Movie Discussion: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)

  • Monthly Theme: Genre Classicsshining_ver1_xlg
  • The Film: The Shining
  • Alternate title: n/a
  • Country of origin: U.S.A.
  • Date of U.S. release: May 23, 1980
  • Studio: Warner Bros., Producers Circle & Peregrine Films
  • Distributer: Warner Bros.
  • Domestic Gross: $44 million
  • Budget: $19 million (estimated)
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Producers: Jan Harlan & Stanley Kubrick
  • Screenwriters: Diane Johnson & Stanley Kubrick
  • Adaptation? Yes. Adapted from the 1977 novel The Shining by Stephen King.
  • Cinematographer: John Alcott
  • Make-Up/FX: ?
  • Music: Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind
  • Part of a series? No. However, the film was the subject of a critically-lauded documentary in 2012 called Room 237, in which different readings/interpretations of the film are proposed by enthusiasts.
  • Remakes? Yes. The novel was re-adapted for television in 1997 as a three-part miniseries on ABC, starring Rebecca De Mornay and Steven Weber.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Blaxploitation star Scatman Crothers (Detroit 9000, Truck Turner, etc.). Hollywood superstar Jack Nicholson got his start in Roger Corman-produced horror movies (Little Shop of Horrors, The Terror, etc.).
  • Other notables?: Yes. 1970s character actress Shelley Duvall.
  • Awards?: Best Supporting Actor [Crothers] at the 1981 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.
  • Tagline: “A masterpiece of modern horror.”
  • The Lowdown: The Shining was Stephen King’s third published novel and the third of his works to be adapted for the screen (his debut novel, Carrie, had been turned into a successful Brian DePalma film in 1976 and his second novel, ‘Salem’s Lot, was released as a CBS TV-miniseries in 1979 by Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper). But unlike the first two adaptations of his work, King publicly questioned Stanley Kubrick’s approach to the source material, famously stating that the film was made by “a man who thinks too much and feels too little” and deriding the choice of Nicholson for the part of Jack Torrance, who King felt was all ready too heavily associated with mental illness in the public imagination because of his Oscar-winning performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975. The film got a lukewarm critical reception, though it did earn a profit at the box office, and was the only one of Kubrick’s last nine films to receive no Oscar or Golden Globe nominations (in fact, it was nominated for Worst Actress and Worst Director at the Razzies). But The Shining has gone on to be one of the most popular, beloved and oft-cited horror films of all time, considered by many to be the most terrifying film ever made. In fact, it was featured in Episode 361 of This American Life for a segment in which a correspondant tells of his childhood innocence being shattered by having seen the movie at too young an age.  The movie is also the subject of the forthcoming documentary Room 237, a chronicle of the many conspiracy theories and radical interpretations of the film that have sprung up over the years. The premise of The Shining is quite simple: Jack Nicholson stars as Jack Torrance, a struggling writer who is hired as the winter caretaker at the remote Overlook Hotel in the mountains of Colorado. He moves there with his wife Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) and small son Danny (played by Danny Lloyd) despite the fact that a previous caretaker went insane and murdered his family. Once at the Overlook, Danny – who possesses a second sight called “the shining” – is tormented by visions of past violence as Jack slowly starts to lose his grip on reality.

If you haven’t seen The Shining our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.

Sean: Let’s just get right to it. What do you want to talk about first?

Kristine: I know that the Wendy character in King’s novel is stronger and more resourceful than Kubrick’s Wendy. And that Kubrick’s writing partner, Diane Johnson (who wrote Le Divorce, by the way), wrote a lot more lines for Wendy which Kubrick cut. I remembered Kubrick’s Wendy as being a sniveling, hysterical, limp-wristed wimp, but watching The Shining again, I was actually surprised by the character. There are moments where you just want to slap her, but Wendy was also stronger than I remember. I forgot that while Jack is busy going nuts and basically becoming one with the hotel, she is trying to make contact with the outside world, and she is also the one who is actually doing the caretaker work in the hotel (as evidenced in the scene when she is in the boiler room with the clipboard, because the main part of the job is heating various parts of the hotel, right?).

Sean: Right.

Danny comes down with a zombie virus.

Kristine: It’s both easy and difficult to empathize with Wendy as a battered wife. The way in which she alternately defends Jack (to the doctor at the beginning of the film) and is suspicious/accusatory of him (when Danny has bruises on his neck) is very familiar of to me, and rings true of women who are deeply entangled with abusive and/or domineering men. It made me very uncomfortable that Wendy’s whole motivation for escaping was to protect Danny, not to save herself. She is your classic “martyr mom.”

Sean: Huh. See, I thought it was weird that Wendy was so forthcoming to the doctor at the beginning of the movie. I have trouble making sense of how exactly to feel about Wendy. I mean, she could have made up any old story she wanted about Danny’s injury… But she chooses to tell the truth?

Kristine: Oh, I have insight into that. I think it’s classic abuse victim behavior. I used to work with a woman trapped in a physically abusive relationship, and when she came in with visible bruises she would tell ridiculous stories. Like insanely over-the-top, physics-defying explanations, when she could have just said, ‘Oh, my dog did that,’ or something plausible. I think it was because she wanted us to question her stories and figure out what was really happening. She wanted it somehow documented in our minds. I saw it as a cry for help, if you will. In the case of Wendy/Jack, it’s clear that their issues (and Jack’s darkness) existed far before they got to the hotel. I think Wendy wanted the doctor, a figure of authority, to know Jack’s history in case something happened.

Sean: Hmmm… I’m not sure I agree, but ok.

Kristine: This is just a tiny aside, but wasn’t it weird how they pulled Danny out of school for like, months because of a dislocated shoulder? WTF? My sister dislocated my shoulder when we were kids and it was like, ‘Pop it back in!’

Sean: Yeah, I wonder if that actually hints at a more devastating trauma in Danny’s past than simply a dislocated shoulder.

Seth McFarlane is hosting the Oscars?!

Kristine: I thought the same thing – like this isn’t this family’s first time “going into hiding.” The scene with Wendy and the doctor was so uncomfortable. Wendy chain-smoking all nervously while the doctor looks disgusted and horrified?

Sean: See, I’m not sure I’m comfortable thinking about her story to the doctor as a cry for help and I don’t think that Kubrick intends it that way. I think that scene is about narrative, about how people concoct these stories in order to make sense and assert some control over their realities. I see Wendy there as like, going through the script of how she decided the whole thing went down, and she is so oblivious of what the story sounds like to an outsider that she just kind of runs through it without a hint of self-consciousness.

Kristine: I can see that in the way Wendy wraps up the story to the doctor like it’s a fairy tale – “And he hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol since!”

Sean: Exactly. I think Wendy’s obliviousness is one of the reasons that the movie acts sadistically towards her and invites us to identify with Jack. How clueless she is about what it takes to be a writer, about the true extent of the danger Jack poses to herself and Danny, etc. I think Kubrick hates Wendy because he frames her as a moron and a dope (but maybe I’m being tainted by my knowledge that Kubrick loathed Shelley Duvall and used to scream and curse at her in front of the crew).

Kristine: Yes, Kubrick hates Wendy, and hated Duvall. Definitely. It is well-chronicled and well-documented that he was a monster to her on set.

Outtake from Justin Bieber’s next video

Sean: But I don’t see Wendy’s story to the doctor as a cry for help, because she’s too locked into her own version of events to even think about it that way. I also think it’s noteworthy that the doctor is an older woman, and not a dismissive patriarchal figure. If there ever was a person for Wendy to talk to about Jack’s violence, it’s this doctor who is presented as intelligent but also maternal and part of “the sisterhood.” It underscores Wendy’s obliviousness that she ignores all of that and just blathers this inane series of justifications she’s concocted. But this actually gets at something larger thematically in the movie for me, and that is the breakdown of language and of narrative…

Kristine: I think we are both right. I absolutely agree that she is creating a narrative that she needs to believe in order to explain her life and decisions. And I agree that kind of world-building happens time and time again in the movie, when characters “decide” things are a certain way – like when Jack thinks Wendy and Danny are conspiring against him. But I also think I am right… I think a subconscious part of Wendy wants someone to know the score before she goes to the hotel. I think it’s possible for Wendy to have duality – to be naïve and oblivious but also, somewhere deep inside, to be aware that she and Danny are in danger with Jack. And it’s also an important scene because, like I said, it establishes that Jack had this darkness long before the hotel. Have you read King’s novel and/or seen the miniseries (I have not)?

Sean: Yes, I read the book a couple of times as a tween, though I have never seen (nor do I have any interest in seeing) the miniseries.

Kristine: My understanding is that King’s version places more emphasis on the evil being an unambiguously supernatural force coming from the hotel, as opposed to being an inherent part of Jack’s psychology.

Norm!

Sean: Yes – King criticized Kubrick’s movie for that reason. The TV miniseries was meant to be a more “faithful” adaptation of the book. I mean, King is a sentimentalist and his version of the story involves like, Jack momentarily regaining his composure right before the Overlook explodes and being like “I love you Danny! Run!”

Kristine: Ha!

Sean: King’s book is too sentimental about fathers and sons. Kubrick stripped all sentimentality out of the story, to the movie’s credit.

Kristine: I have to say, the only thing in this movie that made me roll my eyes was when I heard the words “sacred Indian burial ground.”

Sean: Right?

Kristine: I was all, ‘Of course,’ and then the hotel is all Native American’d out in the interior design.

Sean: That is so King, that is a trope in his books. I actually really liked the incorporation of all the AmerIndian iconography into the design of the hotel and I liked the history about the builders of the hotel having to defend against Indian raids. But the burial ground as a possible explanation for the haunting is queer.

Kristine: It is so queer. Wait, Sean, what other movie featured the Indian burial ground as an explanation for horror? Was it Poltergeist?

Sean: Well, you’re almost right. In Poltergeist it is just a regular old cemetery, not an Indian burial ground.

Kristine: Oh. I thought I was going to get a million horror movie club points for remembering, but I don’t.

Sean: No, you still remembered an important detail, so you get 500 points. But the Indian stuff ties the movie into American mythology in a way that I really like (as do the early mentions of the Donner party on the family’s drive to the Overlook). Another trope of King’s books is the Magical Negro, which is first established in the novel The Shining and makes it into this movie also.

What do you mean, we used to buy and sell black people?

Kristine: Yes, I was going to say, Halloran represents a tiny bit of sentimentality that Kubrick leaves in – the surrogate father-figure to Danny. Though he is unceremoniously hacked up.

Sean: Kristine, in the book Magical Negro lives and the book ends with Wendy, Danny and Halloran all in Florida and Halloran is like, rubbing Danny’s back and going “It’s gonna be okay, doc.”

Kristine: Oh my god, I am dying laughing. You are kidding me.

Sean: That is true.

Kristine: What about the Magical Negro’s bedroom being decorated with large scale paintings of nubian princesses?

Sean: I loved the blaxploitation goddesses in Magical Negro’s apartment. I mean, if nothing else it hints that Halloran possesses sexuality, and is an actual being, which is good. So many Magical Negro characters are neutered and one-dimensional. I was relieved that the movie indicates, even in that small way, that Halloran’s whole life isn’t about fostering white babies.

Kristine: What if when Danny started “shining” to Halloran, he shone back, “Honky, leave me alone! I am relaxing in the FLA with my ladies!” In my world, shining is like IM’ing, just fyi.

Early character designs for She-Ra, before the Aryan Party got their hands on her

Sean: That would be so Jeepers Creepers.

Kristine: Right?

Sean: I mean, at least Halloran and Danny met IRL and like, had a connection. The Magical Negro in Jeepers Creepers was like, ‘Hmmm some total white strangers need my help? To the Blackmobile!’

Kristine: Sean, I don’t know how we are going to get to everything about this movie. There is so much.

Sean: I know. I remembered this movie as being very stripped down and sleek, but in reality it is incredibly dense.

Kristine: Ok. What did you think of the shining business? Did you find it hokey or effective?

Sean: I love the conceit of the shining, and I think that without it the movie wouldn’t have as much power. In fact, Danny as an uncanny child is central to the movie for me. I don’t find it hokey. In King’s book it might be hokey, but in Kubrick’s hands it is not.

Kristine: I heart Danny forever. We are to believe, since Magical Negro explains that the ability to shine is passed down, that Jack also has the shine, which is why he can see and interact with the spirits in the hotel, right? Is the shine what drives Jack crazy or is it unrelated?

Would YOU like a glass of fresh head blood?

Sean: I actually think Halloran’s monologue about his grandmother directly links Danny to the black community in a way that is worth thinking about. It also feels like a metaphor for the history of slavery.

Kristine: I agree.

Sean: Personal trauma (Jack’s abuse) and national/historical trauma (slavery/racism) are linked.

Kristine: Yes. People who can’t freely speak out can still communicate in other ways.

Sean: Yes, exactly. The idea is that these kinds of traumas actually change nature; they create supernature. They create loopholes in the human experience and they alter – irreparably – the consciousness of the victims.  But I do not think Jack gave Danny his ability.

Kristine: Huh.

Sean: I don’t think of Jack as supernatural at all.

Kristine: You are shocking, my friend.

Sean: You do?

Kristine: I think Jack is also clearly damaged, and I do think he has some abilities when it comes to the shining, but he is a much blunter instrument than Danny.

Sean: This goes back to my earlier point: the shining might be inherited in the black community because that is a collective trauma. But Danny is an aberration because of his trauma at Jack’s hands – he is not part of a communal legacy in the way Halloran is. If there was some narrative about Jack’s father being cruel to Jack as a child, I might buy it, but there’s not.

Kristine: Interesting. I still stand by my theory that Jack has the shining, too.

from Neil Patrick Harris’ New Year’s Party

Sean: Plus, the idea that Jack can see the spirits at the hotel because he has “abilities” is undercut at the end when Wendy sees all the phantoms (the dog blowing the butler, the blood in the elevator, the skeletons and spiderwebs, etc.) I think Jack’s descent into madness has to do with (a) patriarchy and (b) the artistic temperament, but not with anything supernatural.

Kristine: What other movie did we watch that had those same themes? Patriarchy and the artistic temperament, and a woman putting aside her best interests to go to a remote location so her man can work?

Sean: Hour of the Wolf.

Kristine: Yes. I kept thinking of that while I was watching and decided I get 1 million horror movie points.

Sean: You do. Also, just fyi, we saw Sinister last night, and it is also about those three things. Also, I hated it and thought it was a complete and total piece of crap.

Kristine: But it is so well-reviewed! You need to write a dissenting argument and throw it on the web.

Sean: The only good thing about it is Ethan Hawke, who I really like these days. He is an actor I have made a total 180 on, going from loathing to loving. Penelope Cruz is another. Liam Neeson is a third.

Kristine: Yeah, totally on Ethan. I have never loathed Penny or Liam. Did you find the scene when Danny is shaking and drooling and shining to Halloran as terrifying as I did?

Sean: Yes. Danny’s shining spazz-outs are totally scary and great. All of his uncanny behavior works so well, and it is really really hard to get a convincing “freaky’ performance from a kid (this is the main reason Sinister was such a piece of shit) and Danny delivers.

Kristine: I was going to say that Danny the actor is great. Do you know he didn’t pursue acting at all? He is like a professor now.

Danny confesses to the mirror: Raisin Bran sucks.

Sean: Even him making “Tony” talk is totally creepy. His “Tony” voice is awesome.

Kristine: It is. If you call me at 4 a.m. talking like Tony I will die.

Sean: Danny is awesome. His Apollo rocket sweater?

Kristine: I thought the Americana stuff, like that sweater and his big wheel, were really great touches. Danny 4ever! It made Danny, despite his uniqueness, so relatable as just a kid. Did you see this movie as a kid? And if so, did you identify with Danny and believe you had the shining?

Sean: No, I did not see this as a kid. In fact, the plot of this movie was told to me by a peer on the playground of Homestead Park Village when I was like 5 years old. He had seen it the night before on television and told me all about it and it scared the hell out of me (and also fascinated me). I did not actually see the movie until years later, when I was 12 or 13. There are a handful of horror movies that were “told” to me by people who’d seen them when I was very small (my aunt told me the gist of The Howling when I was 6, a schoolfriend’s mom told us the plot of A Nightmare on Elm Street after vetoing our request to go see it in the theater – we were 9). They were always scarier in the telling than in the watching.

Kristine: How did he explain it?

Sean: He just told me random scary scenes: the woman in room 237, the blood elevator, the little girls.

And Oprah was relieved when her flow returned….

Kristine: When I saw this the first time (circa 1992) I remember being so traumatized by both the woman in the bathtub and the little girls. This time around the little girls were still scary, but the woman in the bathtub was no bigs. The blood elevator is so amazing. That visual is just… kudos Kubrick. I saw a photo somewhere of set guys dealing with all the “blood” with these big push brooms. It’s amazing.

Sean: Awesome. But to finish addressing your question, I never identified with Danny and I never thought I had the shining. Why would you ask me that?

Kristine: Because I always thought I had “special abilities” when I was a kid and I figured all kids thought so about themselves.

Sean: You did?

Kristine: Didn’t you? I was constantly trying to levitate or communicate telepathically with like, trees and the cat.

Sean: No.

Kristine: Have I just outed myself as a freak?

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: My sister was always busting me. She was like, “I know what you think you are doing. Quit it,” when she saw me putting my hand to my forehead to control the bowling ball when we went bowling. She was like, “You are dumb and embarrassing.”

Sean: We both had mean sisters. My sister would always undermine my confidence and be sure to remind me what a stupid idiot I was.

Kristine: It was dumb and embarrassing.

Sean: No, our sisters were monsters.

Kristine: Ha!

Sean: So I was thinking, Whose movie is this? Is it Wendy’s movie?

Kristine: No.

Sean: Is it Jack’s? Is it Danny’s? Who is the protagonist of this movie?

Kristine: That’s a good question. I mean, the perspective shifts, doesn’t it?

Sean: Let me explain that up until this viewing I always considered this movie to be about Jack Nicholson’s character, and took it for granted that he was the main character. But watching it this time I was struck by how little we’re actually allowed to see things from his point of view. We’re kept distant from him in a lot of ways that I hadn’t remembered….

I said “Extra pepperoni!”

Kristine: Even though we know Jack is a monster, we kind of root for him. When he is berating and menacing Wendy on the stairs and she is sobbing and saying weak stuff like, “I am just very confused,” part of me hated her for her weakness the way Jack hates her.

Sean: Yes I think Jack’s misogyny is presented in an incredibly entertaining way and makes us want to side with him, even when he’s scaring us also with all his weird grunts and hand gestures.

Kristine: His profound irritation with his family is such a real life thing, that’s what makes it so scary.

Sean: Yes, but most of the conflict comes out of his artistic struggles.

Kristine: I think we are supposed to know that, but I don’t think the movie shows that enough. I mean, the one scene that sticks out for me is when Jack is supposed to be writing and he is throwing the ball over and over at the wall (which is kind of sacrilegious or at least disrespectful, since it is painted with the mural of Native American iconography).

Sean: Yes. First off, that scene is a great joke because it merges his violence with this very anodyne and American activity (throwin’ the ball around) and Wendy’s use of the baseball bat later is a great callback. Remember when he screams at Wendy that she fucked up his life and that if he doesn’t finish this book he will have to resort to “shoveling driveways, working at car washes”? There is so much more class stuff in this movie than I ever remembered.

Kristine: Yes, his resentment of Wendy is really central to the violence between them and often is the focus of his aggression, like when he is saying that she is constantly trying to bring him down and ruin his life. Remember when he calls Wendy “The Ole Spermbank”?

Sean: Gross, yes.

Kristine: I died when he said that. I am dead now. Another classic family dynamic: how Jack pretty much ignores Danny, so of course Danny has a much stronger bond with his mother, but then Jack is angry and upset and feels like the two of them are conspiring against him. And remember Wendy wants to leave to protect Danny, and Jack resents her putting Danny’s needs above his own. That scenario, of the male wanting to be adored as a father figure but not wanting to put in the work, getting easily irritated and passing off the kid to the mother is just classic stuff.

She knew she never should have invited Sentient Axe over for dinner. Everyone knew he had a temper.

Sean: Classic asshole father stuff. There’s also a lot of fairy tale references I’d forgotten, like when they first get to the hotel and are being shown around, Wendy says “such an enormous maze I’ll have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs.” Later Jack recites the Big Bad Wolf’s lines as he’s hacking the bathroom door open with the axe. The father as monster is, of course, the biggest idea at the core of this movie and the one I relate to the most. Danny is, to me, Every Battered Child, including me. That’s one of the reasons this movie is an eternal classic and Danny is such a figure of pathos. So much of the family dynamic is straight out of my own childhood and, I’m convinced, the childhoods of anyone who grew up with a domineering and/or outright abusive father. When Danny wants to tiptoe into the apartment to get his toy but “Daddy is sleeping”?

Kristine: Sean. That scene…

Sean: …was my childhood.

Kristine: The subliminal fear that is present in their family unit, even before Jack goes nuts, is really scary. Just as scary as any of the ghosts and the madness that come later. That bedroom scene reminded me of the story you told me of going to see Twilight Zone: The Movie with your family. [Editor’s Note: The story is, when Sean was 8 he went with his parents to see the movie on opening night because his father was a Twilight Zone superfan dating back to his own childhood. There is an unexpected jumpscare in the film’s prologue that terrified Sean and he had a mini-nervous breakdown, hysterical with tears, begging his mother to take him out of the movie. She grabbed his knee, pinching it as hard as she could, and was like, “If you ruin this for your father there is gonna be hell to pay. Now sit there and be goddamn quiet!” and Sean curled up in his seat, afraid to move or breathe or else his parents would storm out and his dad would go crazy on him for “ruining” the movie. He had nightmares about the movie for months after that and was terrified every night to go to bed.]

Sean: What a tale that is. Sometimes I’ve told that story to people, and it is so ugly that they are actually disgusted with me for having lived it and it being true.

Kristine: I hate it so much. Another classic asshole move – and I referenced this earlier – when Jack is screaming at Wendy about how she doesn’t understand his responsibilities and his commitment to his job (re: his commitment to other white males) when, in fact, Wendy has been the one doing all the work in the hotel. I think it is really significant that she is shown working the CB, operating the boiler room and whatever, while Jack is playing ball.

Flashdance

Sean: So Jack and my father are basically the same person and that whole staircase confrontation between Jack and Wendy literally happened 1,000 times in my childhood between my parents, minus the homicidal impulses, but still way uglier and with hitting (usually of me), chasing, screaming and more mania.

Kristine: The staircase confrontation was the ugliest part of the movie, save Grady’s ghost telling Jack he needs to “correct” his family. Will you address my point about Wendy actually being more hands-on and competent with the hotel business?

Sean: I thought we had already talked about that and I had agreed?

Kristine: I guess I mean more that it’s so classic male to be like, “the burden of keeping this family afloat is all on me, so I am granted certain privileges [i.e. you have to be silent and inhibited so I am not interrupted while I sleep all day]” when in reality the female is doing most of the work.

Sean: Oh right. Yes I totally agree. And those images of Wendy pushing the food cart across the vast halls of the hotel (literally like a maid)…

Kristine: I mean, Jack is terrifying even before his breakdown. Testy, impatient, easily irritated, and always demanding to be deferred to.

Sean: The scariest thing about my father was how unpredictable he was. One minute everything was fine, then there would be an explosion of rage and a huge scene.

Wendy’s method for dealing with stray cats who get into the hotel

Kristine: That is terrifying. Remember when Wendy asks Jack to “take her for a walk?” Ugh. And he is all, “no, I have my work to attend to.” Did your father have the expectation, like Jack, that despite all his maniacal antics that you should adore him and know that he loved you?

Sean: Oh, I have so many creepy stories about my father forcing love upon me. It is disgusting. What about when Wendy is trying to be supportive and is like, “All you have to do is keep at it, hon” about his work and he’s all “Right, that’s all I have to do” like she’s the dumbest moron in the universe?

Kristine: Yes! Remember that creepy-as-fuck scene, after Danny goes in the room to get his truck and Jack makes him come over and is like, “Don’t you know I love you and would never hurt you?” Like, actually perplexed that the kid wouldn’t know that…

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: I thought it was really interesting when Jack is being manipulated/shamed by Grady about not taking control of his family… Not being the King of the House that he is supposed to be according to the patriarchy. What do you think about Grady as the devil on Jack’s shoulder?

Sean: Hold on. I have one point to make before that. Something that’s been written about and discussed concerning this movie is that one of the primary conflicts in the film between Jack’s “world of words” and Danny’s “world of images.” I actually find all that very interesting and persuasive, especially thinking about how language fails Jack and he is unable to create a narrative (his rambling, repetitive manuscript).

Kristine: I like this, continue…

Danny’s personality on loan from Michael Myers

Sean: Whereas Danny operates by pure imagery. When Danny tries to use language it is bastardized (the backwards REDRUM). Language fails in this movie. Narrative fails. There ultimately is no story to make sense of things, and no stories make sense.

Kristine: Yeah, and narrative and words exist in the domain of the rational,  authoritative, non–working-class male.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Whereas imagery and intuition is more of a female thing, and Jack is disgusted and scared of the female.

Sean: That’s one way of framing it, but we could also get meta- and think about literature ceding the cultural space it had inhabited for centuries to film….

Kristine: When you said words versus images, I immediately thought of King versus Kubrick. I mean, in the most obvious way, King is known for being incredibly prolific, churning out millions and millions of words and he is obsessed with story. Whereas Kubrick is known, even within a medium like film, for being an emphatically visual director. I mean, The Shining is amazing to look at. You know those fan-made movie posters I put up on Facebook? Just looking at them you realize the incredible volume of iconic images that come from this one film. And Kubrick was a still photographer, which had a huge impact on how he made movies, right?

Sean: Makes sense to me.

Kristine: Even though we never saw a scene of this, you can infer that Jack’s feelings about Danny’s “condition” ranged from not caring to pure annoyance. I’m sure he wanted the kid to “get over it” and join the world of rational men.

Sean: Right.

Kristine: I just got an image of Jack’s horny face when the naked ghost woman gets out of the tub in Room 237 and now I want to die.

Sean: I mean, does this mean that cinema is coded as irrational and feminine, while literature is coded as rational and masculine?

Kristine: Hmmm. I don’t know about that, but I do think the industries of film and the visual arts are more receptive to women then the world of literature is.

Grady carefully chose the yellow hallway to slaughter his children for the nice color contrast

Sean: Well, so many of the moments of “terror” here are purely visual. The images of the girls chopped up in the hall, the blood elevator, the dog blowing the butler, the woman in Room 237…

Kristine: And also just the hotel itself. The best part of the whole movie, visually, is that long, low tracking shot that follows Danny as he rides around on his big wheel.

Sean: I love the sound of the tires switching from carpet to hard floor and back again. I just want to quickly give a shout out to the sound design of this movie, which is masterful and I think responsible for 89% of the movie’s effectiveness

Kristine: I was just going to say. The sound design is so scary and suspenseful. You know, I was thinking about the role of interior/exterior space in this film. For one, they have this whole hotel to roam around in, but their actual living quarters are these cramped little rooms. Wouldn’t you be all, ‘Fuck that! I am sleeping in a different room every night. Or turning the ballroom into my personal bedroom’? But more significantly, I was thinking about how interior spaces are supposed to be the domain of the female, and exterior the male. But in this film, Jack becomes one with the interior – we never see him outside (until the end) and he wants to stay in the Overlook “forever and ever.” Remember he tells Wendy that when he got to the Overlook he had a feeling “stronger than déjà vu.” Whereas Wendy explores the outside world with Danny. Ultimately, Wendy and Danny are saved by the outside, and Jack is killed by it. The hotel seems to me to be an exaggerated version of the uterine, domestic space, which should be safe and maternal, but it is warped, distorted, not safe. I love that Jack is ultimately killed by the elements.

Sean: Well, I think another way of framing your point – that sticks to your interest in gender – is that classic binary where Nature is feminine and civilization is masculine. One thing that critics of this movie have written about a ton (and that I honestly do not understand at all) is that the design of the Overlook itself is haphazard – there are doors that lead to nowhere, windows where there shouldn’t be, etc. The architecture of the hotel itself is chaotic and unstable.

I am Zeus!

Kristine: Right, it’s warped like Jack’s mind.

Sean: Whereas the natural world is represented in the movie primarily by the maze – this extremely ordered natural space.

Kristine: Right. What about the scene where Jack looks down at the miniature of the maze and Wendy and Danny are in it? He is like the totally omniscient presence, almost Zeus-like.

Sean: But following that line of thinking, it is weird that the hedge maze is this representation of mankind imposing order on the natural. It is not a wild, disordered space. It is a completely constructed and artificial piece of Nature right?

Kristine: Yeah, but ultimately nature always wins…

Sean: So you’re saying the blizzard that kills Jack is like female ejaculation?

Kristine: No.

Sean: You’re saying that the blizzard is a frosty avenging vagina.

Kristine: Sure, Sean. I knew there was no way we could get through a discussion without you inserting vagina metaphors. It will never happen.

Sean: You are the one who said, “Nature is an angry labial fold.” Not me.

Doublemint Nightmare

Kristine: Some of the things I found the most scary this time around: the intertitles with the days of the week. Those images, along with the ominous music, are so scary. It’s been imitated a lot, but so fucking effective here. Also, Danny’s face during his shining freak-outs. The little girls when Danny rounds the corner on his big wheel. Jack berating Wendy on the stairs. I think those are my top moments of fear. What are yours?

Sean: The music throughout scared me. I guess what I really find unnerving, more than any specific scenes, is just the palpable sense of dread that the film establishes in the first hour. It is so pervasive and effective and it makes everything, even the mundane scenes, feel fraught. That’s what struck me this time around. I mean, a perfect example of this is how Danny’s big wheel tracking shot feels scary, even when it’s just this mundane thing.

Kristine: Yeah, and the intertitles really help that establish that mounting sense of dread.

Sean: I also love the talk between Danny and Halloran about Room 237. I love the idea of Room 237. To tell you the truth, here’s what scared me the most this time: when Wendy comes running back to Jack and is like, “Jack, Jack, Danny said a weird old woman attacked him!” The movie excises some key scenes that you’d think it would show. Like we don’t see Danny’s collapse in the bathroom and Wendy finding him, they just cut right to the doctor’s visit.

Kristine: This is true. It makes everything more mysterious and subjective.

Sean: And they don’t show Danny being attacked or him telling Wendy about it. For some reason, her running to Jack and saying “Danny says there’s some old woman in the hotel” is really scary to me. I’m like, ‘Wait who is reliable here?’

Kristine: Like, could Wendy be the one who is crazy? Or Danny?

Sean: Yes, exactly.

Kristine: It adds more suspicion both for the characters and for the viewers.

Kubrick’s niece gets her big break

Sean: Yes. And it makes Jack going up there scary. Though it does lead to my big eyeroll moment – the full frontal bush.

Kristine: I was thinking that one way of reading the movie is that Wendy is the nutcase, that she knew about what happened with the past caretaker and she projected it onto Jack, that she was the one that injured Danny. Before Jack basically is just hollering and grunting like a rabid ape, when he is still coherent and verbal, it sounds like he is calling Danny to save him, not to kill him. Like, save him from Wendy. I love the ambiguity about who the reliable narrator is.

Sean: I also found the scene of Wendy dragging Jack into the storage closet to be unbearable. I was like ‘He’s gonna get up and hurt you, move faster.’ She’s all, slowly and relaxedly dragging him and then it takes her 20 minutes to open the door.

Kristine: Oh, I know.

Sean: So can we talk about all the 1920s stuff and the genteel fancy ghosts? And all the class stuff that comes along with it?

Kristine: All the ghosts are workers at the hotel. Well, not the Room 237 lady. She is an upper-class lady, which is why I think Jack was so horny for her.

2+3+7 = 12. Think about it.

Sean: I think a big part of this movie is a blue-collar guy and his relationship to wealth, status and class. I mean, the Overlook is just this decadent space, this manifestation of excess and class privilege. Remember that the manager of the hotel explains that back in the day the Overlook was the stomping grounds of “the jet set, four presidents, lots of movie stars, all the best people.”

Kristine: Don’t you think that is why the Torrance family stays in their little living quarters? Like, they know their place.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Remember the weird exchange when they are talking to the manager about their apartment and how it is “cozy” and “homey”? Whereas the rest of the hotel is glam and decadent.

Sean: Yeah and the manager is like, ‘No winter sports here.’ The hotel is “useless” – it exists just to be decadent.

Kristine: Just think about the folly of building something that can only be used for such a limited time. It is a complete folly, man trying to assert his desires over nature.

Boardwalk Vampire

Sean: Yes and the movie ends with Jack in that July 4th, 1920s picture in a tuxedo – he has been swallowed and reconstituted backwards into that imagined past.

Kristine: Where he wants to be.

Sean: Good point. But “the high life” is literally this temporal and existential haunting. It’s this metaphysical void.

Kristine: But it’s also the idea that things were better then… black people and women knew their place. Jack romanticizes the past because it is a location where a patriarchy exists that is comfortable and absolute. No women are checking the boiler room or using CB radios in the 1920s.

Sean: The 1920s, when mens was mens.

Kristine: Yeah, and back then they would have recognized Jack’s genius and he would have gotten his just rewards, instead of now when he is stuck with this whining wife and brat kid. He thinks he deserves more.

Sean: But it’s also about celebration vs. work. The high life is all about endless celebrating. Jack goes mad because of his own lack of discipline. He isn’t a “worker” – he’s useless.

That smart-talking door gets what’s coming

Kristine: All work and no play…

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: I would like to talk about the Grady sisters.

Sean: Wendy says “Pink and gold are my favorite colors.”

Kristine: Do you know that there is an ongoing discussion that the sisters are aesthetically based on the famous Diane Arbus photograph? I think this theory holds water since, as we discussed, Kubrick was a photographer and would have definitely been aware of that image.

Sean: Did I tell you that the cultural history of horror I’m reading starts in the 1960s with Diane Arbus rediscovering the 1930s banned exploitation movie Freaks and being thus inspired to photograph mutants?

Kristine: Cool. Can you imagine being one of the actresses who played the Grady sisters in this movie? And being out on a date 20 years later and being all, “Oh, yeah, that was me.”

Sean: Are they Real Nopewives?

Kristine: No, I think they are also professors. But The Real Housewives of the Overlook Hotel is an amazing idea. I had another thought about class/domesticity/family/etc.  How Wendy and Danny are always watching TV while Jack is engaged in a “serious” pursuit (writing). Do you remember in the beginning when Jack calls Wendy and she is sitting at the kitchen table reading… The Catcher in the Rye.

Sean: Unfortunately Kubrick basically presents Wendy as a giant she-child and infantilizes her.

Kristine: Yeah, she is presented as emotionally retarded. She can’t process what is happening fast enough, she gets “very confused” and wants to “go to her room” and “think.”

Sean: Yes – though I found her powerlessness to be actually very authentic. And there’s some nice foreshadowing of the danger she is in when early in their stay at the Overlook she is cooking breakfast while watching the news and their reporting a story about a young woman who went missing while on a hike with her boyfriend. Which, of course, underscores how much the violence in this movie is about gender and how women are cast as victims. But of course Wendy is too oblivious to take notice of any of these signs.

Wendy wrote The Hunger Games

Kristine: Going back to earlier, I still do think that despite the lack of a familial bond, Danny and Jack are connected. Wendy is the odd one out, the one that doesn’t get it.

Sean: No.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: I disagree.

Kristine: We agree to disagree.

Sean: How is Wendy the odd one out? Prove it.

Kristine: Jack knows Danny has abilities… Wendy just thinks he is a victim, like her. Wendy will never “get” Danny, even though she loves him.

Sean: Jack does not know that.

Kristine: He does, too.

Sean: When?

Kristine: The ghost waiter tells him.

Sean: That’s not the same and it is not fair. The movie uses the ghosts to stack the deck against Wendy and it makes me mad. She smartly locks Jack up in the pantry and the ghosts let him out. Unfair.

Kristine: That was unfair.

Have you ever heard the expression “axe wound”?

Sean: And now the ghosts tell Jack things and it is unfair. The narrative of the movie is designed to make Wendy lose.

Kristine: But she wins.

Sean: I think its more that Danny wins.

Kristine: True, because Danny effectively kills Jack.

Sean: I have a question for you: Remember when the hotel manager explains the story of the other caretaker in 1970 and Jack claims that Wendy is a ghost story/horror movie fanatic?

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: Is that a lie?

Kristine: I thought he said that with derision – like, she likes this dopey stuff whereas he is a real writer.

Sean: I think it is a total lie. There is no way Wendy likes that stuff. Though she does say, of the hotel, “Just like a ghost ship, huh?”

Love your penis sweater.

Kristine: I might be reaching here, but I think The Catcher in the Rye is an interesting choice of reading material for Wendy, since this movie is about alienation. Jack feels alienated from his family and misunderstood/not recognized. And, as we said before, Wendy is infantilized in the movie… reading the classic novel of adolescent alienation!

Sean: So she reads this story of male alienation, but all glassily-eyed can’t comprehend what it means?

Kristine: She’s basically reading a foreshadowing of Jack’s story.

Sean: Aha! Remember the gravedigger’s story about the man who kills his family in Halloween. It totally connects to the manager’s story about the former caretaker who kills his family. Think about it.

Kristine: It’s a thing. Welcome to the family unit. Basically, families are evil and will hurt you.

Sean: Last thing I want to add is that during the final snowstorm sequence, while Halloran is driving the Sno-Cat up the mountain to rescue Danny, the announcer is listing all the roads and passes that are snowed out and he mentions that one of the roads that has been closed is… Wolf Creek Pass.

Kristine: No! I am dying.

Sean: Maybe somewhere in that 1920s photo of the July 4th party, Mick is hiding there, watching you.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: Masterpiece!

The Freak’s Rating: Masterpiece!

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20 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)

  1. I am so glad you’ve reviewed this. I’m getting my dusty copy out to watch. (No one will watch it with me). Then I’ll read your comments.

    It’s always fascinated me just how insane Nicholson looked on the way up the mountain, especially in the car. He didn’t need the Overlook to drive him nuts.

      1. So, I watched it again. I had been wondering how I could have forgotten some of the scenes you were talking about — a scene with Wendy and a doctor at the beginning of the film, I thought? Am I going nuts, too? I wondered if we were watching a different film.

        Turns out we were. Sure, Nicholson and Duvall are in my copy, but apparently Kubrick cut about 30 minutes of the film for overseas release. (I haven’t investigated any further, other than to find that out.) I think I’d like to see the “US edition” — seems there’s a bit more story and character development in it.

        Then again, the brevity and immediacy of the terror is pretty cool in the version I watched. There’s not much more that I can say, given we really were watching different films.

          1. I think I may need some help … it seems no one in my neck of the woods knew we were watching a different version and we all own the “overseas” version. (And we call ourselves nerds…) Looks like Amazon is the place for me to get it?

  2. WOLF CREEK PASS!!!! No way!
    The King/Kubrick/Duvall dynamic is so fascinating. I was also wondering if you guys were going to mention Diane Arbus. I feel like she is so widely known as a photographer of “freaks” but so much of her stuff is about capturing the freakishness of daily life in a way that is really, terrifyingly honest. I think this movie captures a lot of that – the dullness of daily chores, the realization that you don’t like your life, or the person you are married to, or your children and that maybe you are NOT a great writer and THAT’S JUST THE WAY IT IS.
    I now feel that I need to immediately re-watch this movie!

    1. Driving home the other day I saw someone who looked just like Mick, behind me at the traffic lights. He was in a muddy utility with a cattle dog on the back, and wearing a creepy, dinged-up hat. There were giant water/fuel containers on the back of the ute.

      What does it say about me, that I inched my finger to the central locking button and sighed, infinitesimally, as I depressed it?

  3. p.s. I really like the dinner party jokes. You now have “Sentient Axe” and “Screaming Penis” at the table. Who’s next?