Yup – you read that right. I’m writing up The Shining [1980, directed by Stanley Kubrick]. This movie holds a very special place in my heart. I’m not a Kubrick fangirl. I would not even say that I’m a Kubrick fan. But I do think the man is a cinematic genius. Kubrick shows the depth and depravity of humanity, bouncing characters from their best to their worst and back, thereby humanizing monsters. For this post, I will not be discussing the book, or the documentary 237 in great detail. You can find it on Netflix and I recommend it for anyone who wants to fall down the conspiracy rabbit hole.
The Shining is a horror oddity like no other. Every detail is completely wrong, and also completely right. Kubrick is entirely specific. I really believe the viewer is meant to see every detail, every label, every piece of furniture. I’ll dig more into the oddities of the Overlook Hotel and this story, but first, some fun conspiracies from 237 you may not have heard:
It’s really about the slaughter of Native Americans
The Overlook is said to be placed on a burial ground, is filled with Native American decoration, and in the last chaotic moments of the film, we hear what sounds like tribal music and chanting. Do I think The Shining is about the slaughter of Native Americans? Not entirely – this film is about the brutal impulse, violence and horror we act upon our fellow men, and those who watch. Danny does say, “Keep American clean” at one point. 237 goes as far to suggest that the most recent groundskeeper, Bill Watson, the slight man who tours around the property with the family, is the “brown person” to Ullman’s ludicrously patriotic suit and desk décor. Y’all, that is called racism. Yes, Ullman is dressed like the US government and is talking about the history with the surrounding tribes, but as 237 tends to do, that theory is waaaay too granular.
It’s really about the Holocaust
See above. Fine, the symbols are there if you look for them, but this film is so specific that you could basically overlay anything you want on it and something would probably line up.
It’s really about how Stanley Kubrick directed the moon landing
This is by far the most insane. Also, who cares? It wouldn’t surprise me if it were true, but I don’t actually think it matters. Of all the deranged nonsense that happened during the Cold War with The Man, that would be the least offensive. Some funny notes:
- The bad hotel room is actually number 217 in the book. There are a ton of numerology theories surrounding Kubrick’s choice to change it to 237, and how it relates to the moon landing.
- Danny wears an Apollo 11 sweater before he is attacked in 237.
- Steven King hated the film adaptation. Kubrick took many digs at King, even down to the props he used. It’s suggested he made the film so he could tell the world (subliminally) that he directed the moon landing.
Ground Control to Major Tom
This movie might not be about space, but it is loaded with oddities. Let’s start with the Overlook Hotel itself: this building is impossible. I can’t capture every detail, but I’ll say that Kubrick was studying subliminal advertising when he made The Shining, so trust that every single detail is exactly where he wanted it – including the flaws. To begin, Ullman describes this hotel as somehow successful despite not being open in the winter for skiing. How is a hotel so popular when it’s in the middle of nowhere during the off-season? A careful eye reveals hallways that shouldn’t line up, windows are placed where they couldn’t exist, and those elevators. God, those elevators. The elevators move around a bit throughout the movie, and are sometimes placed where they couldn’t lead to anything. So they what, lead down into sacred burial ground? The elevators and front doors are colored a more intense black and red than anything else in the film. You can see how thick the paint is. They look fake, and they are meant to. Furniture moves locations or disappears, sometimes over the course of a conversation. It might not be something a viewer notices on first watch, but it unsettles the viewer regardless. Something about this is just not right.
Most of the music consists of orchestral swells and screeching stringed instruments, often paired with a heartbeat sound. The next time you watch, pay attention to how uncomfortable you are. Try muting the tv. See the difference?
The film is circular in nature – Dick shows Wendy the walk-in pantry where she will lock Jack towards the end of the film, the grand lobby where Jack will threaten her, and the hotel tour ends with Jack and Wendy in their bathroom, where Jack will chop through the door later on. He says the place is “homey” as the shot fades out. That’s another awesome detail: the fades between shots are also a bit of subliminal working. Furniture and props change Jack’s face during the transition. Sometimes he looks like a king, other times, he has horns. Sometimes Jack is bigger than the scene he is fading into, like a giant overlooking the Overlook.
Some other weird things:
- Ullman says the creepy twin girls who are Grady’s murdered daughters are supposed to be 8 and 10, and not twins. So are they twins or not?
- Kubrick uses brutally bright lights to emphasize his points. Ullman’s office has an impossible window that is crazy bright. The bar Jack drinks at has a strip of light where he rests his glass. When Jack threatens Wendy in the lobby, the windows grow continually brighter and brighter, even though it’s blizzarding outside.
- The living quarters are painted a gross rosy color. It’s sarcastic. Nothing is rosy here.
- The tv Danny is watching doesn’t have a chord.
Keep it in your pants, Jack
This movie is just as much about sexual repression as it is violence. Jack reads a Playgirl while waiting for his boss in the lobby. He then checks out the two young blonde girls walking past them in the hallway, in front of his wife and boss. There is a definite threat of violence to Danny, and there is an unspoken sexual violence towards Danny that’s not explicitly stated. What is explicitly stated are the carpet designs. Those are the most sexually graphic designs I’ve ever seen! They could be used as diagrams in elementary schools to explain the mechanics to children.
The Shining is much more about violence, in my mind. Before Jack starts swinging, violence is in every scene. We remember the Native Americans who came before the Overlook. The color red is visible in every scene – it’s a bright, intense red, and does not exist in any other hue. Wendy hears tragedy on the news while she makes dinner. The incident when Jack dislocated Danny’s shoulder hangs over the family. Jack has a constant glaring look on his face around Wendy and Danny. He really despises his family. He mocks Wendy overtly and in more subtle ways that we’re not sure she picks up on.
Jack slings a tennis ball as hard as he can at every surface of the Overlook like he’s trying to see what he can break, and is both annoyed and elated that he can’t break the hotel.
Jack sets up his “writer’s desk” in the dead center of the lobby, overlooking the staircase and all ways in and out of the room. He could have set up anywhere in the hotel. He could have picked a random hotel room and locked himself away while he worked! Which means he never intended to work. He just wanted to have a way to contain his family. He starts typing, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” before his mental breakdown. The word is “premeditated.”
I know Wendy is a victim here and I’m not victim blaming, but to say there weren’t any warning signs would be a lie. Who yells in their sleep but doesn’t wake up? Jack yells in his sleep, then he tells Wendy he dreamed he hacked the family up “into little bits.” Then, Danny wanders into the lobby sucking his thumb and has clearly been (sexually?) assaulted. And how does Wendy handle Jack’s breakdown? She sobs, smokes, and even goes to sleep after she locks Jack in the pantry. Also, that cuddle between Jack and Danny is creepy AF.
Danny has a touch of red around his eyes, like he doesn’t sleep much, or he cries a lot. He is probably what, 6 years old? This kid has suffered some trauma. He is emotionally stunted and a little off. He is waaay to old to be riding a big wheel.
While the family drives up to the Overlook, Jack describes the Donner Party to Danny – and even mentions cannibalism! Don’t be too shocked, Danny already knows what cannibalism is! HE’S 6. WHY DOES HE KNOW THAT.
I like his creepy description of Tony: “He’s the little boy who lives in my mouth.” I don’t think Tony is real. He is an animalistic persona Danny creates when he needs to go into survival mode. His visions are his own, but they scare him, so he says they come from Tony.
Oh, Wendy. Poor sweet, sad Wendy. I truly believe that we are meant to both sympathize with and also hate Wendy. She’s just so pathetic, and I think that’s intentional. An example: Wendy is running panicked through the Overlook with her knife looking for Danny. She runs into the lobby to see a silly scene of cobwebs covering skeletons. It’s like a Disney World Haunted Mansion type of scary. It isn’t scary, and I don’t think we’re supposed to find it scary, we’re supposed to find her pathetic. Her clothing choices are almost cartoonish in their strangeness and shape, and she acts completely oblivious to Jack’s abuse. She sits like a child, with her foot up on the chair or bed. Shelley Duvall nails this performance. She suffered nervous exhaustion during filming, so you know, true embodiment and all that.
The scene that defines Wendy’s character in the clearest way is the scene between her and Danny’s doctor. Wendy lights up a cigarette but doesn’t smoke it. She holds it next to her face while she slowly unfolds the story of Danny’s dislocated shoulder and Jack’s abuse and drinking. She doesn’t flick the ash. We watch inches of the cigarette smolder into ash, threatening to land on top of her.
Jack doesn’t actually do any work at the hotel. Wendy is doing everything. She checks the phones and radios, works in the boiler room, is basically constantly busy while Jack sleeps till noon and tinkers away in the lobby.
We are immediately unsettled by Jack. There’s something serious wrong with this guy. During his interview with Ullman, Ullman describes a brutal ax murder/suicide, and we see zero reaction on Jack’s face. We know in that moment that Jack has nefarious plans in mind. Ullman says the job is mostly “doing repairs so the elements can’t get a foot-hold.” NOPE. Jack had zero plans to repair his family.
He chews with his mouth open. He seethes. He is violently unhappy. He calls Wendy, his wife, the love of his life, “the ol’ sperm bank.” Why did Jack have pens on his “writer’s desk” when he was using a typewriter? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s like he knew he wanted to kill the family at the Overlook in isolation, but hadn’t worked out the details or how to plan it when he arrived.
I love the bar scene and the red bathroom scene. He speaks in a circular manner to Lloyd and Grady, which makes it clear that he is talking to himself:
Lloyd: How are things going, Mr. Torrance?
Jack Torrance: Things could be better, Lloyd. Things could be a whole lot better.
October is almost here! I’m coming up with my list of must-watch movies for next month. Let me know if you have any suggestions. I might just write it up! Take care kiddos, and don’t run while carrying an ax.