Halloween Horror Fest 2016: Honoring Jack Nicholson’s performance

When the subject of Jack Nicholson’s performance in “The Shining,” many think of the iconic scene of his character saying “Here’s Johnny.”

While it’s an iconic moment, though, it’s just a single part in one of the most thrilling pieces of acting to put to screen.

Similar to how I gave credit to Alfred Hitchcock when I did the write-up on Anthony Perkins’ performance in “Psycho,” I also have to give recognition to Director Stanley Kubrick.

As a whole, “The Shining” has an eerie, creepy atmosphere that was built through Kubrick’s direction and screenplay. Because of his work, “The Shining” is remembered as one of the more mind bending and frightening movies out there. However, like with “Psycho,” the acting lends a lot to the picture, too.

Enter Jack Nicholson’s significant performance which turned out to be one of his most intense depictions in his long career. In my view, Nicholson’s work in the film is so exceptional not just because it shows the character’s descent into madness, but also because there was already some tension before the hotel starts to really take effect.

Early on in the film, we learn that the character Jack Torrance has both quit drinking and has also had some troubles in his family life. So, while we see Torrance try to put on his best appearance such as the scene where he’s being interviewed, an audience can already tell that there’s quite a bit of tension with the lead character.

As the movie goes on, the more the hotel has a grip over Torrance’s character, and this is clearly shown by Nicholson sort of ‘peels back layers’ in his performance in a way, making his portrayal display the deteriorating mental state.

A few key scenes point to this, such as when Torrance snaps at his wife who interrupts his writing, to when he visits with the hotel’s ‘bartender’ and of course his reaction to when Wendy discovers what he’s been typing the whole time.

What helps the progression of Torrance’s insanity, though, was that there are still moments where he seems somewhat sympathetic. For example, the scene where he has a nightmare and even the aforementioned moment at the bar where Torrance shows that he has some regrets and talks about how he cares for his son.

This steady pacing in the movie, thanks to Kubrick, combined with Nicholson portraying on screen, make for a completely suspenseful experience.

This of course shifts from suspenseful to terrifying, though, in the movie’s final act when Torrance’s madness, assisted by the spirits of the hotel goes into overdrive.

This is where it comes full circle and we come back to the “Here’s Johnny” line. Looking back to that scene, it shows how far Torrance’s character has come since being first introduced. And wow, does Nicholson pull off the man who’s completely out of his mind.

He’s aggressive, relentless and most frighteningly, has no regard for any reasoning from his family. These final moments of Torrance on screen make for a solid overall performance from Nicholson that won’t soon be forgotten.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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