Thursday, May 11, 2017

An Appreciation: Shelley Duvall in The Shining

Admit it: it's nice to have our opinions validated. Those moments are usually uplifting, even invigorating. Recently reading this precise, critical analysis of Shelley Duvall's performance in one of my favorite films, The Shining, was one such moment.

I've always found Duvall to be astonishingly good as Wendy Torrance in The ShiningShe breathes life into a thankless role, giving an absolutely heartbreaking performance as an abused spouse. In the annals of horror, few actors have expressed real, palpable terror any better than Duvall does in the chaotic final act, when tidal waves of blood gush from elevator doors, a man wearing a dog costume suddenly appears, and Jack is maniacally axing his way through the hotel towards her and Danny. That she claws her way out of that timidity and fear to be the hero of the story, fighting for her son's life with every last gasp, is all you need to know, really.

Yet over and over again, for decades, Duvall's been slagged off as "whiny" or "shrill" by one (male) critic and film nerd after another. Valid criticisms, because Wendy is indeed meek and intimidated by her psychologically (and possibly physically) abusive husband. Yet she's also holding it all together because that's what society tells women they must do: make a happy home for her son, keep him protected (from the world and his father), and, above all, don't make her partner upset. Wendy knows the game. She hates it, clearly; there are moments when Duvall gives a subtle tell, a certain look here, or overly fake pitch to her voice there, to reveal just how over it all Wendy really is.

Duvall's performance is one of the finest cinematic portrayals of a woman living in constant fear of a man she once loved, before the abuse started, which is something far too many women in the real world experience every single day.

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