The Shining is a Kubrik classic. Out there with Full Metal Jacket and Space Odyssey, it captures the true horror of The Overlook Hotel and the monsters within.
What I really liked (and still like) about Stephen King’s books is that the horror is not only supernatural but also coming from the slow degeneration of the human mind into madness. The monster holding the axe is human. He’s a former teacher. He has a child and a wife. He writes for a living.
At the same time – he is abusive with his wife and kid, shouts, drinks, threatens head bashing, suffers from intense schizophrenia and shows a violent and murderous streak.
Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in.
All people are capable of murder given the right set of circumstances and the isolation o the hotel combined with his increasing feelings of frustration for not being able to overcome his writer’s block – these things turn Jack into a murderer.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”
So what did I notice?
I was expecting to see them around every corner and when they finally showed up, I still gave an involuntary gasp. The twins that get murdered in Overlook Hotel have a creepiness factor of 100% even though they are pretty benign. “Come play with us. For ever and ever and ever and ever”
The Indian Burial Ground.
Right at the beginning of the movie, when the Torrence family moves in, Mr. Ullman mentions that the hotel had been built on an ancient Indian burial ground.
“The site is supposed to be located on an Indian burial ground, and I believe they actually had to repel a few Indian attacks as they were building it.
There is an entire sub-genre of horror movie based on the premise of the desecration of an Indian burial ground. Think Pet Semetary, Amityville Horror and even The Darkness. Why is it so scary? Why is there an association with a curse being laid on the people who would inhabit that land?
The horror appears to stem from having naive nuclear family units who overstep their bounds by moving into either a former reservation land, or burial ground. They end up incurring the wrath of the vengeful spirits or dormant curse laid down by a people who were themselves laid down by the United States government. There’s an attempt at cultural restitution there, by way of making white American guilt into a literal horror.
The Overlook hotel has tons of iconic “ethnic” decorations including woven Indian rugs and wildlife paintings. Question is: did Mr. Ullman know that the hotel is haunted? What will he do now that the current caretaker is dead? Advertise again? Nobody will come.
Does he know that the place needs to let its demons run free every once in a while, and that the caretaker will go crazy and murder his family? Is it a kind of blood sacrifice to appease the ancient evils that roam the place, so they can have a happy and prosperous business season each year? The Overlook’s mythology is simply kept too vague for us to be sure, but it’s very possible that Ullman isn’t telling Jack everything he really knows about the place.
The idea to put hidden Indians in his movie came directly from Stephen King’s novel. If you didn’t read it you’ve probably never seen this line, “Can you see the Indians in this picture?” Kubrik took Steven King’s seemingly insignificant sentence and makes you “strain and squint” so “you could see some of them”.
The Study of Isolation
There has been a great many books written about the effects of isolation (not solitude) can have on the human mind. We are social creatures and unless we are surrounded by a group of people what would satisfy our Social tab, we are looking at what was named as “Cabin Fever” in the movie.
What I was surprised off, Wendy and Danny adapted to the secluded lifestyle immediately and they planned different things to do on a daily basis. It’s only Jack that got the mad streak going.
The Donner Party
Right at the start, Wendy brings up the Donner Party and Jack lovingly talks about cannibalism with Danny on their trip to the hotel. In April 1846, a group of pioneers who came to be known as the Donner-Reed Party departed Springfield, Illinois, headed for the Mexican province of Alta California. After becoming snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the border between Nevada and California, the party soon ran out of food and ultimately resorted to feeding off the flesh of their dead companions and family members in order to survive. It’s this aspect of the Donner Party story that makes it so grotesquely fascinating, and one of the most haunting to come out of the settlement of the American West.
We all know Danny can “shine”. And that the house wants him because he can “shine” so brightly.
Some places are like people: some shine and some don’t.
He can see spirits that have passed away (the twins and the lady in the bathtub) and he can remote-hear what his parents are arguing about. He also seems to foster a second personality which “lives in his tummy” and “comes to talk from his mouth”. He’s either expressing his intuition or he’s schizophrenic.
When he gets attacked in room 237 by the drowned woman, his alter-ego comes out and he is nearly catatonic (probably a self-preservation mechanism)
We are told that his “imaginary” friend showed up a few months after he started kindergarden and it’s possibly related to the “accident” Danny had at the hands of his father. Jack drunkenly pulled his 4-year-old son and dislocated his shoulder. A trauatic event such as this, coupled with the fear that Jack will hurt his mother and eventually him, caused his second personality to surface.
There is a mirror in the Torrence bedroom. In some scenes we see Jack sleeping peacefully but it’s only in a mirror. When the camera zooms out, we see that Wendy is in the present / real life / anchored, while Jack is the one who’s in a separate realm. Danny’s second self comes from the same space as he murmurs “REDRUM” with increasing urgency. MURDER.
Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.
Kubrick’s story liberally tweaks the Stephen King novel it’s based on, the hedge maze being one of the biggest additions. The leafy labyrinth reminds one theorist of the Greek myth of the Minotaur, a creature that is part-man, part-bull living at the center of a massive cavelike maze. The hotel itself is eerily mazelike; when the video-game producers behind Duke Nukem 3-D set out build a game level mirroring the layout of the Overlook, they discovered the hotel had an impossible layout, with entryways appearing on opposing walls in different scenes, and rooms buried deep within the heart of the building whose windows look out onto magnificent mountains. To further the minotaur theory, playwright Juli Kearns, who has obsessively mapped the Overlook’s floor plan, points to repeated images of Jack Torrance looking oddly taurine, his forehead jutting and eyes rolling wildly, like a bull about to go berserk.
One of the best filmed scenes (in one continuous motion) was the furious cycling through the hotel. Danny (Lloyd, now aged 47) and looking like this:
Said he was promised the tricycle at the end of the filming schedule but he never got it.
The Abusive Husband
Wendy, listen. Let me out of here and I’ll forget the whole damn thing! It’ll be just like nothing ever happened. Wendy, baby, I think you hurt my head real bad. I’m dizzy, I need a doctor. Honey, don’t leave me here.
You would think that a man to utter these words has been through a great injustice and has seen great harm. When the truth is, Jack Torrence is a manipulative SOB. Acted marvellously by Jack Nicholson, eyes darting side to side as he meowls his pain. This is the same men who promised death and destruction to all a few moments ago.
Have you ever had a single moment’s thought about my responsibilities? Have you ever thought, for a single solitary moment about my responsibilities to my employers? Has it ever occurred to you that I have agreed to look after the Overlook Hotel until May the first. Does it matter to you at all that the owners have placed their complete confidence and ‘trust’ in me, and that I have signed a letter of agreement, a ‘contract,’ in which I have accepted that responsibility? Do you have the slightest idea what a ‘moral and ethical principal’ is? Do you? Has it ever occurred to you what would happen to my future, if I were to fail to live up to my responsibilities? Has it ever occurred to you? Has it?
Jack is sinking under his mental health burden. He is struggling with writer’s block and any author can tell you that once you’re in that zone, nothing can help. You turn mean. Every interruption is an attempt to sabotage the creative flow. Every curious stare is a dagger – why haven’t they written anything? What are they doing all day? Playing ball? Jack was literally doing that instead of writing.
Jack Torrance: Wendy, let me explain something to you. Whenever you come in here and interrupt me, you’re breaking my concentration. You’re distracting me. And it will then take me time to get back to where I was. You understand?
There is only a little jump from frustration to outright murder and Jack manages to take the leap with the help of his trusted friend, booze.. Or in this case, imaginary booze.
I was really happy when Wendy decided to leave him. She would take her son and brace the storm all the way down to the ranger station with or without Jack. (I was hoping she wouldn’t even think about the with Jack option)
We are given no clues as to what Danny and Wendy will do now that they’re free of Jack’s clutches, or even if they truly do make it safely to civilization after vanishing into the night. We have no way of knowing what direction Wendy’s life will take from here, but Jack does indicate early in the film that she’s a “confirmed ghost story and horror film addict.” Now that Wendy has lived out her own horror film, perhaps she’d like to tell that story publicly?
In Danny’s case, the future is perhaps even more murky, because he’s just a boy unprepared to decide his own destiny. Having to trap his own father in a freezing hedge maze to escape murder, and then flee a haunted hotel where he’d just seen so many terrible things, is obviously going to have a massive impact on him. If you want to go with Stephen King’s version of events, Danny’s future is at least partially written. He suffers from alcoholism, like his father, and ultimately gets a job at a hospital where he’s able to help guide the dying into the next realm. He once again encounters someone who can shine, this time a young girl, and fights to save her from a group of psychic vampires who roam the United States.
This is all covered in King’s novel Doctor Sleep, the official sequel to The Shining
The most debated element of The Shining’s ending is the revelation in the final shot that Jack is present in a photo of the Overlook’s Fourth of July party in 1921. This could mean a few things. It could mean that Jack has, after communing with the Overlook’s many spirits, simply been absorbed in death into its history, and now walks the haunted world where all eras seem to be happening at once. It could also mean that Jack was fulfilling some kind of twisted destiny by being at the Overlook, and the hotel is reflecting that.
I’m just wondering if Grady, the previous caretaker, was in the hotel black-and-white photos or not after he killed his family?