31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #14: The Shining (1980)

Posted: October 14, 2015 in Movie Review
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The Shining (1980)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers

Stanley Kubrick was an absolute genius behind the camera. Great actors and actresses will continue to come and go through the years, but I don’t think we’ll ever see a director in the caliber of a Stanley Kubrick ever again. I’m especially fond of the attention to detail he gives to an entire room in certain scenes, asking the viewer to pay attention to anything and everything in the shot. As much as Stephen King has meant to the world of literary horror, that’s how much Kubrick has meant to film… and then some! What’s even more astonishing about the man’s career is how very few movies he actually directed. From the best of them to the least effective of his efforts, every one is a masterpiece. “The Shining,” which many Stephen King purists have decried for straying from the original narrative, is as innovative and influential as any of them.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a former schoolteacher from Vermont now residing in Boulder, Colorado, who has accepted the position of caretaker at the Overlook Hotel up in the mountainous region of Sidewinder, Colorado. Jack, his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd) will spend the next eight months, from October to May, in a place where a previous caretaker once went mad and killed his family. What are the odds of something like that happening again? Besides, to Jack, this hotel seems like the perfect spot for him to get his creative juices flowing and start working on a new novel.

Before the family has even had a chance to move in, already several bad signs have presented themselves. It’s revealed that Jack has a history of alcohol abuse, but has been sober for five months after an incident at home where he accidentally injured Danny’s shoulder. This shows that Jack is a man who only requires that someone or something give just the right push to send him over the edge. Also, it is revealed that Danny himself is not what one would call a “normal” boy. He has an imaginary friend named Tony and experiences the occasional visions. The violent images that have recently popped into his head are graphic and disturbing, so much so that, during the family’s initial tour of the hotel before moving in, he asks the head chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) if there’s anything he should be afraid of there. Dick demonstrates that he has a gift similar to Danny’s, and can speak to him without even opening his mouth, a gift which Dick calls “shining.” He says that objects, just the same as people, sometimes have the ability to shine. The hotel is one such example.

Time passes on, and we see things are not running quite so smoothly. Colorado is in the middle of an unprecedented season of snow. The phone lines are down, and will be for the foreseeable future, leaving a radio as the only source of communication with the outside world. Inside, Jack is becoming increasingly unhinged, even experiencing a nightmare about killing both Wendy and Danny, whose own visions are becoming increasingly horrific. Occasionally, ghostly images appear to both father and son. The hotel, it seems, knows just the right buttons to push. With Danny, who earlier complained to his mother about having no other children his age to play with, often finds himself confronted by the image of twin girls, presumably the murdered daughters of the previous caretaker. In Jack’s case, he is relapsing into his past dependence upon alcohol. Despite the fact that it’s been made clear that all the booze on the premises had been removed for insurance purposes, Jack is able to go down to the Gold Room and order up as much Jack Daniels as he can throw back, courtesy of a bartender who also shouldn’t be there.

After an incident with a ghostly woman in Room 237, Danny reaches out with his powers to contact Dick, who is on the other side of the country in the warmth of Florida, prompting Dick to jump on a flight to Colorado. All of this makes the hotel very nervous. A ghost in the form of Mr. Grady, the previous caretaker, encourages Jack to put a stop to Wendy and Danny’s efforts to call for help by “correcting” (i.e. killing) them. When Wendy discovers that Jack’s manuscript he’s been working on all these months has consisted of nothing more than “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeated over and over, it becomes clear that Jack’s been out of his mind for longer than previously thought. A confrontation between the two leads to Wendy hitting Jack in the head with a baseball bat and locking him up inside the pantry with the dried goods. The ghost of Grady unlocks the door and Jack gives chase to his family, stopping only to murder Dick who has just arrived. Wendy gets control of Dick’s snowcat, while Danny strands his crazed father inside the hedge maze. Mother and son escape, leaving Jack to freeze to death. The film’s final image is of a 1921 photograph from a July 4th ball, which mysteriously includes Jack in the foreground.

“The Shining” has been analyzed and debated about for 35 years now, and will continue to be for a long time to come. I myself have seen it many times, and even I’m not certain about everything I’ve seen. However, one thing that does seem to have revealed itself is that Kubrick’s “The Shining” is all about mirror images. The times we see Jack talking to Lloyd, the bartender, a mirror is present behind Lloyd. Is Jack really talking to a ghost, or is he talking to himself? We hear about Charles Grady, the caretaker who killed his family, and are later introduced to “Delbert” Grady the ghost, which Jack recognizes as being the same person. Yet, they cannot be, can they? The same is true of the girls, reported to have been aged 8 and 10 when their father killed them, yet their “ghosts” appear to Danny as twins… or as mirror images of one another. The walls both in front and behind Dick in his Florida room each feature a portrait of a naked woman. Danny writes “REDRUM” on his parents’ bathroom door which, when seen through the bedroom mirror, reads “MURDER.”

There are several other examples one could cite, the most important one being the issue of the 1921 photo. Many equate this final image with Jack being absorbed by the hotel. We’re never shown this photo up close until then, so there’s no way to know if 1921 “Jack” was always in the photo, or if he was added only after 1980 Jack’s death. In keeping with the theme of mirrors, it seems more likely that 1921 “Jack” was always in the photo, and that the two Jacks are perhaps separate incarnations of one individual. The same, but different. Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Stephen King’s “The Shining” should be looked at much in the same way. Both are classics. Both feature the same cast of characters in the same setting facing the same set of circumstances. Yet there is enough to distinguish the two as separate entities. The same, but different.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Excellent review!! Especially loved that you talked about the mirror images throughout the film.
    I saw the movie before reading the book which was just ideal. That way, I appreciated them both
    and didn’t have any preconceptions about this classic Kubrick film.

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