Despite all the plaudits Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic receives, The Shining isn't scary. It has all the trappings of a horror movie, to be sure: foreboding music, ghostly characters, and good old-fashioned murder. Do not be fooled by this. A deeper look at the film reveals The Shining is a comedy and, in fact, fits right in with the dark tone of other Stanley Kubrick comedies.
In many ways, The Shining can be viewed as a parody of horror films. But that’s not the only thing that places the film on the robust list of comedies you thought were horror movies. There are portions of the film that are outright, laugh-out-loud funny. There is little doubt these sections were purposely played for laughs by Kubrick.
There's no shortage of theories about Stanley Kubrick movies and or interest surrounding the making of The Shining in particular. Take a look at the evidence, re-watch the movie, then decide for yourself.
Jack Torrance Is Clearly Crazy From the Start
There is never any doubt Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a maniac. He just barely holds in his insanity during his job interview at the beginning of the film. This did not go unnoticed by Stephen King, author of the novel on which the film is based.
Straight away, you can see the film is operating on the level of parody. Rather than being a film about what drives a man to such depths of insanity that he kills his family (something truly terrifying), it’s about a cartoonishly crazy person working himself up to finally kill his family (more funny than terrifying).
The Nonchalant Discussion of Cannibalism
When he drives his family to the Overlook Hotel at the start of the winter, Jack discusses the Donner Party and their cannibalistic habits with his wife and child. This is done in such an off-handed way it comes off as tongue-in-cheek. The scene doesn't elicit the chills you might expect in a scene foreshadowing doom. Instead, it leaves you feeling bewildered, unless you realize you're actually watching a comedy.
Jack Nicholson's Over-the-Top Perfomance
Jack Nicholson is one of cinema’s finest actors, and The Shining is right in the middle of his peak years. Yet, his raving performance would normally be considered wholly inappropriate for a movie like The Shining (especially when handled by Stanley Kubrick, who typically prefers stoic performances). The juxtaposition of Nicholson’s behavior and that of the calm ghosts makes it clear the over-the-top performance is no accident.
Nicholson's portrayal of Jack Torrance wouldn't be out of place in the oeuvre of comedians like Peter Sellers or even Chris Farley. You wouldn't have to change a single word of the script to fit the role for either of those actors. In fact, a rumor persists that Robin Williams was at one time in line for the lead role.
Jack Reads Playgirl In The Hotel Lobby
Jack has had a rough go of things in his professional life. At one point, he tells his wife, Wendy (Shelly Duvall), that a winter at the Overlook hotel is his big chance to make some money and finally have time to write. So then why is it that, on what is technically his first day of work, Jack is spotted reading Playgirl while waiting to meet with his employers? It’s a hard gag to see on first viewing, but it gets funnier with each watch. This guy is so dgaf it hurts.