“Remember what Mr. Halloran said…”

This is probably my favourite moment in a film full of unforgettable, classic scenes. Little Danny has just encountered the Grady girls for the second time, and seen the horrifying evidence of their fate. We cut to the rear view of his tricycle in the hallway, now empty and bloodless once more, and then back to his face. His voice quavers. “Tony… I’m scared…” (More so than in any other scene in the film, Danny is acting as a sort of audience surrogate and spokespiece. We’re scared too, kid.) And then “Tony” responds:

It’s just like pictures in a book, Danny. It isn’t real.

I love the idea of the Overlook Hotel apparitions being comparable to “pictures in a book” – or, to take the analogy to an even more self-referential level, to frames in a film. One of the great things about The Shining is how ambiguous the film is about whether the eerie goings on are inherent to the house in how it has retained shadows and echoes of its disturbing past, or whether it’s primarily in the heads of the tense and isolated Torrance family. But what is quite clear is that the two girls, the blood in the elevator, the inhabitant of room 237, etc. are just harkening back to past traumas (whether literally, in the case of the Gradys, or more metaphorically). They’re only images, and in a physical sense, they’re harmless.

And yet we don’t cut to the “Monday” title card right after Tony speaks. “It isn’t real”. But the look on that Danny gives the camera for the next three seconds is anything but reassured: He understands the nature of what he’s seen, but on some instinctual level, this five-year-old child also knows that even images, thoughts, and memories have deep implications and great power. What he’s seen may not be real, but his fear certainly is. Very few of Kubrick’s decisions, whether visual or editorial, are random or without significance. These three seconds serve to show us how Danny feels, but they also provide the scene with its deepest meaning. Danny’s expression completes the idea of which Tony’s line was only the first half.

I’m reminded of a line from another Kubrick film, courtesy of Anthony Burgess. In A Clockwork Orange, while Alex undergoes the Ludovico technique, Malcolm McDowell’s calm, literary voiceover tells us that “it’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.” And albeit with a slightly different meaning, David Cronenberg said something similar in Videodrome: “Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.”

A film does not tell the factual truth. A film does not depict events in the way we physically experience them. In these respects, a film is not “real”. The Shining is a work of fiction. But, like all the greatest stories and works of art in any medium, The Shining frightens us, intrigues us, engages us, and moves us. If fictional, “unreal” things have no relavence and  cannot affect us, than why tell stories at all?

Through this line and Danny’s reaction to it, Stanley Kubrick is acknowledging the artifice of fiction while simultaneously demonstrating its power. It is a beautiful little piece of self-reflexive commentry on what the audience experiences when we watch a film like this one. And on a very basic level, what Kubrick is communicating so simply and concisely is the idea behind the functionality and purpose of not only horror cinema, but of all art.

A very appropriate response.

a few closing notes, something I’ll probably start including at the end of my shorter essays: 

– I just love Danny Torrance so much. He’s such a sweet, tragic, unsettling character. And Danny Lloyd’s focused, intense, natural performance is even more impressive when you take into account that he didn’t really know what was going on. He didn’t even know he had made a horror film for a good ten years after production. My interest in the children of cinema isn’t so much a soft spot as it is a very intense, specific focus – I know that I want to work with kid as a filmmaker. Danny is one of my favourite examples of a compelling character created by a young actor who was still sheltered from the more disturbing aspects of the story he was helping to tell.

– A recent child performance that brought Danny Lloyd to mind is Pierce Gagnon in Rian Johnson’s Looper. (Which you should all see if you haven’t, by the way, because it’s awesome.) As Cid, Pierce had a similar intense, focused, emotive presence. There aren’t that many characters so young who are so convincingly eerie yet so genuinely unaffected and childlike.  I really hope Gagnon continues acting, unlike Lloyd, because I want to see kids like him (and adults too, for that matter!) in the movies. Plus, doesn’t the 3′ 10″ height on his IMDB profile just melt your heart? 

– I was prompted to write this post because I’m going to a 35mm screening of The Shining tomorrow night. Being near a rep cinema at the end of October is a wonderful thing. It’s my very first time seeing a Stanley Kubrick film in its natural, intended environment (hey, I was born in 1995!). Needless to say, I am SO excited.

– If you, like me, find detailed, thoughtful, scholarly deconstruction of The Shining to be the most fascinating thing EVER, you should check out Rob Ager’s 21-chapter analysis. I stumbled upon it by accident a while ago and devoured it in one night. I don’t neccessarily buy every single one of his interpretations – or rather, I don’t think his interpretations are the only valid reading of the film – but they’re all very logically,  convincingly presented. (He does not bring up the infamous moon landing conspiracy, as far as I recall!) And many of his observations and deductions made me look at the film with an even deeper understanding and appreciation for what Kubrick and his team created.


TIFF 2012

The Toronto International Film Festival began yesterday. For the next week and a half, I have to endure the knowledge that almost all of my favorite filmmakers and actors and almost all of the most exciting new movies are just a six-hour drive and several thousand dollars in exclusive festival passes and screening tickets away… just out of reach enough to be truly frustrating. But rather than focus on how much I wish I was in Toronto right now, instead, I’m focusing on the positives – that this festival confirms the existence and close proximity of a lot of fantastic film projects that have hitherto only existed for me in the form of brief press releases and the occasional set photo. And so I’m going to present to all of you the 15 films screening at TIFF that I’m looking forward to seeing. Out of this year’s lineup, these are the features that most intrigue, entrance, and excite me.

Antiviral, dir. Brandon Cronenberg

I love good dystopic premises, especially when they’re daring and timely and cynical. This film is about a future in which the public’s obsession with celebrity is so out-of-control that there’s a whole industry that injects clients with diseased matter harvested from the famous to create a “biological communion”. DUDE. It’s also the debut film from Brandon Cronenberg, and while it’s very clear that he shares his father’s fondness for gruesome satire, I’m very interested to see if he has his own distinct talents and voice as a filmmaker.

Byzantium, dir. Neil Jordan

Vampire films can go in any number of possible directions. Serious and artful, serious and deriviative, ridiculous and clever, ridiculous and dull, etc. My interest in this project is mostly due to Saoirse Ronan’s involvement, since I absolutely love her acting. The mother-daughter dynamic also sounds quite promising. Even if it’s more The Lost Boys than Let the Right One In, I hope it ends up being an engaging combination of elements. (Side note: Twilight notwithstanding, there is clearly still hope for the vampire sub-genre, since Jim Jarmusch is making a film within it…)

Amour, dir. Michael Haneke

This film made a huge impression at Cannes, and while I admit the story of an elderly couple contemplating mortality isn’t neccessarily the most relavent to my 17-year-old experience, I’m interested to see it. Haneke is a very talented filmmaker and it’s exciting that he’s exploring his more humane and compassionate side.

Ginger and Rosa, dir. Sally Potter

1960’s British setting + exploration of young female friendship + Elle Fanning + personal stories and experiences as a reflection and representation of a greater cultural context = Talia is very, very motivated to give your movie a chance.

Stories We Tell‘s director Sarah Polley

Probably the most distinctly Canadian film on this list, as Sarah Polley’s first foray into the documentary involves her own family history. She’s an extremely talented young filmmaker with a sincere and thoughtful vision. This should be good.

Seven Psychopaths, dir. Martin McDonagh

Really awesome ensemble cast, very funny trailer. In Bruges was a sort of existential crime dramedy, a bizarre blend of dark comedy and introspective, brutal drama. It’s not clear whether the tone we’ll get with Martin McDonagh’s follow-up, but that’s part of what makes me anticipate it. The screenwriter element and the self-aware title promises a meta-level. And I’m not one with the willpower or cynicism to resist a film whose premise involves a spoiled Shih Tzu kidnapped by gangsters.

Argo, dir. Ben Affleck

Sure, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Ben Affleck’s previous movies. But this is about an elaborate, desperate scheme to use filmmaking to save lives during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. That is a fantastic premise. And based on reactions to the film so far, it’s going to be intense and suspenseful and satirical and something we really shouldn’t miss. And Bryan Cranston’s in this movie, guys. Bryan Cranston.

The Place Beyond the Pines, dir. Derek Cianfrance

I don’t know that much about this movie, other than it’s a crime drama with motorbikes, a young man self-justifying crime with good intentions, and… pine trees? I do know that director Derek Cianfrance works really well with Ryan Gosling. Their first film together was Blue Valentine, a doomed love story with a non-linear narrative construction and filled with lovely images, aching sincerity, and brutal emotional and physical honesty. I’m extremely eager to see what this guy can do with a different sort of story. Plus, how can you not love Gosling’s new look for the film? I want a pair of skull-and-crossbones pyjama pants to pair with a red leather jacket.

Smashed, dir. James Ponsoldt

The performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul look really great. Films about addiction and damaged relationships are never easy to watch, but then again, I’m not really the sort of viewer who lets that intimidate her…

Room 237, dir. Rodney Ascher

I’m not sure what I’m more excited to see: carefully constructed deductions about The Shining‘s subtext that I’m already familiar with and agree with fulheartedly, or bizarre conspiracy theories by obsessives who’ve put more time and thought into the details and possible correlations than even Stanley Kubrick ever did.

What Maisie Knew, dir. Scott McGehee

Julianne Moore is one of my favourite actresses. But what draws me most to this film is its premise, exploring a theme that’s extremely fascinating to me on both a narratological and personal level – young children, aware of more than they’re given credit for, observing and assessing the adult world they’re implicated in. It’s a modern adaptation of a Henry James novel with the same title, that I’m a little embarrassed I haven’t read yet. I need to get to a library.

Anna Karenina, dir. Joe Wright

I admit I haven’t read Tolstoy’s novel yet, either – it’s sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for a day when I’m ready to tackle something daunting. But I can’t think of too many modern directors who have such visual panache and a such a keen appreciation for the purely aesthetic as Joe Wright. I’d call his sensibilities as a filmmaker painterly, but his compositions aren’t static in their beauty, they’re full of life and soaring movement and yearning emotion. Atonement remains one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. It was great to see Wright go in a different direction with Hanna, and that violent pop-art fairytale is one of my absolute favourite films from last year. But his return to period pieces looks like it’ll be intoxicating.

Rebelle, dir. Kim Nguyen

I didn’t even know about this film until I saw the trailer at my local rep cinema, and it absolutely floored me. The cinematography looks stunning, the subject matter harrowing yet essential. The authenticity of Kim Nguyen’s approach (filming in the Congo, spending ten years collecting narratives from actual child soldiers), etc., as well as what I’ve seen and read about the film, leads me to hope that his story of this young girl forced into a horrific lifestyle is a personal, thoughtful account that couldn’t be farther away from the presumption and ulterior motives of “Kony 2012” faux-activism. I have a feeling that this film will be an incredibly, genuinely moving experience. The fact that this filmmaker is from Montreal is another personal motivator for me – really good Canadian cinema that makes an impact makes me proud.

Looper, dir. Rian Johnson

This is definitely the 2012 film that I’ve always been most excited for. I think Rian Johnson is an ingenious filmmaker, for a lot of reasons, particularly his ability to work within in the confines of a genre and tell stories that look and feel completely fresh, and his innate sense of the rhythm of image, sound and movement. He’s a very intelligent writer, too, and it’s hard to put my finger exactly on why the atmosphere and location of his films appeals to me so much, but I just adore their look. Brick is one of my favorite movies of all time, The Brothers Bloom was clever and fun and gets better upon ever re-watch. And now he’s making a time-travel movie! There are a few things, other than my love of the director and his style, that make this a tremendously exciting film. For one, it’s a story whose premise is dependent on future technological developments, but the majority of the action is set in the premise. This neatly avoids any Back the Future 2 goofiness, sure, but it also lends the film a roughness and realness (dare I say “grit”?) in a very organic way. Every time-travel movie needs a distinct high-concept premise, sure, but I’m beyond confident that the way this movie will explore its premise will be both thought-provoking and exciting, not gimmicky in the slightest. Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s probably my favorite young contemporary actor, for a lot of reasons, and while I maintain that his body of work already exhibits a huge versatility, this performance is going to be literally transformative. I’m so excited for this movie that I could go on for paragraphs, but I suppose I should save it all for when I’ve actually seen the film and have even more to say.

The Master, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Where do I even begin? It’s the new film from Paul Thomas Anderson (or PTA, as us film-lovers affectionally call him), and the very existance of a new film from the man who made Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood is cause for celebration in the streets, as far as I’m concerned. On paper, this film is about the founding of Scientology. But I don’t think that Anderson’s been so consistently, deliberately vague about the film’s historicity out of mere coyness. The establishment of a specific religious cult will form the setting and subtext, whereas what we might call subtext in another filmmmaker’s work will be the real focus of the film. I can’t wait to see him take that same sensation of aggressively odd atmosphere and inexplicable dread that made There Will Be Blood so brilliant and apply it to a tale of corruption and charisma and the power behind religion structures and the search for identity in a post-war world. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman both look hypnotic and terrifying. It’s going to be SO GOOD. And I might as well call it now – it will feature the most unbearably beautiful, precise, and masterful cinematography of any movie this year. The only thing that’s detracting from my thrilled and feverish anticipation is the sad fact that I won’t be able to see the film projected in 70mm in my city.

Same here, man. Same here.