My first memory of The Shining is seeing a promo on HBO back in the mid-1980s of Jack Nicholson chasing Danny Lloyd through the snow-covered maze. I had never bothered to watch the movie until my teens when I didn’t really like it. I was wondering why Stanley Kubrick would make such a movie. He once said in the 1970s, he was going to direct a porno flick just to show everyone else how it could be made.
Maybe he decided to switch from porno to horror, both are the red-headed stepchildren of movies, with horror at least getting a Christmas card. As a horror movie, it’s not the typical movie, but the 1970s had produced many changes to the genre. William Freidkin followed up his Oscar-win by making The Exorcist. Richard Donner had done The Omen. And Dario Argento had been making a name for himself in Italy with the genre. So, Kubrick had to step up to the plate and take his turn, showing that you could make a horror art movie.
Years later, I began to become more interested in the movie, especially after hearing Stephen King wasn’t much a fan. Part of the reason King was able to make the 1997 miniseries, which was more faithful to the novel, was to stop badmouthing Kubrick as much. In many way, Kubrick is basically using the novel was a stepping off point. A lot of filmmakers do it.
If you don’t know the premise, let me do a recap. Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer, who used to be a school teacher in New England but now living in low-income housing in Boulder, Colo. It’s never really suggested but it’s implied that Jack’s previous alcohol abuse had something to do with him losing his job. In the novel, it’s explained that he had a physical altercation with a student that vandalized his car resulting in the student being injured. He’s also had an incident in which he got too physical with his son, Danny (Lloyd), while he was drinking too much. It’s explained that Danny had scattered some papers Jack was grading and he went to pull Danny up by his arm and injured him. His wife, Wendy (Shelly Duvall) pretty much told him to get straight of she was leaving. Jack has been sober five months since.
However, he’s in need of work. And through some company or business out of Denver, Jack has been sent to interview for the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the Rocky Mountains. It’s never really explained where the Overlook is located but Jack said he made the trip in three and a half hours so it’s high in the Rockies that there is snow on the side of the road in early Fall since the Overlook closes at the end of October. Jack and his family will spend the rest of Fall and Winter in the hotel.
However, as the snow comes in and the isolation gets worse, eventually, Jack goes mad as Danny experiences weird visions. Danny, only a young elementary school age, is capable of seeing premonitions. These sometimes cause him to have seizures and pass out. He has one on the same day Jack interviews at the Overlook. Later when Danny and Wendy are being shown around the kitchen by the head chef Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), Dick speaks to Danny through telepathy. He later explains to Danny that it’s called “shining.” But Danny has premonitions about Room 237 whch Dick tells him to stay away from.
Danny has also seen some young sisters in the games room on closing day. He later sees them a month later while riding around on his Big Wheel tricycle. He also has visions of them bloodied and lying dead in the hallway. It’s earlier mentioned to Jack by hotel general manager, Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson), that a previous caretaker, Charles Grady, had went nuts and killed his wife and two daughters with an axe before shooting himself. This raises questions of whether the Overlook is haunted or has Jack developed “cabin fever” like it’s believed Grady suffered?
Over the last 40-plus years, The Shining has been the subject of multiple fan theories and interpretation. Some people have questioned a lot of continuity errors in the movie which seem odd considering that Kubrick was such a perfectionist. In a food storage room, the items on the shelves change when during a close-up of Dick offering Danny ice cream telepathetically. Ullman says Grady’s first name is Charles, but later when Jack meets a waiter (Philip Stone) with the surname Grady, his name is Delbert. There’s also a change in the background during a scene where Jack gets mad at Wendy for interrupting his concentration while writing. Some people have even noticed the disappearance of a Dopey Dwarf sticker on the wall when Danny is brushing his teeth in the Boulder apartment.
It’s likely that Grady’s first name was Charles but he prefered to go by his second name, Delbert. Ullman says it was his predecessor who hired Grady. The movie was notorious for its lengthy production schedule with constant rewrites happening that Nicholson would get the new pages first thing in the morning on to discover Kubrick had them rewritten by the time he was on set. Nicholson said he got to the point of just memorizing his lines before filming. The continuity errors could be a change in the filming schedules.
Or as some people have suggested, the changes in the continuity are a sign of when something supernatural happens. Since there’s only supposed to be three people in the Overlook, when Jack starts seeing people, there’s always a mirror in the room. When he goes into Room 237 to investigate a woman who may have hurt Danny, he first notices a young nude woman in the bathtub. Then, he sees that it’s actually an older obese woman whose body has started decomposing. When he first sees Lloyd the Bartender (Joe Turkel) in the ball room, there is a mirror behind Lloyd behind the counter. And when he talks to Grady in the public restroom, there are mirrors there.
A recent popular (and controversial) theory by Rob Navarro on YouTube has proposed a theory that Wendy is the one who has mental issues as well as she’s the one who injured Danny months earlier. She’s the one who also harms Danny when he goes into Room 237. This is used to explain a scene where Wendy and Danny are supposed to be watching TV but it doesn’t appear to be plugged in anywhere as it’s set up in the middle of a big room. You can watch the whole video right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRr_0W-9hWg
After the movie was released, Kubrick cut a scene out when Ullman visits Wendy and Danny when they leave in the snowcat Halloran brought up there because it implied Ullman may know more. I’ve always had issues with Ullman or mainly the way Nelson portrays him. Some people are just naturally happy. In the book, Ullman is for a lack of a better word, a prick. And that’s what Jack thinks of him. But in the movie, Ullman is too happy and jovial as he is impressed by Jack.
Another supervisor, Bill Watson (Barry Denen), also sits in with the interview and later when he walks with the Torrance as they are given a tour, he always walks behind Jack. As below Denen has a look that shows that he’s not impressed at all with Jack but doesn’t have any say-so. When the Torrances bring all their luggage into the Overlook lobby, Ullman tells Watson to have someone bring it to their apartment. Watson just replies “Fine” in a dismissive tone.
Is it possible Watson is Ullman’s underling and he behaves differently or is Ullman getting the caretakers as part of a sacrifice? Ullman mentions that the Overlook was built on the site of Indigenous Native American sacred land. Considering that the Overlook was built around the beginning of the 20th Century, no one would’ve cared much as they do now. So, it’s possible that it’s haunted by Native American spirits who go after weak people.
I’m thinking it would be a major prerequisite that the caretakers don’t drink at all. Ullman says they’re allowed to brign their own alcoholic drinks, but wouldn’t that also create a problem. Is it possible Ullman knows more about Jack than we think and his whole attitude during the interview and move-in day is to make him feel more welcome. It’s possible this is why Kubrick cut the scene because he didn’t want audiences to have a definite interpretation.
Maybe there’s a supernatural entity that affects dysfunctional families. Grady, who is also a racist, explains that he “corrected” his family when they wanted to leave. The Torrances are obviously a dysfunctional family with the way Wendy seems almost to defend Jack’s earlier actions when he injured Danny. And Jack tells Lloyd that it was just an accident. These are common terms in abusive homes. The moving away from people they know is another sign of abusive households. Why did they move from Vermont to Colorado? Did Jack screw up another teaching job? He’s mad because Wendy treats Danny too easy. Scenes between Jack and Danny are very awkward indicating the two don’t have a big bond. I don’t really know if I subscribe to the Wendy theory but I feel movies, especially horrors, should be open to interpretations.
It’s possbily Kubrick added the continuity errors just to mess with us. By 1980, he was already known for his attention to detail. It’s been reported the American Department of Defense was very concerned over how the bomber jet was set up in Dr. Strangelove because it was a little too accurate. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the scenes out in space are very quiet because there is no sound in space. Like the hedge maze that is located outside the Overlook, it takes you on a lot of twists and turns.
My biggest problem with the Wendy Theory is I don’t think Ullman would’ve seen Dick to the Overlook. If Jack did call them and say they were going to have to leave, it’s possible Ullman or Watson would’ve gone. Something tells me that they would remain closer to the Overlook in the Denver area or another location closer. Do they both stay at the Watson in the servants quarters during the season when they’re open? I doubt it.
Much has been reported on DuVall’s performance and how bad the tension on set was what we saw on the screen. However, I have seen behind the scenes footage of DuVall holding her own. Now, 73, she looks a lot different as she’s spent years smoking too much and suffering from real mental issues. She reportedly lost clumps of hair on the set from the stress she was put under. However, different reports have said that the relationship between Kubrick and DuVall has been exaggerated. She said Kubrick was “very warm and friendly” to her. Anjelica Huston, who was dating Nicholson at the time, said DuVall was very committed to the role. in 2016 when DuVall appeared on a notoriously exploited episode of Dr. Phil, Kubrick’s own daughter, Vivian, criticized the way it was handled.
Sometimes, it’s just something that is said that is blown out of proportions. During the infamous “Here’s Johnny” scene where Jack breaks down a door with an axe, Nicholson requested a real axe and a real door, instead of a prop door, because he had worked as a volunteer firefighter and knew how to break down a door. A rumor has come up that DuVall was having a nervous breakdown while Wendy is screaming for Jack to stop, it’s actually DuVall pleading with Nicholson. It’s a difficult performance because it’s mostly a reaction role.
Wendy is mostly a sweet and innocent character, a little gullible at times. That’s why she can’t easily defend herself when she has a baseball bat and Jack is intimidating her. It also explains the scene where Jack berates her, why she stands there looking shocked and walks away sadly. This is the worst Jack has spoken to her. Later when she begins to see the strange things around the Overlook like a man in a bear costume performing a sex act on another man as well as a party guest with blood on his head, she’s naturally scared.
Part of the reason King isn’t a fan is that he said Kubrick didn’t emphasize the ending where Jack tries to save his family. In the film’s ending, Jack chases Danny through the maze but gets lost and freezes to death. King was battling alcohol and drug abuse at the time of writing and publishing this novel and many others. It was the third novel he had published and the first one he had wrote after he left teaching to write full time. So, I can understand why it’s so personal for him.
It’s quite possible Kubrick was going to use that the same ending as the book but the filmmaking and editing process is different. It’s been said that the editing process is when you are actually making a movie. At other times, scenes are just being filmed. Annie Hall, which DuVall was also in, was supposed to be a murder mystery comedy before Woody Allen felt the murder mystery plot wasn’t working and re-edited what he filmed. Kubrick may have started out making a simple haunted house movie but found himself able to do more with it the way Martin Scorsese did with the 1991 remake of Cape Fear. With Covid reportedly causing many relationships and marraiges to break up, it may seem more relevant as what can happen when you’re isolated from the general public and alone more with people you realize you don’t want to be with.
What do you think? Please comment.