Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Shining

I've been watching a lot of Kubrick lately and a few days ago, I did a rewatch of The Shining. I've gotten a lot more appreciation for Kubrick's stuff as I've watched more of it. I always loved 2001, and seeing Barry Lyndon a few months ago gave me an appreciation of just how controlled his films are. That was a film where every frame seemed perfect, just totally under control and when you look over his other movies, they're like that too.

The Shining is a bit different because it's not a movie in which Kubrick has to create a whole world. Before this, he had done Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange and 2001, all movies set in either the future or the past, in a wide range of locations, necesitating the creation of alternate worlds, which facilitates his absolute control over the content of each frame. With The Shining, rather than building an entire world, he creates a self contained world within the hotel. The film is a variation on the classic isolated house, things start to go wrong story. What makes this film much more interesting is two things, one is how well developed the characters are, second is the mysterious time fluctuations.

I'm not a fan of most horror films because of the generic requirement of creating scares. Trying to scare the audience frequently means that filmmakers will neglect traditional storytelling and character development in favor of just showing gore or having a bunch of 'jump moments.' If you look at The Grudge, all the scares are meant to come from people suddenly appearing, accompanied by a loud noise. It may startle you, but it's not actually scary. Similarly, gore isn't really scary, it can be disgusting, but watching a Jason movie is more about enjoying the sport of the kill than getting scared.

The Shining isn't a film I would actually consider that scary, but the last hour or so is extremely intense and I think what it does that's most interesting is to show things from both Jack and Wendy's perspective, so we can see him simultaneously as someone who's lost in a haze of visions and uncertainty, and at the same time as a monster, threatening the lives of his wife and son.

Jack Nicholson isn't someone you'd consider the picture of stability, and while I've heard the book is mainly about how spending all this time isolated turns an ordinary guy into a maniac, the film is more about someone who's always this tendency to kill inside him getting it brought to the surface by his time in the Overlook. There's clearly something about the place that does this to people, and the place destroys Jack.

I find Jack very threatening, and a large part of that is because of the vulnerability of the other characters. Danny, even though there's something mysterious about him, is a helpless child when put up against the power of Jack. It's interesting that the two of them almost never interact in the film. They both have to confront the mysterious forces in the Overlook, but their journeys very rarely connect. Then there's Wendy who is an utterly helpless character. Shelley Duvall looks extremely thin, gaunt even, and seems so powerless, especially when put up against the juggernaut that is Jack.

Jack spends most of the movie either alone or hanging out with the characters from his hallucination. This leads to the dual perspective I mentioned earlier, there's the story of Danny and the story of Jack, with Wendy serving as the bridge. One of the things I have a problem with in the film is the fact that Danny's story essentially stops developing about halfway through the movie. His ability to shine never really pays off in any dramatic way. There's definitely a lot more than could be done with it. I suspect a lot of the reason for that is the fact that the film is based on a novel, which makes it more likely than there will be some unresolved loose ends.

If nothing else, I admire the fact that the film leaves you with some questions to ponder. The final shot calls into question everything that's come before and has no clear explanation. I've come up with an explanation for 2001 that works for me, but I'm still struggling to figure out what the end of The Shining means, or at least to work out an explanation that works for me.

I think the most important scene to unwrapping this enigma is the scene with Grady and Jack in the bathroom. Grady says that "You've always been the caretaker" and yet Grady himself, or at least some incarnation of him, was the caretaker in 1970 and he too killed his family. I think the Overlook is 'haunted' in the sense that it brings out things into people and forces them into certain roles. The person taking care of the place will end up going crazy and his family will be killed as a result. When Danny encounters the twins they say "Come play with us, Danny," inviting him to join them in the role of murder victim. Danny resists, but by staying at the Overlook, he is placing himself in this victim role. It's much like the events of 'I Only Have Eyes for You' in Buffy, where a new series of people are possessed by ghosts and re-enact a murder that happened fifty years ago.

We don't know what happened to Grady's wife, other than she died, so it's difficult to see where Wendy fits into this. She's an outsider because she has gotten caught up in Jack's destiny, she doesn't have her own. Jack is the one carrying the burden of being the caretaker, he's always been the caretaker, according to Grady. What does this mean? I think it implies that some version of him is reincarnated as time passes and he is always pushed towards the Overlook. He talks about the weird deja vu he had walking in, fitting because he was there in the 1920s, a different version of him, but he was somehow there nonetheless.

He's essentially a trapped soul, forever destined to enact the same series of events. He talks about how he lost control and pulled Danny's arm in Vermont, that happened because he had to go to the Overlook, all these small events occurred in such a way that they would lead him to the hotel and the role as manager. Once at the Overlook, the destined events begin to occur and because this is a timeless cycle, we see time start to break down. First it's only Jack who goes into these time warps, as in the party scene, but by the end, Wendy is there too. One of the most confusing scenes for me was the scene where she sees some guy in a bear costume and another guy in a hotel room. Apparently, in the book, these two were partygoers from the 1920s. She also sees Grady, post-suicide. All time is breaking down at this point, as the Overlook finally enacts its destiny and claims another victim. So, a series of Jacks will recur over time, as will a series of Gradys. All these people who worked there in the 1920s have become subject to some kind of loop that leads them to be forever stuck in their role, unable to move on. I take it that's what "You've always been the caretaker" means, and the picture supports it. Basically, Jack will be reborn other places, and live other lives, but will always wind up back at the Overlook, and will always try to murder his family, as will Grady.

Now, the question comes up why did this happen? That's what I'm not sure about. I read an essay online stipulating that The Shining was all about the destruction of native Americans, and while I'd hesitate to go that far, I think the fact that it was build on an Indian burial ground implies that something is up with the Overlook. I'll need to rewatch again, but I couldn't find mention of any sort of major event from the 1920s that would lead these people to be trapped in the Overlook forever.

So, in the film the 'Shiners' seem to be set up as a kind of defense force against the Overlook Hotel. Dick Halleran seems to be the first line, I'd suspect the only reason he works at the Hotel is because he knows something is wrong there and he wants to keep an eye out. The only thing that saves Danny and his mother from the fate of the girls is the fact that he is able to shine Halleran and bring him to the hotel. Halleran ended up dead, but it was his snowcat that allowed Danny to survive.

Ultimately, the picture at the end creates an interesting riddle, I presented my suggestion, but I'm sure there's others, and if people have them, please leave them on the comments below. Any film that causes the audience to do this much work is doing something right. That's the genius of Kubrick, his films leave you with so much to consider, it almost makes up for the huge gaps between projects.


Anonymous said...

what u said makes perfect sense

Anonymous said...

yes i see what your saying and it makes a little more sense to me now, but i still think that i don't know, he could have made things more clear. he should have made the boy and the black cook guy shine in a more obvious way. i didn't even get that part. and thats what the whole movie's called . so yeah. i just things should have been more clear. And another thing, Danny always talks to tony, what is tony exactly that he can tell him things and show him things, is he a demonic force, or what? how could he tell him things if he was just in his head. and what did the blood water stuff coming around the corners have to do with anything. i just don't get so much, i think ill have to read the book to understand where he was going with a lot of it, it all just seems really random to me. but thank you for your thoughts on it, its made it a little more understandable.

Patrick said...

I'd definitely agree that the shining itself ends up almost superfluous to the plot. Would the movie have been any different without it? Not particularly, I think Kubrick was more interested in Jack's troubles, and that's what came out in the film.

colemeister said...

Backing up your "thoughts" on the movie: The Grady in the beginning "interview" was introduced to us as "Charles Grady", however in the end, or at least towards the end, the Grady Jack meets is Delbert Grady - and he assumes they are the same Grady which in fact they are not - only the same soul. This backs up your perspective of the Grady situation in the movie.

Anonymous said...

you said everything i wanted to say but i didnt have the words to say it
you are a genius

Cece C. said...

Thanks for explaining things. You've truly opened my eyes!!!

C.cc said...

My feeble mind couldn't comprehend all of that. You're a GOD!
However...I am a higher being than you!

Hunter said...

It's all about the Dark Tower, all of King's books are. If you want more answers, (and more questions as well), I suggest you start with The Gunslinger.

erick888 said...

Great review, i understand the movie much better now but there are still some things that confuse me and i dont know if someone could help me get it, Grady says that johnny has always been the caretaker and yet jhonny was the manager in the past (as u say in ur review) , so why would the manager rencarnate in the role of the caretaker??

Anonymous said...

I have just rewatched the shining the second time after failing to understand all plot points the first time viewing the film. I then watched "stephen king's : the shining" and you'll find that the storyline is more true to the novel and if you watch that then watch kubrick's version it will make a lot more sense.So i highly recommend this option. To make things clear however, "Tony" is actually Danny's alter ego, "the little boy that lives inside my mouth".You'll need to read the novel to fully appreciate the movie in my opinion, but overall its a fantastic movie!! thank you for posting your thoughts!!

Anonymous said...

The book explains it all perfectly. The film is just a hollywood-ised version with no background at all which doesn't necessarily make sense. There are bits in the film which don't even occur in the book and hundreds visa versa.... it's all for drama.

austin said...

Grady is Jack, Jack is talking to himself, only he is talking a different incarnation of himself, one who has done before what he is about to do again. Outlook appears to claim him everytime, in the end rebirthing him for the same role.

Anonymous said...

I read a really interesting analysis of the Shining which basically suggested that the film is an allegory for the invasion of Europe to America and the subsequent genocide of the native Americans.
After seeing that, I can't think of anything else.

Anonymous said...

You sir are a douchebag

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Chris Howley said...

Thank you so much for your review of The Shining. You might enjoy an excellent shot by shot analysis of this incredibly deep film. The analysis was written by Juli Kearns. It is very well researched, and she draws conclusions I have not seen elsewhere. She provides evidence for all of her assertions. It is very well done. I found it by typing Juli Kearns and The Shining into Google.

Most Sincerely, Chris Howley
Quincy, Massachusetts, USA