic roles in Seinfeld and Malcolm in the Middle. When BB starts, we feel sorry for his situation... a beaten down high school chemistry teacher who discovers he'll die prematurely from cancer. As the series, progresses he morphs from this likable guy to a guy that chills us with his ruthlessness and evil acts, however noble his intentions.

That's the sort of actor that would have been better for The Shining, IMO.

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That's an interesting observation about how Bryan Cranston could have played both the suffering but nice Jack at the beginning and the evil Jack he morphs into as he becomes more possessed by the "ghosts". He certainly would have fared much better than Steven Weber in King's miniseries. But I have no problems with Kubrick's version of Jack. This man already has his problems when the movie starts. The international cut (not the American one) of The Shining doesn't have the crucial scene near the beginning involving Anne Jackson as a pediatrician. Wendy gives her crucial background information on Jack such as his drinking problem which led to his injuring Danny. Wendy tells her Jack hasn't touched any alcohol in five months, yet later Jack confesses to the ghostly Floyd the Bartender that the incident took place "three goddamned years ago" (when Danny would have been about two), thus indicating Jack has had an ongoing problem with his drinking over a period of years, and his wife probably threatened to leave him on multiple occasions only to be lured back by Jack's promises to change his ways. He's sort of a time bomb that could go off at any moment given the right provocation. One of the more unsettling scenes is the one between Jack and Danny in the family's lodgings. Jack looks like he wants to kill the child right then and there. Danny certainly doesn't look very comfortable in that scene and has probably witnessed his father going into unpredictable rages many times before. I like how Kubrick doesn't go the easy route and portray Jack as a character whose problems are entirely related to alcohol but rather the alcoholism as a symptom of a larger madness just beneath the surface that could break at any time.

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