The Shining Essay, Research Paper
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) initially received quite a bit of negative criticism. The film irritated many Stephen King fans (and King himself) because it differed so greatly from the novel. The Shining also disappointed many filmgoers who expected a conventional slasher film. After all, Kubrick said it would be “the scariest horror movie of all time.”1 Kubrick’s films, however, never fully conform to their respective genres; they transcend generic expectations. In the same way that 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is not just another outer-space sci-fi flick, The Shining is not a typical horror movie. The monsters in The Shining originate not from dark wooded areas, but from the recesses of the mysterious human mind-in broad daylight, at that. Perhaps Kubrick said The Shining is “the scariest horror movie of all time” not because it offers a bit of suspense, blood, and gore, but because it shines a light on the inherently evil nature of humankind on psychological and sociological levels.
After Kubrick bought the rights to Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining and hired novelist Diane Johnson to help write the screenplay, both Johnson and Kubrick read Freud’s essay on “The Uncanny” and Bruno Bettelheim’s book about fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment.2 Kubrick obviously wanted to surpass the intellectual depth of contemporary horror films such as The Exorcist and Omen. He said he was attracted to Stephen King’s novel because “there’s something inherently wrong with the human personality. There’s an evil side to it. One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious: we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly.” 2
In order to transfer his vision of the “dark side” to the screen, however, Kubrick had to substantially alter the story in King’s novel. With the help of Johnson, Kubrick threw out most of King’s ectoplasmic interventions-many ghosts, the demonic elevator, the deadly drainpipe, the swarming wasps, and the sinister hedge animals that come to life. Apparently Kubrick could not find special effects to animate the shrubbery in a satisfactory manner. 2
Kubrick also dispensed with virtually all of Jack Torrance’s troubled history and his gradual descent into insanity. Jessie Horsting, author of Stephen King at the Movies, said, ” I loathed The Shining when it first came out-as Stephen still does. And the principal reason is that in the film, you knew from the start that Jack was crazy. And that, to me, killed the suspense. It killed the entire subtext of the book. It ruined it, and I hated it.”3
Indeed, King has often complained about Kubrick’s film, saying its full title should be Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. In 1997, King got the chance to redeem his story as executive producer for Stephen King’s The Shining. The six-hour ABC miniseries contained King’s original ghouls and spooky shrubbery. Steven Weber (of Wings) and his oversized croquet mallet replaced the ax-wielding Jack Nicholson. Rebecca De Mornay played the sexy Wendy from the novel, as opposed to the mousy doormat played by Shelley Duvall in Kubrick’s version. And flashbacks revealed Jack’s shaky psychological history.
In order to get the rights to remake the movie, King had to sign an agreement with Kubrick prohibiting large-scale video release and any discussion of Kubrick’s film. “If I say anything about [Kubrick's movie], I’m in trouble,” said King. But actor Courtland Mead, 10, who played Danny Torrance in the miniseries, said, “[Kubrick's film] was cool, but Stephen King didn’t like it. He thought Jack Nicholson was way over-the-top.” 4
Like Adrian Lyne’s 1998 remake of Lolita, King’s remake of The Shining is more faithful to the novel. In both cases, however, Kubrick’s versions now rank higher with most critics-not necessarily because of what Kubrick left out of his films-but because of the depth he added to them. Even Jessie Horsting, who “loathed The Shining when it first came out,” admitted, “When I was able to divorce my expectations from what was on film there, I realized that it’s stylish, it is extremely well-photographed and well-thought out, and it has its own tension. It’s just not the tension I expected.” 3
Kubrick toys with viewer expectations and creates a unique type of tension in The Shining by exploring the inherently “evil side” of the human personality and extending the doppleganger motif of German Schauerfilme. We first encounter Danny’s “shining”-his psychic ability to see the dark side of the mind-when he asks Tony about the Overlook Hotel as he stands in front of a mirror, thereby presenting two images: one representing Danny, and one representing Tony, a personification of the psychic part of Danny’s psyche. We also witness the emergence of Jack’s evil side through a mirror, as he wakes up a month after his move into the hotel. Only after the camera shifts when his wife enters the room do we realize that we have been looking at a mirror image of Jack. The same mirror later reveals that the mirror image of Danny’s scrawled “REDRUM” is “MURDER.”
Dualistic imagery, mirrors, and mazes abound in The Shining as it delves into the unconscious mind. The main purpose of one character, Bill Watson, seems to be to complete dualistic compositions during the interview and closing day. Watson silently sits across from Jack during the interview and represents Jack’s other self, repressed for the time being. But Jack ultimately loses his mind and becomes that other self. In the end, his sanity exists only in the photograph from July 4, 1921. The doubling motif also applies to the eerie Grady sisters, the temptress/hag in Room 237, Delbert and Charles Grady, and countless other components of the film.
Mazes also play a key role in The Shining. The final chase scene takes place in the hedge maze behind the hotel. A model of the hedge maze sits inside the hotel and provides the medium for Jack’s first shining: when he overlooks as images of Wendy and Danny walk around in the maze. The Overlook Hotel is also a maze with its endless rooms and hallways, as shown by Danny’s tricycle travels photographed with the new Steadicam. Kubrick hired Garret Brown, inventor of the Steadicam, to operate the Steadicam during these shots, which are exhilarating not only because of their technical innovation, but also because they prompt the viewer to anticipate horror around every corner.
The dualistic imagery, mirrors, and mazes all represent the schizophrenic nature of the human personality. Inside the mind of every loving father and husband there looms a murderous monster created by a society of repression. The Overlook Hotel draws out Jack’s monster, and he devolves to a state of primal anger, grunting like an ape-man by the end of the film. Jack’s inadequacies as a careerist and family man create much of this anger. As his evil side emerges, Jack also becomes more abusive and sexist. He refers to his wife as the “old sperm bank,” and at one point he says to her, “You’ve been *censored*ing up my whole life!” As Jack loses himself in his imaginary world of the past, Wendy and Danny grow closer together. In one scene, Wendy and Danny frolic outside in the snow while Jack leers at them from inside the hotel, looking more like an evil ape-man from 2001 than an ex-teacher and writer. The family tension increases when Wendy accuses Jack of hurting Danny. Jack seethes with violent anger as he tells Lloyd: “I wouldn’t touch one hair on his God damn little head. I love the little son of a bitch!” Even though Delbert Grady convinces Jack to “correct” Danny and Wendy by insulting his fragile manhood, the oedipal theme is fully realized when the son escapes with the mother and leaves the frozen father behind.
In The Shining, Kubrick not only comments on domestic violence and child abuse in contemporary America, but he also critiques the society that leads to such problems. David Cook offers a Marxist view of The Shining in which the film serves as a metaphor for a society based on exploitation.2 During the hypocritical job interview, Jack says his family “will love” being locked up in the snow. Later Jack becomes obsessed with his “work”-not the maintenance of the hotel, because Wendy takes care of that-but his interaction with the Overlook’s past through the scrapbook and realistic ghosts such as the bartender Lloyd. Jack yells about his responsibilities to his “employers,” who are apparently “all the best people”-the ghosts of the hotel. As a puppet for his enigmatic employers, he neglects his family and his writing as he types only one sentence-”All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”-which symbolizes his futile yet infinite attachment to meaningless work. Thus, the Overlook Hotel acts as an intensified version of society that allows the violence of our economic system to reveal itself through Jack’s insanity.
Kubrick dealt with similar economic themes in Spartacus and Barry Lyndon as well. In fact, the novel Spartacus equates capitalism with cannibalism, and this same analogy reappears in The Shining. Early in the film, Jack explains to Danny that the Donner Party “had to resort to cannibalism in order to stay alive.” Danny asks, “You mean they ate each other?” And Jack calmly answers in a matter-of-fact tone: “They had to-in order to survive.”
In neglecting his family and writing-procreation and creation, or Eros-Jack develops a misguided desire for immortality. Thomas Nelson wrote: “Jack Torrance forgets that in a contingent universe an obsession with timelessness becomes tantamount to a love affair with death.” 5 Furthermore, Kubrick admitted that The Shining intrigued him because “ghost stories appeal to our craving for immortality.”2 As an artist himself, perhaps Kubrick uses Jack as an example of what happens when people seek meaning in alcohol and mysticism rather than art and creation. Jack’s obsession leads him toward an inevitable meeting with Joe Black, and even time becomes distorted along the way. The screen titles move from months to days to hours as Jack nears the moment when his mad desire for the immortality of death-a kind of Freudian Thanatos goaded by his society-causes him to lose all sanity.
The Shining also comments on racism in United States, with the Overlook Hotel as a symbol for America. During the interview, an American flag and a miniature ax sit on Stuart Ullman’s desk. In addition, red, white, and blue reappear throughout the film as the dominant color scheme for wardrobe. Ullman tells Wendy (in a line of dialogue that does not appear in the novel): “This 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.” Indian artwork appears throughout the film in wall hangings, floor designs, carpets, and architectural details. Jack, representing the weak, exploitative American male, shows blatant disregard for Native American motifs as he hurls a tennis ball at them. Bill Blakemore of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “The Shining is explicitly about America’s general inability to admit to the gravity of the genocide of the Indians-or, more specifically, its ability to ‘overlook’ that genocide.” 6 America wants to forget about its brutality toward the Indians, just as Jack wants to forget about his brutality toward his son.
Danny’s first and most frequent shining shows a river of blood gush from an elevator shaft framed by Indian artwork, yet the river makes no noise; it is a mute nightmare. The blood represents the bloody foundation upon which the United States was built-a foundation that is now ignored and overlooked. The United States broke away from Great Britain in order to escape its empiricism and values, only to become more violent and headstrong than its ancestor, just as Jack follows his British predecessor Grady in a repeating cycle of violence. In a striking revelation of this theme, the European poster for The Shining read: “The wave of terror which swept across America is here.” The poster did not refer to the movie’s effect on American audiences because the film had not yet been released; rather, the “wave of terror which swept across America” referred to the society of the white man.
The Shining comments on racism towards African Americans as well as Native Americans. Kubrick links Chef Hallorann (the “nigger cook”) with Native Americans early in the film when Hallorann shows Wendy and Danny around the hotel. In one shot, Hallorann stands in profile at the same angle as the Indian Chief on a Calumet baking powder can that prominently sits on the shelf behind him. (The Calumet can later reappears when Jack agrees to kill his family while he is locked up in the food storage.) Hallorann is the only important minority character in the film-and also the only character who is murdered. After Jack buries an ax deep within his chest, Hallorann falls to the floor in the center of a Native American design. Hallorann’s death is an interesting departure from King’s novel, in which Hallorann survives and becomes Danny’s psychic mentor.
As with past adaptations, Kubrick used the general setting and some elements of King’s novel, while drastically altering, ignoring, or adding other elements to create a film that reflects a pervasive problem which Kubrick has explored at least since Paths of Glory (1957): the inhumanity of man against man. The Shining opens to the sounds of “Dies Irae” (”Day of Wrath”), part of the major funeral mass of the European Roman Catholic Church. 6 And, in a way, The Shining is a funeral-for all those who have been massacred by meaningless violence from their fellow humans.
In a final stroke of brilliance, Kubrick ends the film with a shot evocative of Michael Snow’s Wavelength1 which moves down a corridor and into a photograph, after which a dissolve provides still closer scrutiny of the photograph. The photograph shows a grinning Jack at the Overlook Hotel July 4th Ball in 1921. The date links America’s independence with senseless violence, and the image of Jack suggests that his sanity now exists only in the past, while his “dark side” remains frozen in the snow-covered maze outside. In addition, as the film ends, Kubrick uses the sound of applause to blend the contemporary movie audience with the 1920s audience. The 1920s audience then begins to chatter as filmgoers would when exiting the theater. The contemporary audience members, therefore, usually overlook this soundtrack-just as they overlook Native American genocide and other instances of humanity’s violence against humanity. Thus, even through its final credit sequence, The Shining attempts to disrupt the complacency and security of the audience-to hold up a mirror to viewers to show them that they were and are the guests at the Overlook Ball. For this reason, perhaps, Kubrick said The Shining is “the scariest horror movie of all time.”