by Thomas Allen Nelson
After Barry Lyndon, his least commercially successful but one of his most artistically satisfying films, Stanley Kubrick turned to a contemporary American horror novel by Stephen King. As interesting a potboiler in its own right as Thackeray’s obscure nineteenth-century picaresque adventure, King’s The Shining (1977) represented for Kubrick something more than just a ready commercial property for a filmmaker rebounding from a financial setback. What’s surprising is not his choice of the novel but the fact that he waited so long to make his first “horror” film. Here is how he described the popular mythology of the genre as well as its psychological and emotional appeal:
One of the things that horror stories can do is show us the archetypes of the unconscious; we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly. Also, ghost stories appeal to our craving for immortality. If you can be afraid of a ghost, then you have to believe that a ghost may exist. And if a ghost exists then oblivion might not be the end.
As early as Killer’s Kiss, through the intertwined characters of Davy Gordon (a paradigm of homogenized, repressed manhood) and Vincent Rapallo (the dark beast), a Kubrick film crudely embodied the horror genre’s most enduring device: the psychological allegory of the doppelgänger, alter ego, or double. In an excellent essay on the subject, Robin Wood describes the classic horror film formula as one where “normality is threatened by the Monster,” and the doppelgänger motif as one “where normality and the Monster are two aspects of the same person.” Throughout his career, however, Kubrick employed psychological doubling in ways that increasingly resembled the twists and ironies of a Nabokovian blend of play and metaphysics more than a locus classicus like Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His films repeatedly mix the grotesque and banal, the conventions of Gothic confessional morbidity (for instance, De Quincey’s The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater or Poe’s “William Wilson”) and the self-conscious involutions of modernist parody. Humbert reads the “divine Edgar” (Poe), confesses his libidinous yearnings for Lolita in a diary, and becomes ensnared in a dark fate disguised as the protean Quilty, who, like the Monster seen on a drive-in movie screen (played by Christopher Lee), slowly unwraps himself before his urbane creator/double. In Clockwork, Alex plays the “humble narrator” of a tale that forces the audience to accept his violent freedom as a chosen alternative to the monstrous creations of the State. And in Dr. Strangelove, normality itself becomes indistinguishable from Peter Sellers’s brilliant conception of Strangelove as mad scientist and resurrected monster, while 2001 develops a futuristic parable of mankind awakening from an evolutionary slumber to reclaim its destiny from the polite but murderous control of a monster/machine.
Like Buñuel, who satirically incorporated the iconography of horror into such films as The Exterminating Angel (1962) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Kubrick had a surrealist fascination for the dark archetypes of an unruly unconscious, where, to quote Robin Wood, “the Monster is normality’s shadow.” That nightmare journey through the forest of Fear and Desire and Davy Gordon’s battle in a mannequin factory with a relentless Shadow figure anticipate later doublings that locate the primitive in the formal disguises of civilization and, paradoxically, the traces of civilized evolution in the savage’s aggressive disorder. Lolita’s Humbert becomes less European and more sympathetic as he wanders through Quilty’s devious maze, just as Barry Lyndon shows a capacity for moral choice only after he falls from the graces of civility and faces Bullingdon’s ritual vengeance. Muffley’s imperturbable sanity merges with Strangelove’s madness, and both are nurtured by the same darkness, while in 2001 Bowman loses himself in an eighteenth-century memory room that encloses him within the decor of civilized aspiration and temporal reduction. Colonel Dax of Paths waits too long before he sees the Monster in the chateau’s splendor, while Alex, Clockwork’s primitive artist, both animates Alexander’s latent savagery and reverses a culture’s decline into the stasis of voyeurism and sublimation.
Such paradoxical complications rarely inform the more conventional pleasures of King’s novel, although an appreciation for its psychological and thematic logic does illuminate some of the more complex intentions of the film. Unlike the script written by Kubrick and American novelist Diane Johnson, King’s work does not locate its mystery or its ambiguity in the characterization of Jack Torrance. King’s omniscient style allows the reader to figuratively “shine” and rationalize practically every nuance of character, even though it never explains how or why Jack’s five-year-old son Danny acquired his precognitive/extrasensory powers, nor the sources of the haunted-house “shinings” at the Overlook Hotel. Danny’s powers and the shinings are merely two horror-fiction givens which support the conventional wisdom of Reason’s impotence before the mysterious workings of Mind and Nature. (This “more things in heaven and earth” idea is partly expressed in the epigraph of the novel, Goya’s “The sleep of reason breeds monsters.”) And even though Jack stubbornly resists both his and Danny’s unwelcome gift of “shining,” his steady descent into madness resembles a psychological case study as much as a journey into the heart of darkness. The novel associates Jack’s lapses into murderous rage with a pattern of father/son doubling, with his own father’s frustration and drunken failures, and with a latent wish to punish his wife and son for his inadequacies as a man and his incompetence as a writer/teacher. (Early in the book, for instance, we learn about jack’s violence against a former student and how he once broke Danny’s arm, while he barely controls a sadistic urge to hurt his wife, Wendy, during lovemaking.)
King enlarges and complicates this psychological drama through a symbolic structure that inventively mixes the pulpy cliche of Pop Culture Gothic horror (the novel’s primary analogues include Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and Don Siegel’s 1956 film version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers) with an implicit critique of the post-World War II American character. (Jack’s “shinings” in the novel return him to a masked ball at the Overlook on the night of August 29, 1945; in the film, it is a 1921 dream party.) In that context, Jack’s history becomes symptomatic of an American withdrawal from Cold War uncertainty into apocalyptic self-indulgence and a denial of the social/existential imperatives of conscience. The Overlook, like some impersonal and Kafkaesque corporate state, claims Jack’s soul and signs him to a lifetime contract as its caretaker and official biographer. He loses interest in the humane focus of his own writing (he comes to “loathe” the characters in his unfinished play) and in the intimate bonds of family. In the end, he becomes the alter ego of King himself, who was so fond of the characters in The Shining that he killed off only Jack Torrance and the Overlook’s spooks. As he explores the history of the Overlook in a scrapbook, not only does Jack become absorbed into its demonic past, but his madness resuscitates both its ghouls and his father’s legacy. Thematically, King suggests that this symbiotic link between hotel and man represents America’s secret longing for a timeless escape (like the revelers in Poe’s story), where the complex moral demands of the so-called nuclear family are abrogated by a mindless devotion to technocratic “work” (Jack’s obsession with “doing his job”) and by the lure of visceral pleasure. If nothing else, Stephen King’s The Shining reminds us that Hawthorne’s New England morality and Gothic sensibility can be translated into the fictional idiom of more than one American generation.
Central to the effect and fascination of King’s novel is the conflict between Family and Monster, between the norms that Jack’s moral education teaches him to revere and his urge to destroy those restraints and release a diseased libido. An implicit reference in both novel and film is those sudden outbursts of inexplicable violence on the placid landscapes of American family life, of husbands butchering loved ones and killing themselves, those real-life tales from the American Crypt. In King’s version, the Family—that bedrock of normality, continuity, order—is threatened from within by both the Father (creator/destroyer) and the Hotel (America’s recent past), while the son functions on an allegorical level as Redeemer rather than Antichrist. Danny’s ability to “shine” enables him to read thoughts (e.g., he dreads the word “divorce” whenever it appears in Wendy’s mind), to locate missing objects, and to “see” things from both the past and the future. Initially, King misleads the reader into believing that his character may be another Satanic Child, when in fact it is the Overlook which is possessed and which needs both the boy’s powers and Jack’s madness to revive a dormant evil. Since he does not always understand his visions, Danny creates a fifteen-year-old alter ego named “Tony” (in the book, Danny’s middle name is Anthony), who not only “tells” and “shows” him things but glimpses their meaning. Near the novel’s ending, when the integrity of the family confronts its greatest danger, Danny experiences a vision/dream in which he falls through a Poe-inspired ballroom clock into a nightmare world akin to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In that imaginary journey, Danny confronts in “Tony’s” face a composite of his and Jack’s visages. After Jack and the hotel are destroyed and evil is purged by an exploding boiler, the novel does not completely resolve this second father/son doubling. It quietly suggests that the father’s heritage survives in some hidden corridor of the son’s mind, even as a new family order forms around Hallorann (Overlook’s black cook), Wendy, and Danny.
As the above indicates, King’s novel provided Kubrick with a reasonably accessible group of characters and numerous opportunities for either conceptual/symbolic enlargement or alteration. The director of Dr. Strangelove, 2001, and A Clockwork Orange must have been particularly intrigued by a narrative tendency to subordinate conventional linear surfaces to a symbolic or dreamlike logic, one in which the rational dualities of normal/abnormal, sane/insane cohabit in the imaginative terrain of a modem Gothic fairy tale. Needless to say, Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) offers little evidence that he “believed” in such things as “shinings” and paranormal close encounters, but it does reveal a film aesthetic that continued to confound audience expectations at the very moment it appeared to fulfill them. For a start, Kubrick eliminated many of the supernatural episodes found in the novel, especially those that bordered on horror-film cliche and that —in an era before Computer Graphic Imaging (CGI)—would have been impossible, optically, to conform to his stylistic preferences. For the director of Dr. Strangelove, 2001, and A Clockwork Orange, the psychological archetypes common to the horror genre could be rendered on film only through a realist/surrealist style, which requires that the unconscious assume a palpable and empirical life. Besides the explosive ending, which King telegraphs from the beginning, Kubrick deleted these significant details from the novel: (1) an empty wasps’ nest that mysteriously revives and attacks Danny; (2) an animal topiary (rabbits, dogs, lions) that keeps moving and guards the entrance to the Overlook Hotel; (3) a fire hose that becomes a snake and threatens Danny; (4) an elevator that moves by itself and contains signs of the 1945 ball (a mask, confetti); (5) a roque court (roque is a form of croquet) from which Jack gets the short-handled mallet he uses as a murder weapon in the novel; and (6) a model playhouse/ replica of the Overlook Hotel in which Danny feels a malign presence.
Elsewhere, Kubrick and collaborator Diane Johnson altered both the impact and the meaning of several key episodes found in the novel. In the novel, Room 217 is where Danny first sees REDRUM (written on the bathroom mirror) and a bloated female corpse in the bathtub. In the film, room 217 has become 237, the locus of a psycho/ sexual event for Jack Torrance (who, in the novel, never sees the woman). The film retains most of Jack’s conversations with Lloyd, the ghostly bartender, as well as his dialogue with Delbert Grady, the hotel’s former caretaker, but places them, respectively, in an authentic Jazz Age mise-en-scene and a startling red bathroom. In both instances, the film enlarges and complicates the doubling patterns found in the novel. Instead of a masked ball, the film re-creates a formal party, which, it turns out, takes place at the Overlook on July 4, 1921, and which includes an old song (“Midnight with the Stars and You”) about romantic dreams and recollection. And in the film’s climax, Jack kills Hallorann with an ax (in the novel, the Overlook cook recovers from a roque-mallet attack), then later suffers a lonely, frozen death (rather than an explosive, infernal one) after Wendy and Danny escape in a snowcat.
But this is not to say that the film neglects all the expected trappings of horror fiction and horror filmmaking, although at times it uses them facetiously or buries them so deeply that they pass unnoticed. Jack (Jack Nicholson) tells hotel manager Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) that his wife is a “ghost story and horror film addict” after he listens to a foreshadowing story about one Charles Grady, the caretaker in 1970, who ran amok and killed his family with an ax before blowing his brains out with a shotgun. We learn from Ullman that the hotel’s season runs from May 15 to October 30 (a change from the novel), which means that the Torrances move in on Halloween. During her initial tour of the kitchen with Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), Wendy (Shelley Duvall) remarks that it is like a maze, and she later characterizes the fast-emptying hotel as “like a ghost ship.” On their way to the Overlook, the Torrances discuss the Donner party and cannibalism, a subject that Danny (Danny Lloyd) knows about from TV and that Jack characterizes as a necessary means of “survival.” During the closing-day tour, however, Hallorann shows Wendy that they will have more than enough provisions for the winter, which anticipates the film’s thematic concern for psychological/spiritual cannibalism and survival through Jack’s eventual descent into madness. In a scene in which Hallorann discusses “shining” with Danny, knives hanging from a kitchen rack become prominent only after the boy asks him if he is “scared” of the Overlook, which foreshadows both Wendy’s clutching one of the knives after she locks Jack in the pantry and her later slashing of his hand as he attempts to force his way into their bathroom with an ax. Not only the knife but suggestions of birds and birdlike menace recall a primary motif in another film about the American family and schizophrenia, Hitchcock’s Psycho. The opening camera movements swoop through the Rocky Mountains and pass over Jack’s yellow Volkswagen like birds of prey; strange bird sounds accompany several exterior transition shots of the Overlook; and shrieking music accentuates certain moments of terror. A model of a dark eagle with its wings spread in flight rests on a windowsill in Ullman’s office, and Jack wears a green sweatshirt adorned with a large black eagle (“Stovington Eagles”) in the scene where he eats breakfast in bed, discusses deja vu with Wendy (he feels that he’s been in the Overlook before), and playfully mocks her haunted house fears. Ullman passes on the apocryphal story that the hotel was constructed (1907-1909) on an old Indian burial ground, which misleads us into believing that the spirit dancers in the enormous imitation Navajo sand painting over the fireplace in the Colorado Lounge (the main room where Jack types his “book”) will come to life and haunt the Torrance family. Another foreshadowing occurs in a kitchen scene where Wendy prepares supper while watching a Denver television newscast about a convicted murderer being given a “life sentence” (an indirect allusion to Jack’s subsequent desire to join Overlook’s immortals), an “Aspen woman” who has disappeared during a “hunting trip with her husband,” and the progress of a snowstorm that will isolate both her and Danny duringjack’s animal-like transformation. When Jack and his ax move through the hotel and into the snow-covered hedge maze (appropriately, its hedges are thirteen feet high), his exaggerated limp and foot dragging (the result of a fall down the staircase) recall all those horror-film cripples and hunchbacks of the 1930s, just as Wendy’s vision of cobwebs and skeletons (including the humorous remains of Delbert Grady, standing with a tray in his hand and serving his “customers”) in the hotel’s “reception” area revives one of the horror genre’s hoariest devices.
In almost every respect, Kubrick’s The Shining challenges both an audience’s expectations and its conceptual understanding of narrative events in ways that King’s novel rarely does. In the early scenes, Kubrick develops Jack’s character from a deceptively “objective” point of view, except for that moment when Jack “shines” over a model in the reception area of the hedge maze and the camera (from Jack’s perspective) slowly zooms down on the tiny figures of Wendy and Danny arriving in the center of the “real” hedge maze outside. Before his first conversation with Lloyd the bartender (Joe Turkel), Jack’s interiority remains largely a mystery (in marked contrast to the novel’s method), as the film requires the audience to “shine” by interpreting his character through either Danny’s subjectivity or other visual details. Many clues are offered:
1. Through Danny’s imaginary friend “Tony” (a voice who lives in his mouth and hides in his stomach) and his “shinings”—the elevator of blood, the two Grady girls standing hand in hand and facing the camera, REDRUM—The Shining not only visualizes three images of horror but provides a symbolic conduit (visual and aural) into Jack’s unconscious mind as well as its demonic reincarnation within the collective unconscious of the Overlook Hotel.
2. The Grady sisters, who look like twins but are actually doubles (their ages of eight and ten are established in Jack’s interview with Ullman), link Jack to the caretaker (Charles Grady) who axed his family in 1970 (in one bloody “shining” Danny sees the girls’ bodies and the ax lying on the floor in one of the hotel’s corridors), while the elevator of blood first appears to Danny through a bathroom mirror in the Boulder apartment just after “Tony” tells him that Jack has accepted the Overlook job and is about to phone Wendy.
3. Subsequently, both the elevator/blood vision and REDRUM appear as “shinings” (through parallel editing) whenever Danny reacts in terror to a dramatic increase in Jack’s anger or madness (for instance, when Jack blows up at Wendy’s suggestion that they leave the hotel, and during the scene in which she holds a baseball bat and retreats from his threatening advances).
4. In the film, the hotel scrapbook—a critical and fully explained property in the novel—becomes not only a subtle narrative device but a significant visual motif. Jack, for instance, starts to write his “book” only after the scrapbook appears on the table next to his typewriter, and it is on prominent display in the foreground of a wide-angle shot when he becomes angry with Wendy for interrupting his work (“We’re going to make a new rule. When I’m in here, and you hear me typing, or whether you don’t hear me typing, or whatever the fuck you hear me doing in here, that means don’t come in”). In such a way does the film imply that his obsessive and lonely typing (he yanks the paper out of the carriage when she arrives), his bursts of violent temper, and his trancelike states are connected with his discovery and exploration of the Overlook’s secret past in the scrapbook.
5. The large brown scrapbook not only looks ancient but contains pasted newspaper clippings that assume the shape of a maze’s internal design.
6. Later, in the meeting with Delbert Grady (Philip Stone) in the red bathroom of the Gold Room, Jack claims to recognize him from newspaper photos (in the scrapbook) as Kubrick creates a doubling effect not found in King. In the film there are not only two Grady daughters but two Grady fathers—Delbert Grady, a waiter/butler type (called “Jeevesy” by Jack) at the 1921 party, who says that his wife and daughters are somewhere in the hotel, and Charles Grady, the caretaker who killed himself and his family in 1970.
7. The various doublings imply that there are two Jack Torrances, the one who goes mad and freezes to death in present time and the one smiling out of a 1921 photograph that hangs on the gold corridor wall inside the Overlook Hotel.
Instead of the novel’s animal topiary, its replica playhouse, or its roque court, Kubrick’s film uses a hedge maze (100 yards long in the script, but reduced to a smaller scale on Elstree’s backlot) to metaphorically focus the meaning of Jack’s madness as well as visually embody larger conceptual aspirations. Mazes—like games of chess— combine design and deception, paths and choices, fate and cul-de-sacs—all of which, in various guises, play significant thematic roles in almost every Kubrick film. Mazes are highly artificial human contrivances whose orderly and complex sense of purpose involves a twofold conceptual game in which the player must not only search for the center but remember how to get out. Thus a maze embodies the reverse spatial idea of movement toward enclosure (self-contained, formal art uncontaminated by life) and movement toward freedom (chaos, infinity, contingency). In the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, for example, characters repeatedly search for the “center” of their existence, only to discover that life has no essence, but that it does contain an appealing multiplicity and complexity within its mazelike exchange between objective and subjective worlds. Kubrick’s chateau in Paths of Glory resembles a labyrinth (corridors, uncertain turns, spatial design from afar and dislocation from within), but only General Broulard moves through it with assurance, and even he answers to unseen forces offscreen. More often than not, Kubrick’s characters get lost in a tangle of ambition and desire: Davy Gordon’s romantic infatuation with a ballroom dancer becomes confused by the obscure objects of his desire and the deceptive moves of Rapallo, while both Humbert and Barry Lyndon briefly attain the “center” of their respective quests (nymphet, wealth/title), only to realize that it resembles an empty room without doors.
In The Shining, the maze concept encompasses the film thematically and aesthetically (i.e., both within the film itself and with respect to the audience watching it). It not only helps explain Jack’s madness (that is, the unconscious as a labyrinth in which the conscious self gets lost) but inspires the Overlook’s floor plan and decor (for instance, the maze pattern of the carpet outside Room 237), as well as the events that occur there. In addition, the film contains a maze-within-a-maze (the model inside the hotel) that doubles with the “real” maze outside. Significantly, Jack wants to stay inside the hotel’s maze rather than explore its surroundings (after closing day, he is not seen outside until that final chase through the snow into the hedge maze), to control its center (the Colorado Lounge) like a madly inspired God writing his book of Creation. Symbolically, he wants to “forget” himself (Jack Torrance in present time), and to “remember” not how to escape from the center of the maze but how to command its static and enclosed timelessness. In contrast, the film associates both Wendy and Danny with “outside” worlds, with contingency and movement, which means from the beginning that they will either escape Jack’s madness, if they “remember” how to retrace their steps, or be cornered in a no-exit hallway if they choose the wrong path. Early in the film, for instance, they learn how to negotiate the corridors of the hotel (“to leave a trail of breadcrumbs,” to quote Wendy), and in one scene Danny moves in a circle around the Colorado Lounge on his Big Wheel tricycle, while Jack tends to remain stationary within its center. Wendy and Danny explore the hedge maze and complete a circular journey that travels into and out of its diabolical design. Jack, on the other hand, imitates what Borges characterizes as the death-in- life of the “North” (that is, northern European intellectualism)—that yearning for a totally rationalized world without those crevices of unreason that arouse despair in some and imagination in others—rather than the “South’s” desire to traverse the maze and engage its multiplicity, to confront fate and choice, and to outface oblivion in an act of creation. To covet the center of the maze as permanent resting place leads not only to death but to madness.
Within the mazelike designs of The Shining, Kubrick develops a series of doubling/mirroring effects that go far beyond anything found in King’s novel. And because the film so completely integrates these doublings into a narrative and visual labyrinth, the viewer- turned-critic needs a descriptive map before daring to chart any interpretive course. We must see what is there, before asking what it means. With that in mind, as well as the summary already provided, consider the following:
1. Jack’s interview with Ullman, whose confident affability contrasts with Jack’s unconvincing nonchalance, pairs off with the meeting between Wendy and a woman doctor (Anne Jackson), whose sober and professional womanhood reacts in stunned disbelief to the housewife’s offhand but slightly cowed explanation for an old injury (a separated shoulder) inflicted on Danny by his drunken father.
2. For the interview, Jack and Ullman are joined by a hotel employee named Bill Watson (Barry Dennen), whose only real distinction (and function) is his striking physical resemblance to Jack Nicholson, especially when seen from behind (they pair off into chairs opposite one another and facing Ullman); and on closing day Watson completes a double pairing of four figures walking in single file (Ullman, Wendy, Jack, Watson) through the Colorado Lounge and past the hedge maze on their way to the snowcat, where they divide into twos (Wendy and Watson on the left, Jack and Ullman on the right).
3. Interestingly, this grouping resembles the four horizontally placed figures inside the “circle” of the Navajo sand painting over the fireplace, with Wendy and Jack occupying the privileged “center” position, and Ullman and Watson framing them on either side.
4. On two occasions, Ullman says goodbye to two young female employees, and just as the Torrances are ushered into their hotel living quarters, Jack noticeably glances after them in a gesture of sexual interest.
5. In the kitchen on closing day, Hallorann shows Wendy the meat in the freezer and the dry food in the pantry, but not those things that fall in between (butter, milk, eggs, and so forth), just as the various weather reports emphasize extremes (for instance, the TV newscast that Wendy watches in the kitchen and the one in Hallorann’s Miami bedroom, which mentions both a record heat wave in Florida and a record snowfall in Colorado). So Wendy and Danny watch Summer of ’42 (Robert Mulligan, 1971) on television in the midst of a winter snowstorm, and Jack relives an Overlook ball from the summer of 1921 during a winter in present time.
6. In that Miami bedroom, two paintings showing a black nude woman on opposite walls (mirroring) are seen just before Hallorann experiences a “shining” that occurs between Danny’s and Jack’s separate visits to Room 237.
7. Two versions of the same nude woman inhabit the green bathroom of Room 237. One is an old hag/corpse who apparently rises out of the bathtub to strangle Danny, and the other is an erotically inviting siren who “seduces” Jack before transforming herself back into the decomposed and laughing crone.
8. While Danny’s “shinings” link him to Jack’s unconscious, they also provide a horrific vision into the Overlook Hotel, one that opposes his father’s more nostalgic and dreamy “memories.” Similarly, Danny’s association with cartoon characters and stuffed animals anticipates Jack’s grotesque metamorphosis into the Big Bad Wolf coming after the “little piggies” with an ax.
9. Jack “shines” on two occasions, once with each of his two Overlook doubles (Lloyd the bartender and Delbert Grady, the first decidedly American and the other English).
10. The film contains four bathrooms, two associated with both the Torrance family and images of murder (in the Boulder apartment and their Overlook quarters), and two (the green and red ones) associated with Jack’s regression into madness and the hotel’s past.
11. Not only does the film contain two mazes (the hedge outside and a model inside), but the Overlook itself is a maze and, significantly, it breaks down into two sections, one old and one remodeled, one past and one present. The hotel’s old-fashioned “staff wing,” for instance, contains the Torrances’ rather shabby and cramped apartment, as well as the hallway (worn blue carpet, faded yellow wallpaper) where the two Grady children were murdered. In contrast, the “public” half of the Overlook is dressed out in a melange of modern and indigenous decorative styles, including authentic Navajo designs and colors, mazelike patterns in the carpeting, and the refurbished (according to Ullman) gold and pink gaudiness of the Gold Room.
12. Finally, mirrors figure prominently in the following settings and scenes: inside the four bathrooms; in the Torrance bedroom at the Overlook (in one scene, a mirror completes a double image of Jack sitting in bed and later converts REDRUM into MURDER); in the hallway entrance inside the Torrance apartment (where Jack’s reflection is prominent just after he returns from his visit to Room 237); in Hallorann’s Miami bedroom; on the wall of the corridor leading to the Gold Room (before both his “shinings” in that room, Jack’s reflection in a corridor mirror is shown); behind the bar of the Gold Room; and just inside the doorway of Room 237.
With the possible exception of 2001, no previous Kubrick film contains as many important details or stimulates as many associative responses. The Shining requires several viewings before its secrets are released, and even though like a maze-puzzle it can be assembled into one or more interpretive designs, mysteries remain which intimate that there is still more. Like Bowman within his memory room, we sense a familiar terrain, a kind of private and cinematic deja vu, but one dislocated from conventional time and space (both real and filmic) in just enough ways to encourage new perceptions and fresh understandings, if for no other reason than a desire to escape its powerful hold on our imagination. In that sense, Kubrick’s films are always about “shining,” about the difficulties of seeing, of choosing, of creating, of knowing. And what is it that makes up good art, or even good criticism, if not a magical conjunction of informed knowledge and inspired “shining”? Let us now remove the qualifying marks and shine on.
The narrative structure of The Shining involves a journey from an organized and forward-moving world of time into the disorders of self and regressions of memory. In some respects, it recalls the first three parts of 2001 in reverse (“Dawn of Man,” Floyd’s joumey to the Moon, “Jupiter Mission: 18 Months Later”), in that Jack Torrance, unlike Bowman as Star-Child, does not escape from his memory room (the Overlook Hotel) into space, but instead retreats into its dehumanizing order. Through the use of titles on a black screen, Kubrick emphasizes time more than he does space, as the following breakdown of the film’s organization reveals:
|Prologue||Credits (Rocky Mountain flight)|
|Part One||“The Interview” and “Closing Day”|
|Part Two||“A Month Later”/ “Tuesday”/ “Thursday”/ “Saturday”/ “Monday”/ “Wednesday”|
|Part Three||“8 am” and “4 pm”|
|Epilogue||Two Frozen Images of Jack (in the hedge maze and in the 1921 photograph)|
Notice how the progression of events goes from months to days to hours, a process of reduction and intensification that moves toward a single moment in time when insanity breaks loose from the restraints of rational order. As he did so often in other films, Kubrick undermines an audience’s faith in the narrative machinery of exposition— and its cause/effect logic—by, first, establishing its credibility through a realistic, matter-of-fact style (in part one), only to confuse that understanding by transforming it into a memory as faint or illusory as Jack’s mad quest for the immortality of death. By parts two and three, the periodic screen-titles conform to an associative or symbolic logic, to the film’s complex patterns of doubling and reversal (i.e., the every-other-day quality of “Tuesday”/ “Thursday,” etc., or the movement from “8 am” to “4 pm”), which inevitably mock our desire for temporal sense and rational sequence. Early in the film, for instance, Kubrick creates subtle time confusions that become even more pronounced later on. Wendy tells the doctor that “Tony” first appeared about the same time that Jack, in a drunken rage, separated Danny’s shoulder, which, we learn later, happened three years before. Not only does Wendy fail to make the psychological connection between “Tony” and Jack’s violence, but she pretends to be reassured by the fact that Jack has been on the wagon for five months, which means that any remorse he felt about his son was either very belated or nonexistent. During Jack’s first conversation with the bartender, he acts as if his life in present time were a bad dream from the future (i.e., post- 1921), and that his imaginary friend Lloyd has as much continuity and corporeality as the members of his own family (his first words, spoken directly into the camera, are “Hi, Lloyd”). Ever so quietly, the film implies from the beginning that psychological time and real time do not operate according to the same causal schedule, that the objective world and its temporal assertiveness may not explain character, but it does provide clues to those who shine.
In the credits, the camera from above moves over water and through mountains with the ease of a bird in flight and the rapidity of a machine in space. Below, on a winding mountain road, Jack’s diminutive yellow Volkswagen journeys through a tree-lined maze (the film’s second shot), resembling one of Danny’s toy cars or the yellow tennis ball seen later from another overhead shot on the maze-patterned carpet (orange and brown colors, with a red center) in the corridor outside Room 237. Above, one experiences the freedom and uncertainty of contingent space, an anticipation of either Star-Gates (2001) or Doomsday flights (Strangelove), while the theme music (by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind) sounds like a Gregorian chant for the dead (Dies Irae) and prepares us for the world below, for paths and endgames within a horizontal labyrinth, where one forgets how to look up and out into the wonders of space. Part one maps out this terrain in a deceptively clear and orderly manner. The interview between Ullman and Jack takes the form of questions and answers, explanations and reassurances—that is, the give and take of rational, linear discourse. Ullman “explains” the caretaker’s job, how it is not “physically demanding” but potentially involves problems of adjustment (“cabin fever”) for certain kinds of people. Like those disembodied narrators throughout the soundscape of Kubrick’s films, his voice and manner serve the requirements of narrative exposition while they fail to explain or acknowledge the mysteries of inner and outer space. Jack smiles and affects a relaxed informality, although his attention becomes more concentrated, even trancelike, when Ullman, himself all smiles, relates as a footnote to the interview a story about the former caretaker who “seemed perfectly normal” but nevertheless cut up his family with an ax and “stacked their bodies neatly in one of the rooms in the west wing.” Naturally, he has worked out a reassuring and logical explanation for such an appalling departure from sane behavior (a “claustrophobic reaction”), although Jack’s obvious interest (as if it recalls one of his own nightmares) and his insincere congeniality (early signs of a personality malfunction) lead us to believe that the film’s definition of his madness will be far more complex.
By the end of the film, the Grady story takes on a larger meaning in the way it not only anticipates Jack’s fate but completes a doubling pattern identical to the one between Jack and that smiling figure in the 1921 photograph (that is, as Jack pairs off with a 1921 persona, so Charles Grady in 1970 confronted his Shadow in the figure of Delbert Grady). But all that seems part of another universe in the context of the interview structure of the film’s opening, a context and structure that eventually recalls a style of cinéma vérité psychodrama familiar in the works of Truffaut (for instance, The 400 Blows) and Bergman (Scenes from a Marriage, 1973; Face to Face, 1976). Is it imitation or parody? Not only in the beginning, but in the other “interviews” of part one (Wendy and the doctor, Jack and Wendy in the car, Hallorann and Danny in the kitchen), Kubrick disturbs the still waters of cinematic normality with something more important than just Danny’s bloody shinings. Through his characters’ bland, offhand reportage of gruesome acts of horror from the past, he suggests that Ullman’s world might have less substance than a madman’s phantasms. Charles Grady’s butchery and suicide, Jack’s earlier violence against his son, the cannibalism of the Donner party, and the threat of Room 237, as well as other “bad” things alluded to by Hallorann in the Overlook’s history, become inseparable from all the small talk about “making good time” (Jack’s trip from Boulder to the hotel) and making new friends (Wendy’s reassurances to Danny), about a “new writing project” and a fresh start (for Jack and his family). Eventually, Jack denies existential time in search of private time, Danny’s new friends are two dead girls who want him to play and live with them “forever and ever and ever,” and Jack’s creative ambitions degenerate into a stack of papers that repeat a single obsessive thought. In the end, The Shining concerns old projects and unfinished journeys, secret longings and frustrated desires, movements in reverse rather than movements forward, “interviews” with the Self’s dark but hardly imaginary friends.
And what is “Closing Day” all about, if not an attempt to define and place the spatial geography of the film? Like the interview, the closing-day tour puts things in order, establishes relationships, and completes the film’s temporal and spatial exposition of the Overlook Hotel. But again there are unexplained confusions and tensions more significant than just Danny’s game-room shining (of the two Grady daughters) or the audience’s natural tendency to look for the first indications of horror yet to come. Spatially, the tour shows us rooms, places, and objects of importance to later events, while it fails to provide an overview of the whole. Where, for instance, is the Colorado Lounge in relation to the kitchen? or the Gold Room? or Room 237? or the Torrances’ apartment?1 Like Wendy in her reaction to the kitchen, the audience feels both at home and lost within the hotel’s vast public areas and its more intimate corridors and rooms. Like a maze-puzzle, and like the film itself, it has design and purpose, but one that initially requires its inhabitants/players—the characters in the hotel and audience in the theater—to look for signs of that unseen intelligence that created it and that understands its logic. During the interview, for instance, Ullman tells Jack that the Charles Grady killings took place in the “west wing,” while he defines the section of the hotel that houses the Torrance apartment as the “staff wing.” Is this not one example of an Ullman euphemism (as well as a Kubrick irony), in that the hallway directly opposite the entrance to the apartment leads to the corridor (a dead end) with the faded yellow wallpaper with blue flowers where later Danny shines and sees the butchered Grady daughters? Jack and Wendy stand together in the white bathroom of the apartment, where in part three she will be cornered by his madness, and both express disapproval—Jack through sardonic humor (“homey,” he calls it), and Wendy with a look of wifely disappointment—yet neither realizes that, more than likely, they now inhabit an enclosed space that gave birth to a previous caretaker’s madness. Besides those extremes implied by the kitchen’s two food compartments, Ullman’s office and the clash between the spacious Navajo beauty of the Colorado Lounge and the vast but garish modernity of the Gold Room suggest a visual schizophrenia that works to defeat the orderly tendencies of “interviews” and closing-day tours. When the camera follows Jack into his meeting with Ullman, it quickly records a split personality in the decor of the manager’s office. Outside the doorway, one sees on the left an abstract painting (red and blue colors, with indications of a human face) that surrealistically mimics the more traditional Navajo art seen elsewhere, and on the right, neatly arranged colored photographs of mountain scenes showing the four seasons. Inside the peach-colored office, this left/right opposition continues; on the left, a multicolored jigsaw county map, a piece of abstract sculpture (of twisted figures), and ancient photographs of the Overlook (a pictorial history in the brownish hues of early-twentieth-century still photography) complement the abstract painting by the doorway and clash with the orderly arrangement of pictures and awards on the right wall that reflect Ullman’s character and his past (e.g., a Boy Scouts Exploring certificate). But there is visual humor as well as counterpoint: next to a small American flag on Ullman’s desk sits a metal cup containing pencils and pens—and a miniature replica of an ax.
In part one, even though Wendy and Jack appear to be a “normal” heterosexual couple (they call each other “honey” and show other signs of affection), the film visually develops several juxtapositions that objectify latent disorders at work in both their marriage and the family. Shelley Duvall is not a sexually attractive woman; she therefore plays the film’s role as Danny’s protective mother better than she could the novel’s as Jack’s lover, which helps clarify the complex symbolism of Jack’s meeting with the mysterious nude woman in Room 237. Wendy not only is identified as a “ghost story and horror film addict” (in King, she reads Gothic novels and listens to the music of Bartok), but when first seen she is reading Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and smoking Virginia Slims, while Jack reads Playgirl in the hotel’s reception area and later smokes Marlboros. On the surface, such details give their respective characters a sexual eclecticism and cultural accessibility, when in truth they anticipate the film’s sexist allegory. Jack appears to be a model of liberal politics and education—a writer and teacher, informally dressed in tweed jackets and sweaters, a man who apparently reads The New York Review of Books—and Wendy a candidate for modern, liberated womanhood. But he, of course, is a closet sexist, and she is not much more than a dutiful housewife, concerned mother, and nervous mouse who is vulnerable to both Jack’s cajolements and his masculine insecurities. Especially in the early scenes, Wendy is visually defined by her role as mother and all that it entails: her world has one central location—the kitchen, not the bedroom—and contains foodstuffs (milk cartons, boxes of cereal) and products (dish detergent, Q-Tips) necessary to her family’s welfare and the management of a normal American home. Jack, on the other hand, quietly expresses not only an irritation with the banalities and routines of family life, but something far more dangerous than even he realizes. During a car trip to the Overlook, he barely suppresses an urge to ridicule Wendy’s mistaken belief that the Donner incident occurred in Colorado, while he expresses himself more truly in a sarcastic response to Danny’s comment that he knows about cannibalism from TV (“See! It’s okay, he saw it on the television!”). Jack Nicholson uses both his face (especially his mouth and his villainous eyebrows) and speech to hint at an important dysfunction in the character: after Danny complains to his father that he is hungry, Jack barks out a reply in a primitive, illiterate slur—“you shoulda eaten your breakfast”— which belies his role as “enlightened” teacher/writer. Except for his ability to shine, Danny’s character is a picture of normality: he eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, drinks milk, watches Roadrunner cartoons on TV, and lives in a child’s world inhabited and decorated by characters from Disneyland and “Peanuts,” animal books, baseball bats, toy cars, astronauts, his Big Wheel, and stuffed animals. This normal child’s world, in the surreal landscape of a resurrected Overlook, undergoes a grotesquely satiric metamorphosis:
1. When Jack moves through the reception area in part two on his way to a shining over the model maze, he throws a yellow tennis ball past a stuffed bear and Danny’s Big Wheel, which rests on the very spot (a Navajo circle design) where Hallorann will be murdered (ironically, in front of the cashier’s cages).
2. Jack’s tennis ball mysteriously rolls into Danny’s circle of toy cars just before the boy walks through the open door of Room 237.
3. Wendy uses Danny’s baseball bat as a weapon to repel Jack’s first murderous advances.
4. Wendy locks Jack in the pantry, where he later eats a “survival” meal closer to a child’s than an adult’s—peanut butter, roasted peanuts (associated with his drinking), Oreo cookies, and crackers.
5. As Jack breaks through the apartment door with an ax (and the Grady corridor looms in the background), he mocks his role as family man with perhaps his funniest line—“Wendy, I’m home”—which prepares for his humorous rendition of both the Big Bad Wolf and the famous introductory pitch from Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show: “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” Behind Jack’s grotesquely illuminated face hangs a picture of an idealized, snow-covered cottage.
6. Now the cartoon violence and lyrics of the Roadrunner show take a grimly ironic turn in Jack’s Wile E. Coyote (“The coyote’s after you”) chasing Danny (“If he catches you you’re through”) into the snow-covered hedge maze, where he is outwitted by the boy’s speed and ingenuity (“the coyote is really a crazy clown”). Symbolically, the Overlook Hotel becomes Jack’s other Home and other Family, a nightmare world of dismemberment and alienation (where “sliced peaches” and “Heinz Ketchup” recall family massacres, not family meals), in which the mother and child are victims of the father’s desire to cannibalize one family to ensure the “survival” of another, to violate one home to resuscitate the corpse of another. Paradoxically, the Monster of The Shining wears the face of both masculine brutality and house Fool, one who finds his home amid the polite society of the Overlook’s past, and who performs for what Ullman chauvinistically describes as “all the best people.”
Jack’s madness does not fully emerge until the final day of part two (“Wednesday”), when his unconscious, in unison with the hotel, “awakens” and assumes a life of its own in three remarkable scenes: one in the Gold Room (Jack and Lloyd), one in Room 237 (Jack and the nude woman), and one in the red bathroom of the Gold Room (Jack and Grady). Before these important and symbolic encounters, Kubrick develops a series of visual and aural clues to their meaning. Like the film’s musical progression, which, following the credits, moves from the atonalities of Bartok (the ripplings associated with Jack’s maze shining and the scrapbook in “A Month Later” and “Tuesday”) and Ligeti’s “Lontano” (Jack’s trancelike states on “Thursday” and “Saturday”) to the full dissonance of Penderecki (“The Awakening of Jacob” is especially prominent in the Room 237 episode on “Wednesday”), the visual rhetoric of part two not only objectifies Jack’s internal regression but places it in a recognizable mythopoeic context.2 Stylistically, the “interview” realism of part one blends into the surrealism of parts two and three, just as a yellow Volkswagen assumes the shape of a tennis ball (which “travels” on the maze carpet into Danny’s circle of toy cars) and links Jack’s character to the symbolism of a Navajo sand painting. In one striking shot, for instance, the camera tilts up from the typewriter, with a blank piece of paper in its carriage, to reveal the source of a loud pounding noise: in the background, Jack angrily throws a yellow tennis ball against a sand painting, which, uncharacteristically, delineates a totally masculine world.
Within its enclosed design, to include the traditional opening to the East, four male figures (the squarish heads denote masculinity) stand erect and “safe” within the painting’s “circle.” In the symbolism of most Navajo sand paintings, yellow is a male color, and blue normally identifies the female. (In the mythology of several Indian tribes, yellow denotes death, and blue is associated with sky/happiness/love.) In Kubrick’s film, Jack’s “colors” begin in the warm part of the spectrum (brown, green, yellow) but inevitably move toward red (e.g., he wears a maroon-colored j acket in the last part of the film, he talks with Grady in the red bathroom, and Danny’s blood elevator/REDRUM shinings are associated with his father’s unconscious). Conversely, both Wendy and Danny start off in blues and reds, while she, in particular, ends up in greens and browns.
As the film moves closer to Jack’s madness and the Overlook’s resurrection, the color yellow becomes even more symbolically assertive, although Kubrick usually provides a source light that realistically “explains” it. The Grady murder corridor is decorated in yellow wallpaper; a lamp next to Jack’s typewriter gives the paper a yellow texture; his face and eyes turn yellow like the bourbon in his glass during his talk with Lloyd; the hallway into the Torrance apartment is decorated with yellow-flowered wallpaper; as Jack stands outside the bathroom with the ax, his face and the walls take on a yellowish glow from another lamp (while Wendy wears the blue bathrobe inside the blindingly white bathroom); and when he moves on his murderous course to intercept Hallorann, the hotel’s interior lighting transforms the walls from daytime white into evening yellow. In addition, the gold corridor and Gold Room convert the warmth and beauty of yellow (as in the aspens behind the credits) into something akin to the unnatural and discordant colors of the Korova Milkbar in A Clockwork Orange, especially when mixed with pink upholstered furniture and a bright red bathroom. Symbolically, both Jack’s madness and the Overlook’s past express a decidedly masculine ethos, one that threatens not only the structures of normality (man/woman, family) but the integrity of psycho/sexual duality. Reminiscent of HAL in 2001, Jack seeks to command a dead but self-contained world, one that denies existential time as well as contingent space. Significantly, both Jack and HAL are associated with enclosed worlds (spaceship Discovery and the Overlook Hotel), with obsessive attitudes toward their “jobs” (the Jupiter Mission and Jack’s contract with the Overlook), with a primitive regression disguised by civilized formality (HAL’s language and Jack’s association with Delbert Grady and the 1920s party), and with the colors yellow and red. HAL’s ubiquitous eye (red iris, yellow pupil) not only recalls the leopard’s surveillance of a Pleistocene darkness but achieves a humanized incarnation in the sexist coloration of Jack Torrance’s insanity.
By the middle section of The Shining, the latent schizophrenic tendencies of part one have escaped from the closet and turned both psychological and cinematic “normality” inside out. During Jack’s breakfast in bed (“A Month Later”), Kubrick photographs the first half of the scene inside the reflection in the bedroom mirror and the second half outside, a form of visual doubling that goes from a reversed to a “normal” perspective, from a simulacrum to “reality” itself. Yet within the “abnormal,” reversed imagery of the mirror (the lettering on Jack’s shirt and the illusion that he eats with his left hand), the Torrance couple engage in a banal conversation about staying up late and the difficulties of writing (“lots of ideas, no good ones”), while in the “normal” space outside the mirror Jack talks about dejd vu and how he “fell in love” with the Overlook “right away.” Soon afterward (“Monday”), Danny visits his now wakeful and unshaven father—sitting on the edge of the same bed and wearing a blue bathrobe—and stands between Jack’s mirror reflection on screen-left and his “real” image on screen-right. Even within this touching exchange between father and son, however, Kubrick hints at the macabre awakening of both Jack’s dark self and the hotel’s past, of a sinister force struggling to escape from the flat surfaces of memory into that three-dimensional world on the other side of the mirror. As the Bartok from his maze-shining plays on the soundtrack, Jack’s attention wavers between Danny on his lap (“I love you, Danny, more than anything in the whole world”) and the seductive intrusion of other visions and other voices: He tells Danny that he can’t sleep because of his “work” (the scrapbook), which indicates that his nightmares are learning to walk and to talk; and echoing the Grady daughters’ sinister invitation, he tells his son that he would like to stay in the Overlook “forever and ever and ever.” In two key scenes, Jack’s menacing, godlike isolation inside the hotel opposes Wendy and Danny’s spirit of outside play and exploration. In the first, he shines over the model maze as they playfully race into the hedge maze (and the loser “keeps America clean”) and experience its confusion (indicated to the audience by the dizzying motions of the Steadicam). In the second scene (“Thursday”), Wendy and Danny play in the snow below Jack, who, with the sand painting prominent in the background, grins and stares out in a hypnotic, slack-jawed trance from a second-floor window in the Colorado Lounge. As the snowdrifts increase outside, the Torrance family becomes more isolated inside as normal communication breaks down: Jack sits in the empty but symmetrical “center” of the Overlook, where he reads the scrapbook and translates its collective unconscious into the idiom of his private unconscious; Danny rides his Big Wheel through narrow corridors and sees bloody visions showing the monsters being reborn inside his father’s mind; and Wendy tries, with little success, to fight off her loneliness through contacts with the outside world (she watches TV and uses her radio transmitter to say “hello” to a fire-station ranger). But in the surrealistic inversions of part two, that ordinary world now seems as alien to us as did the Jack Torrance who forced himself to smile in the reassuring temporal and spatial masks of part one. The past now speaks through the present, the primitive seems indistinguishable from the civilized, and inner worlds express themselves in strangely familiar dialects and assume familiar shapes. The demons in the mirror have escaped—and not only are they real, but they grin in mockery at our bewilderment.
In the climax to part two, Kubrick translates the film’s repeated motifs of shining and deja vu, of dreams and recollections, into such an undeniable cinematic and psychological reality that normality itself seems but a distant memory as the Monster both learns to speak our language and discovers its Home. The film starts off with Ullman’s recollection of the Charles Grady tragedy, while Danny describes his shinings as dreams faintly remembered, and Jack senses that he’s lived in the Overlook Hotel before. Yet before he can remember, Jack must forget. He must forget his past failures and inadequacies as a father, husband, and man of enlightenment. He must forget those responsibilities that bind him to Wendy and Danny. He must forget himself as Jack Torrance in present time, the writer/teacher of part one, and remember that other self who forever waits in a memory room for the lights to be turned on. In The Shining, that memory room becomes the Overlook Hotel itself, not as it was, but as Jack would like it to have been. Danny sees the truth—the “horror”—of his father’s yearning for the center of the maze, of his macabre quest for the perfection of death, while Jack casts it in the nostalgic afterglow of a formal 1920s mise-en-scene. Sitting at the bar in the Gold Room, Jack looks into the camera and enjoins us—not just Lloyd—to shine with him, not only to drink and be merry, but to share his memory and his disease: a memory of license, of masculine freedom and violence, one in which Jack no longer represses either the sexist urge to demean Wendy (“the old sperm-bank upstairs”) or his selfish resentment toward the moral demands of fatherhood (“I wouldn’t hurt a single hair on his goddamn head! I love the little sonofabitch!”). In a remarkable screen performance, Jack Nicholson captures not only the madman’s self- delusion and self-pity but, what is even more impressive, a psycho- machia that pits the primitive nuances of “man to man” talk—“You set ’em up, Lloyd, and I’ll knock ’em down”—against the convolutions of rationalization. He takes his first drink (Jack Daniels, naturally) , rolls his eyes upward in monstrous bliss, and reenacts before the sepulchral bartender an act of violence against his son:
The little fucker had thrown all my papers on the floor. All I tried to do was pull him up [he violently imitates a jerking motion]. A momentary loss of muscular coordination, a few extra foot pounds of energy per second, per second [he narrows two fingers into an imaginary measuring device, then brings his hands together in a quick ‘bone-snapping’ motion].
He tells his ghostly but formal reflection (Lloyd also wears a maroon- colored jacket) that Wendy won’t let him “forget” his brutality against their son three years before (and in present time, she has just accused him of strangling Danny), which anticipates the fact that soon he will forget himself and remember only a once-latent urge to dominate and to rule.
When Jack shines in the green bathroom of Room 237, he experiences a memory of illicit eroticism, while Danny relives (he shines in his bed) the grotesque rebirth of the decomposed hag rising out of the bathwater. Symbolically, both versions of the nude woman (hag/ siren) represent an assault on the integrity of Wendy’s role as mother/ wife. Danny is enticed into the room by the mysterious appearance of the yellow tennis ball that rolls into his circle, an event that coincides with Jack’s nightmare in the Colorado Lounge about killing his family with an ax. As Danny approaches the open door and the dangling red key, he calls for Wendy (“Mom, are you in there?”) at the very moment that she, from the basement (where she does Jack’s “work”), responds to Jack’s cries of terror. But Jack will deny the truth of that nightmare when he both embraces the young nude woman (Lia Beldam) and retreats in disgust from the laughing crone (Billie Gibson) —from yet another Kubrickian bathroom that links masturbatory fantasy and death (e.g., Humbert in the bathtub, dreaming of Lolita just after Charlotte’s death).3 Sitting on his bed with a tearful Wendy, he tells her that the room was empty, and that Danny must have strangled himself. In other words, Jack forgets the green and purple horror of Room 237—that hideous mockery of life itself—and remembers only its erotic invitation (the woman and the sexual patterns in the green and purple carpeting). He forgets his “contract” with Wendy and remembers only that secret agreement he makes with his Shadow in the center of the hotel’s maze. As Danny “sees” the blood elevator and REDRUM visions from his bed, Jack’s anger mounts to a feverish pitch after Wendy suggests they leave the Overlook. He then severs his responsibilities to one family (“I’ve let you fuck up my life so far, but I’m not going to let you fuck this up”) and reaffirms those to another (“I’m really into my work”). As he storms out the apartment door, we notice that his path will take him through the Grady corridor (faded yellow wallpaper) on his way back into the Gold Room and its ghoulish denial of time.
The sounds of a romantic tune lure him back into his Gold Room of memory to celebrate liberation on Independence Day (July 4, 1921) from the restraints of civilization. He tells Lloyd, “It’s good to be back, I’ve been away, but now I’m back,’’just as a male voice begins to sing the lyrics of a song about love, surrender, and remembrance (‘Your eyes held a message tender, / Saying T surrender all my love to you,’ / Midnight brought us sweet romance, / I know, all my whole life through, / I’ll be remembering you”). For Jack, shining entails recollection more than extrasensory perception, a nostalgic dream of immortality and pleasure rather than intimations of hidden evil. His brass and vulgar regressions (the ugly American), however, clash with the overdressed European formality of this huge gathering (300 people), just as his ornate recollections oppose the horrific truth of Danny’s shinings. Appropriately, Delbert Grady now enters and crashes into Jack, spilling Advocaat (a yellow liqueur) all over his jacket. Inside the red bathroom, reverse camera positions emphasize a mirroring effect (that is, one figure turns his back to the camera and the other faces it), which now doubles Jack with an even more “civilized” but sinister version of Lloyd the bartender. Again, the subject of “recollection” comes up as Jack mistakenly confuses this Grady with Charles Grady (“You were the caretaker”) and accuses him of murdering his family. (An old song called “Home” is faintly heard throughout this scene.) At first Grady pleads ignorance—“That’s odd, I have no recollection of that at all”—but then he remembers and confronts Jack with a new truth: “I beg to differ with you, sir, but you are the caretaker, you have always been the caretaker.” In the film’s psychological allegory, this implies that the Jack Torrance/Charles Grady figures of present time “care for” the Overlook by resurrecting its past through a recollection of that other self which sleeps but never dies. And once that memory is found inside the center of the maze (self/ hotel), how one got there is quickly forgotten or sublimated within a formal and enclosed artifice. In his first Gold Room shining, Jack remembers how to express his sexist prerogatives (“white man’s burden”) through the primitive male banalities (“words of wisdom”) of that conversation with Lloyd (who says, “Women! Can’t live with them, can’t live without them!”), only to learn from Grady in the red bathroom how to couch them in the chilling disguise of polite euphemism, in a kind of Overlook Doomsday jargon. Grady describes how, at first, his two daughters did not like the hotel (and one even tried to burn it down), but that he “corrected” them (“and when my wife tried to prevent me from doing my duty, I corrected her”). Later, from inside the pantry where Wendy locks him after hitting him with the baseball bat, Jack no longer talks about “bashing her brains out,” but instead promises to “deal with the situation” once he is released, in what “Mr. Grady,” from the other side of the door, describes as “the harshest possible way.” And Grady knows how to push all the right buttons, especially when he prods Jack’s masculine insecurities by commenting on Wendy’s unexpected “resourcefulness” and wondering aloud if his American friend has the “belly” for this kind of work.
By part three, Jack’s “interviews” with his recollected friends and his tour of the Overlook’s psychic history have been completed. His unconscious mind has awakened from a long sleep and now, like the Minotaur, seeks to purify its maze/home of those alien intruders that threaten its rule. In many respects, part three doubles back on part one like a grotesque reflection in a funhouse mirror. Hallorann, for instance, moves through an outside world that looks as if it were shrouded in Jack’s madness. He calls Durkin’s Garage (Larry Durkin is played by Tony Burton) in Sidewinder, where it’s almost completely dark even at mid-morning because of a heavy snowstorm. He passes a traffic accident in which a red Volkswagen is crushed under the weight of a flatbed truck (in the novel, Jack drives a red Volkswagen). He moves in a snowcat (“4 pm”) through a dark, eerie corridor of trees that resembles an enlarged version of the Overlook’s hedge maze. Inside the hotel, Wendy and Danny sit at breakfast, and Danny watches the Roadrunner show on TV, just as they did in the Boulder apartment of part one. But now Wendy talks to “Tony” exclusively (“Danny isn’t here, Mrs. Torrance”) as her son’s world becomes engulfed by Jack’s red madness. Wendy then picks up a baseball bat (toy/weapon) and walks downstairs to the Colorado Lounge, now the Monster’s inner sanctum, where she gazes on a manuscript that reveals the nature of Jack’s “work” inside the center of the maze. As she frantically leafs through the manuscript, with its seemingly infinite mirror repetitions of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” Kubrick shows us a visual sequence, or history, that objectifies the progress of Jack’s insanity (form and spelling become ever more erratic) and clarifies the film’s particular use of the maze concept. Not only does the visual sequence resemble a horizontal labyrinth, and therefore suggest fate and psychological entrapment, but it also associates Jack’s madness with an image of reduction and repetition. On one page, for instance, his mad litany is typed in the shape of an upside-down pyramid that squeezes his character and his world into a single word (“boy”)—as if it were The Shining’s Rosebud, except in his film Kubrick portrays a character who obsessively denies complexity (both inner and outer) by searching for the center of existence in only one memory room (i.e., his unconscious). By part three, Jack no longer explores other ideas—whether good or bad—but moves in straight lines (the gold corridor) or repeated patterns in the center of his horizontal maze. Wendy, on the other hand, has learned how to back up and negotiate the maze without looking (as she retreats from Jack and swings the bat), which reverses her forward turns and movements into the kitchen in part one (where a reverse dolly shot and Hallorann escort her through the maze). Jack has been seduced by the center’s illusion of order and timelessness, while its madness and deadly stasis are revealed to us through such typographical disorders as “work” altered to “worm,” “boy” to “bog,” and “a dull” to “adult.”
Only after Jack leaves the hotel to chase Danny into the snow- covered hedge maze does Wendy shine for the first time, and does the Overlook take on the traditional characteristics of a haunted house. In perhaps the film’s least convincing sequence, Wendy and the audience see not only the truth of Danny’s earlier shinings but the hideous reality of Jack’s recollections, which are no longer distorted by nostalgic subterfuge (he has left the inside maze for an outside one). Danny’s world as a child and Wendy’s harmless interest in ghost stories are transmogrified into a surreal fairy tale about fellatio between a figure in a teddy bear/boar suit (with a piggish snout and fangs) and a gentleman in white tie and tails, skeletons enjoying cocktails and making calls from telephone booths, a man with his head cleaved open (“Great party, isn’t it?”), and cascades of blood pouring from an elevator as if from the ruptured artery of a monster. Not only does Wendy’s journey through and out of the Overlook’s inner maze parallel Danny’s movements into and out of the hedge maze, but it provides the film with a series of visual and emotional “effects” that at first seem to satisfy certain expectations but that probably do not resolve an audience’s perplexity over the ambiguities of Jack’s shinings in Room 237 and the Gold Room or the meaning of that 1921 photograph seen in the last shot of the film. The ending is reminiscent of the ending of 2001: Kubrick deliberately (some say perversely) gives and takes away at the same time (the Star-Gate ride was not an unexpected event, but what does the eighteenth-century room mean?). But, aesthetically, the maze concept requires that an audience be tested and challenged, even to the point of confusion if it fails to shine and remember not only how it got into the film (i.e., the guided tours of narrative exposition) but how it got lost. In retracing those steps, the viewer might discover that it wasn’t Kubrick’s The Shining that betrayed him, but rather all those false expectations that tyrannize audiences into believing that filmic understandings should follow straight paths into a center of meaning.
So what does The Shining’s ending “mean”? On its most essential psychological level, it means that Jack Torrance freezes and dies inside the hedge maze because he forgot how to deal with the basic paradoxes of his own nature. Rather than exploring and discovering, making choices and risking both failure and success, he prefers to sit inertly in the center of an enclosed world and shine from above in godlike contemplation of the beauty of his creation. Like Barry Lyndon moving through a formal eighteenth-century maze, Jack forgets to look closely at either his own past or that of the Overlook, at the disorders and complexities that exist inside the structures of personality and civilization. Instead he transforms each into a grotesque vision of duration. He attempts to destroy his family/home in present time because it requires a “contract” that involves not only responsibilities to others and even to another sex (the human world outside the masculine self), but a form of moral/emotional “work” where there are no certainties and very few givens. Jack’s “love” for the hotel—rather than for Wendy and Danny—is another Kubrickian version of that mad craving for immortality that animates Strangelove’s excitement over the perfection of the Doomsday Machine and HAL’s desire to protect an illusion of machine infallibility from the intrusions of humanity. Jack explores and even learns how to control the memory world resurrected from inside the Overlook’s maze, while he fails to perceive that, psychologically, it is a denial of outside worlds that offer not only the threat of uncertainty but the possibility of hope. Like Johnny Clay’s movements into a world outside the temporal and spatial gameboard of his robbery plan, Jack’s final journey into the outside maze throws him into a setting that is unresponsive to his obsession for control or recollection. While Bowman wandered through his memory room, only to escape as an enhanced being into the expanses of space, Jack tragically moves from one enclosed maze into another. In the end, he becomes a lonely, anguished figure who cries out in almost inaudible pain from the loss of both his actual and imagined homes. As he did so often within the hotel’s maze, he sits down and faces screen right, only now he gazes into a bleak and frozen landscape, into a vision of nothingness that waits in the center of the labyrinth. Like so many others in Kubrick’s films, Jack Torrance forgets that in a contingent universe, an obsession with timelessness becomes tantamount to a love affair with death.
In the Epilogue, Kubrick takes us back inside the Overlook Hotel for a final visual tour that paradoxically asserts the continuity of film time and confuses its traditional explanatory function. Reminiscent of a Wellesian journey into Xanadu’s fire and the meaning of Rosebud, his camera reaffirms its omniscience and its freedom by traveling through space with an assurance and purpose first glimpsed in the credits. But in this case, it asks the viewers in the theater to shine and recollect, to remember notjust one piece in the maze-puzzle (i.e., a Rosebud) but others as well. The camera moves across the reception area of the hotel—from the place where Jack Torrance first was seen and Hallorann was eventually murdered—to a picture that hangs on the wall of the gold corridor in the center of another maze. It reveals a smiling likeness of the grinning monster in the hedge maze, looking up in greeting amid a society of civilized revelers from the past, trapped in the middle of a pictorial manuscript (21 pictures) arranged in three horizontal lines.4 This shot not only completes the film’s story of Jack Torrance, but it reverses an earlier psychological evolution. In the mazes of parts one and two, Kubrick doubled Jack the writer/teacher with Jack the Monster, normality with its shadow, present time with a hideous memory lost but not forgotten. Now, past time reflects the image of normality (the 1921 photograph), and present time shows the visage of madness (the frozen, grotesque mask of death in the hedge maze). And as the nostalgic music from the Gold Room party plays again, The Shining recalls the ending of another film, Kubrick’s own Barry Lyndon, as it tries to stimulate our memory—not of a collective unconscious, but of a collective humanity (in the picture) tragically lost and frozen in the maze of our scrapbooks and our history. More than anything else, perhaps, it is Kubrick’s dream of civilized life—a remembrance of things forgotten.
1 Needless to say, some familiarity with Kubrick’s maze—namely, his Overlook Hotel set in The Shining—helps in placing action and understanding parallels, associations, and repetitions. With that in mind, consider these few items of interest:
1. The reception area, the kitchen (which is behind the reception area), the gold corridor, and the Gold Room occupy the first floor of the Overlook; the model maze sits on a table by a window opposite Ullman’s office in the reception area and appears in the background of several scenes (e.g., when Jack first arrives at the hotel, when he calls Wendy to tell her that he has the job, when Wendy pushes a breakfast cart in “A Month Later,” and when Hallorann, taking a similar course [from kitchen, through gold corridor, to reception area], is murdered).
2. The Colorado Lounge is located in the center of the second floor of the hotel, and Room 237 appears to be in a wing behind the table where Jack types his manuscript; Danny rides his Big Wheel in a circle (“A Month Later”) around the Colorado Lounge, from a service corridor behind the wall with the fireplace and Navajo sand painting, to an alcove by the elevators behind Jack’s typing table, past a sign in red advertising “Camera Walk” (Kubrick’s joking reference to the Steadicam?) and through the lounge itself, into an alcove on the other side, and back to the original starting point—from there it is not far to the mazelike carpeting (screen right from the elevators) that leads to Room 237.
3. Apparently, the Torrance apartment is located on the third floor in the rear of the hotel in the so-called “staff,” or “west,” wing, and it is not far from the corridor (yellow wallpaper, blue flowers) where Danny sees the Grady daughters dead.
4. The hedge maze, of course, is behind the hotel. All the exterior location shots of the hotel entrance are the work of a second-unit photography team and show the Timber- line Lodge at Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon, while the “backyard” area with the hedge maze is a full-size replica of the Timberline’s exterior, which was built on a backlot at Elstree Studios in England.
2 One of the more interesting aspects of Kubrick’s musical selections for The Shining is the way they recall the Star-Gate and eighteenth-century memory room sequences in 2001. Not only does the him use music by Gyorgy Ligeti (“Lontano”), which sounds like his monolith “Atmospheres” from the earlier him, but many of the selections from Polish modernist Krzysztof Penderecki bear a striking resemblance to the dissonant “journey” and “memory” themes of 2001. In addition, the film’s “theme” music (credits) and the “Rocky Mountains” (the Torrance car trip to the Overlook) by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind recall Penderecki’s apocalyptic Dies Irae Oratorium Ob Memoriam, what he calls his “music of terror. ” And finally, Kubrick uses the “Midnight with the Stars and You” tune for the 1920s party and the Epilogue, while an old song called “Home” is heard during the red bathroom scene betweenjack and Grady (performed by the Gleneagles Hotel Band).
3 Just before Jack and the Steadicam travel through Room 237 on their way to the green bathroom, Hallorann experiences a long-distance shining from his bedroom in Miami, which reveals a private male world not as complex as Jack’s and far more sane. Consider these contrasts between Hallorann’s shining and Jack’s visit to Room 237:
1. Before Hallorann’s shining, Kubrick employs two reverse zooms that recall the kind of visual doubling found in the breakfast scene discussed in the text. In this case, each reverse zoom reveals a picture of a nude black woman; the two pictures are on opposite walls, each a kind of mirror reflection of the other, although they are pictures of two different women. Hallorann, seen lying in bed between the two pictures, watches TV in an orange-colored room, which is ordered and symmetrical (there are lamps on each side of the TV and on each side of his bed), but not schizophrenic (unlike Ullman’s office). However, he does wear blue pajamas that express a kind of visual split personality—the lower half is solid blue (and earlier his color was blue), while the upper half resembles an abstract, mazelike design; overall, Hallorann’s decidedly male world expresses balance rather than dissonance.
2. In contrast, the decor of Room 237 is a ghastly combination of different shades of green and purple, colors that in Kubrick’s iconography work against each other—green suggests one value (rebirth, in the eighteenth-century room of 2001), and purple another (Korova decadence); the carpeting in the room is decidedly sexual and mazelike (resembling phallic keyholes inside circles), the wallpaper duplicates the vertical lines of a cage, and just outside the bathroom door hangs a picture of a fox; and, of course, there are two versions of one woman in the green bathroom (with Gold Room trim arching over the tub)—but unlike the pictures on Hallorann’s wall, they hardly suggest the workings of a healthy libido. Hallorann has his sexual fantasies well in hand, while Jack’s express the extremes of male lasciviousness and disgust.
4 See “Notes & Trivia” for my comments on the role of numbers in the film’s maze/ puzzle.
Essay by Thomas Allen Nelson, “Remembrance of Things Forgotten: The Shining,” in his Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982)