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The Working Environment of “The Shining”

“The Shining” remains a legendary horror movie with incredible performances by Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson. What people don’t know is the extreme levels of abuse that occurred on set. TW: Alcoholism and abuse

“Redrum! Redrum! Redrum!” One of the most famous quotes from arguably the most legendary horror movie. 

While Stanley Kubrick was a legendary, Academy Award-winning director who is idolized amongst film buffs, he was an extreme perfectionist who was willing to do anything for his desired outcome. Kubrick’s obsession with perfection created extreme amounts of abuse. 

“The Shining” is a horror movie about a dysfunctional family. In the story, Jack Torrance, portrayed by Jack Nicholson, is a recovering alcoholic who has been hired as a carekeeper for the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Jack slowly starts to deteriorate and behave violently toward his wife Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall, and his son Danny, portrayed by Danny Lloyd.

Wendy then deals with the outcome of everything falling apart.

Shelley Duvall is an American actress who co-starred in “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson. Kubrick had just released his film “Barry Lyndon,” which did not succeed at the box office, making him feel like he had to play along with the audience’s wants. This is where “The Shining” began. 

To produce the incredible performance that Duvall gave, Kubrick used very extreme and harsh techniques to get her there. Kubrick wouldn’t “print anything until at least the 35th take” for Duvall, meaning he wasted a lot of her acting. Duvall suffered severe emotional and physical exhaustion due to the role. She would have to run around with Lloyd in her arms while screaming and crying. She did this over and over again. Her job included this, and she agreed to it, but the techniques used by Kubrick weren’t a part of the deal. 

To give a taste of what Duvall experienced on the set of “The Shining,” one must examine the baseball bat scene. In the scene, Duvall’s character has a baseball bat, and her character is screaming and terrified by Jack. To get the result he wanted, Kubrick made Duvall’s film 127 takes in a row. She screamed, whined and sobbed repeatedly, to the point that she wasn’t acting anymore. Duvall forced herself to be in a constant state of panic daily to portray her character correctly to Kubrick’s taste. Her body experienced severe amounts of emotional and physical exhaustion.

While Duvall was experiencing large amounts of trauma due to her harsh work environment, Nicholson faced slight harm from his experience in “The Shining.” Once Kubrick found out Nicholson despised cheese sandwiches, Kubrick encouraged and demanded that he eat cheese sandwiches to drive him crazy. He was willing to do anything and everything to ensure he got the performances he wanted. Kubrick didn’t care if it would damage the actors in any way. 

To produce a performance, you shouldn’t be traumatized by it. So many actors choose method acting as their approach to getting into character. I see this as almost becoming the character and losing yourself. That’s not the point of acting. In my eyes, acting is to portray a character, not to become that character. A director and casting agent should hire someone who can play the character without being pushed to their physical and psychological limits. Duvall was able to execute this layered role, but could Kubrick have achieved the same performance without subjecting her to severe amounts of abuse and trauma? Yes, he could have, and the abuse is always unnecessary.

The part that fascinates me the most is how Duvall remained very fond of Kubrick. Duvall admitted that Kubrick was hurtful and cruel, but she thought he was warm and kind behind the scenes with her and Nicholson. Duvall felt that he was projecting the same abuse that he had faced in the past. In addition to lifelong trauma from the abuse on “The Shining” set, Stephen King, author of the book the movie was based on, hated the movie. The only thing that came out of the movie was that the audience enjoyed it. 

Kubrick was hard on Duvall to attempt to create a terrific performance and enforced the power dynamic of him being superior to a younger woman. Due to Kubrick’s misogynistic views, he regarded Duvall inappropriately with abusive tactics but Nicholson was less so, but he created some of Duvall’s and Nicholson’s best performances. This movie is iconic and includes Nicholson’s and Duvall’s most memorable performances. Kubrick shouldn’t have traumatized the actors for the outcome of his insane methods, for which barely anything was done. No one kept him accountable. His behavior isn’t justified because he created good performances. Stanley Kubrick has been in the wrong for many years and should not be constantly idolized. He abused many, yet his legacy is very positive. It’s unfair to Duvall that everyone disregards the harm he caused.

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About the Contributor
Luca Hinesman
Luca Hinesman, Journalist
Luca Hinesman is currently a Sophomore at Community High School and a believer in buying expensive coffees. When not in CET rehearsals or mock trial practices, you can find them reading books about revenge, catching up on homework, or hanging out with friends. Luca is currently in their first semester with The Communicator and is excited to contribute their ideas this year!

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