The Soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining

5:42 PM

 By film editor, Ajay Ascano

Stanley Kubrick is a film director whose versatility of movie genres was incredible. He was the creative talent behind 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, and Full Metal Jacket. For this article, however, I will be mainly focusing on what I believe to be his magnum opus,

The Shining.

Specifically, I will be talking about what makes this movie so unsettling, and why I believe that this form of thriller and horror is one of the greatest. There may be a lot of listening and watching in this article! 

A Brief Overlook

The film is about writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd), as Jack takes up a new job at the Overlook Hotel. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when something comes over Jack, causing him to become strange and psychotic- inevitably causing him to hunt them around the facility. Of course, there’s more to the story in the sense of themes, theories, and psychic abilities, but we can save that for another time.

Scene Analysis

The intro to the film: a car riding through the mountains which contains the protagonists of the film, but- why is it so scary? The audience has something similar to an almost omnipotent third person view, the camera slowly waving naturally through the air as if we aren’t just the audience, but a character or force following these folks. As all of this happens, you don’t hear anything but the bellows of ambient and distant horns. They reach their arrival, and high-pitched chanting can be heard faintly. It makes you feel tension, but in a very calm and empty scene

In this particular scene, Wendy Torrance finds out that her husband Jack is delusional, having written the phrase,

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,”

over and over again on his typewriter, filling hundreds of pages with just the phrase. As she comes to this realization, the music gets more intense at the camera focuses on her, then the pages, and so on, as sharper violin strings become louder and mixed with deep rumbling. However, the camera switches point-of-view to an unseen person as they approach her from afar. While you feel anxious at the visuals, the music calms to near-silence. Wendy turns around as she hears, “How do you like it?” from an ominous Jack. She screams, as a slow chase ensues.

Closing thoughts

Now, why does this scare you? 

While there are definitely uses of the “normal louder music to scary scene” trope, Kubrick’s stylistic choice in music throughout the film is a different one in that the anxiety could build up even when nothing spooky is explicitly showing.

You see something happen, music is lower. Nothing is happening, the music rises. This inconsistency confuses you, making you uneasy.

The tension builds and builds, causing you to be on guard at all times.

Now that’s a way to scare the audience.

Thanks for reading.

Keep it classy...

...Ajay Ascano

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