Thursday, 5 January 2012

Unit 3: Environment - Review - Stanley Kubrick's The Shining

Figure 1. The Shining Poster Art

A masterpiece that creates a sense of nervousness in us all not just from a visual standpoint but on an emotional level that runs deeper than that of a simple crazed killer scenario. The viewer is party to it all as the vulnerable Jack Torrance’s mentality shreds away like the layers of an onion, leaving way to a terrifying example of spousal abuse which ultimately results in daddy becoming a monster & turning on his family.

•Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
•Written by: Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson
•Cast: Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance, Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance, Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann, Barry Nelson as Ullman & Philip Stone as Grady.
•Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery & Suspense
•Duration: 146 Minutes (aprox)

Figure 2. "Some "shine" and some don't”

The Shining is a horror story at heart specifically with the incorporation of spirituality which has its positive and negative influences inside the dreaded overlook hotel. The positive influences are gifted to the Torrance’s child Danny who has a spiritual friend that can predict the future. Danny’s ability also allows him to talk on a mind level to those that attain the same gift known as “The Shining”.

Aside from Danny’s gift which one could attribute to Kubrick’s intent of making Danny the overly intelligent child who knows too much, it has to be said that there is very little that makes Danny alien when one discounts the Redrum debacle which is considered nonsense until reflected by a mirror. Academic Kian Bergstrom observes:
“The most pivotal moment of legibility is when Wendy finally and suddenly decodes Tony's muttered "redrum," by means of a mirror (hardly a passive object in this film) into the word, written in blood-red lipstick, "murder.” (Bergstrom: 2000)
This is possibly the only part of the film where the viewer empathises with Wendy being trapped in the middle of her crazed husband and son that are physically present but mentally absent. Even when one considers that Redrum is Danny’s spiritual ghost Tony prophesising his demise as a warning not a threat, the manner in which it is communicated is in itself terrifying. One could even attribute the backward projection of the wording “Redrum”, as an opposing dimension which was pushed through Danny’s psyche alien only to be decoded by an opposite that writes one way and that way is opposite to the reality of this world, what is Redrum becomes Murder.

Figure 3. "You WERE the caretaker here, Mr. Grady”

The negative spiritual influences are only focused on the dominant father figure Jack Torrance as his psyche is slowly stripped away playing on his inner weaknesses. One could say that what renders Jacks change even more terrifying is the fact that the audience were privy to his demeanour before the house took hold of him, causing the audience to expect one personality of Jack only to be met with another. There is still a Lingering of Jacks original mentality throughout the film which makes it difficult for the viewer to identify Jack as anybody else; this causes one to fear Jacks alien identity when contrasting it with his original personality (from homely to un-homely). Cinefantastique reviewer Steve Biodrowski observes:
“Jack never obliterates his face with a mallet, signifying the destruction of his human personality as the hotel takes complete control of his body; in effect, Jack remains Jack until the end — a demented, homicidal version of himself. This keeps the horror on a human level, instead of diverging into melodramatic genre territory.” (Biodrowski, 2009)
Jack’s mentality is specifically alarming when one considers the scene in which Wendy stumbles onto Jack’s new book which is comprised entirely on the repetition of the same words “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. One could attribute this feeling as an act of betrayal on one level but as the insecurity raises one begins to notice the way the pages are justified almost as if the true content of the book can only be understood by Jack. The book is but another element of the dreaded overlook hotel that remains alien to the audience limiting its understanding creating further isolation between the homicidal Jack, & the normal Wendy.

Figure 4. "I said, I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in”

From the positive & negative supernatural elements operating within the Overlook hotel one could draw into question the prescience of Wendy, who is seemingly the only ordinary person throughout the film. One could consider Wendy as the damsel in distress or the battered wife but one could argue that she possibly has a more important role. Wendy is the people that occupy the audience, a normal person thrown in the middle of two conflicting spectral forces, with her fears coming to light she acts as we all would to strive & escape the nightmare of this reality, to repress these childhood fears as we all do, because we don’t understand them. Respected Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud observes:
“...for this uncanny is in reality nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repression.” (Freud, 1919: 148)
The viewer is compelled to empathise with Wendy because they feel the same thing even if they don’t quite know why. These fears only affect those that have repressed them which is more than likely why some cannot relate to the Uncanny, this is why Wendy’s prescience was key to the Shining. Wendy’s son Danny understands his ability and thus it does not scare him, Jack despite his undertones accepts what is happening to him and embraces it.

Wendy is a witness as her reality unfolds drudging up her memories of repression, where her husband will not embrace her instead he will strike her, where her son will not love her instead he will become alien to her. One could argue that her ultimate fear throughout the film was that her son would become a monster like his father, making the Redrum scene an escalation of her greatest fear.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. The Shining Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 04/01/12)

Figure 2. Some "shine" and some don't. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 04/01/12)

Figure 3. You WERE the caretaker here, Mr. Grady. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 04/01/12)

Figure 4. I said, I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 04/01/12)



Bergstrom, Kian. (2000) Thoughts on Reading Kubrick’s “The Shining”. At: (Accessed on: 04/01/12)

Biodrowski, Steve. (2009) The Shining (1980) – Horror Film & DVD Review. At:
(Accessed on: 04/01/12)

Sigmund, Freud. (1919) Essay on The Uncanny, Penguin Classics, 3rd Edition
(Accessed on: 02/01/12)


  1. ahead of the game, I see, Mr Stitch! :)

  2. You know me Phil, Always playing the angles ;)