©2021, by M. Keith Booker

The Shining is, without a doubt, one of the best (and best-known) horror films ever made. From Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top performance as failed writer Jack Torrance, to those creepy twins, to that rotting woman in Room 237, the film contains some of the most iconic features in all of horror film. At the same time, it is a complex and enigmatic film that has proven capable of supporting a vast range of interpretations, while different critics have been able to find in it a wide variety of commentaries on topics such as class, gender, history, and family[1]. Indeed, the film is so large in scope that it has exercised a far-ranging influence on horror films in a number of different subgenres, even though The Shining itself remains first and foremost a classic ghost story about the haunting of the mysterious Overlook Hotel, nestled in the remote region in the mountains of Colorado, here standing in for the remote islands and isolated cabins in which so many horror films have been set.

The Shining is a classic example (perhaps the classic example) of a horror film that slowly builds an atmosphere of dread based on no obvious identifiable reason, then gradually begins to sprinkle in some clear evidence of a genuine threat, then breaks loose into all-out mayhem. The opening sequence is one of the most effective and carefully crafted in all of horror film. The ominous opening title music (composed and performed especially for the film by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, but based on the “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath” segment of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, itself partly a burlesque of the traditional requiem Dies irae) sets the perfect mood for the long slow drive of Torrance in a yellow Volkswagen Beetle as he goes up the winding mountain road to the remote hotel to interview for the job of winter caretaker, shown in a long overhead helicopter tracking shot that conveys a sense of dread without showing anything that is in itself dreadful[2]. It’s a beautiful scene, in fact, made ominous by the music and the unusual overhead view, though it is also the case that mountains have been seen as a source of the (potentially terrifying) sublime as well as the beautiful at least since the time of the Romantic poets.

The hotel lies in a beautiful setting, and its interior is interesting as well, but there is something vaguely unsettling about the color scheme and the layout, which is presented in such a way that we are never really able to map the hotel or to determine just where in the hotel any specific location lies. In addition, the interior (consisting of sets built for the film at EMI Elstree Studios in Britain) and the exterior (shot mostly at the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, in Oregon) don’t really match, creating more of a sense of uneasiness. And, of course, the fact that the hotel is in such a secluded location, accessible only by roads that are essentially impassable while the hotel is closed from the end of October until May, adds to the sense of possible danger. Again, though, we see nothing in the film’s opening scenes—up to the time when Jack, wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) settle in in the deserted hotel—that is clearly ominous. The isolation seems to be the main threat, and Jack assures the hotel’s manager, Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson), that he looks forward to the isolation so that he can work undisturbed on a new writing project. Still, the extent to which Ullman seems concerned about the possible effects of isolation suggests that they have had problems before with their winter caretakers. Then Ullman delivers the information that they had a “tragedy” during the winter of 1970, providing the first concrete reason to be uneasy about what Torrances are signing up for. Caretaker Charles Grady, Ullman reveals, had a breakdown and killed his wife and daughters (about ages eight and ten) with an axe. Then he killed himself with a shotgun. When Torrance assures Ullman that no such thing will happen with him and his family, he might as well be announcing that it almost certainly will. From this point, it is just a matter of how the Torrances will get to that point, and audiences are on high alert looking for signs.

Jack’s interview also introduces the first of a series of what seem to be errors and inconsistencies in the film. The Overlook, we learn, is open from May 15 to October 30 each year, which means that Jack’s term as caretaker will begin on Halloween, which seems perfect for a horror movie, though it is never mentioned in the film and plays no role in the plot. Jack’s terms as caretaker, we also learn, will last five months. Yet the period from October 31 to May 15, when the hotel is closed, is 6 ½ months. Even if we assume that much of the staff will return at the beginning of May to get the hotel ready for the season, that still leaves six months, rather than five.

Meanwhile, just short of twelve minutes into the film, Danny’s imaginary friend Tony communicates to him his reluctance to go to the hotel. Danny, who is specified in the film to be psychic, then has a vision of blood spilling through the elevator doors of the hotel and of the Grady sisters, standing side by side in a now iconic shot that closely resembles Diane Arbus’s famous photograph entitled “Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967.” The Grady sisters are unquestionably one of the most memorable images from The Shining, though they also introduce one of the film’s many curiosities. Ullman describes the girls as being about eight and ten (and they are merely described as sisters, not as twins, in King’s novel), yet almost everyone seems to remember them as being twins. Indeed, though one girl appears noticeably taller,

The Grady Sisters and the Diane Arbus “Twins” photo.

the sisters are played by identical twins Lisa and Louis Burns, and it seems certain that this casting was intentional. Identical twins do tend to make some people feel a bit uneasy (perhaps because they challenge the cherished notion that each individual is separate and unique), so the use of twins in the film adds to the overall atmosphere of eeriness that pervades the film.

Danny’s vision reinforces the notion that the Torrances are in for big trouble at the Overlook, though there is still no real reason to suspect that genuinely supernatural forces might be involved. Ullman’s attribution of the 1970 tragedy to the psychological effects of isolation in the hotel during the long winter months seems plausible, and even Danny’s vision might simply come from a child’s fertile imagination. Still, Kubrick has already begun the meticulous process of planting hints that something very sinister is afoot. The early mentions of Tony, Danny’s imaginary friend, might simply indicate normal childhood behavior. But they might not. The news that a drunken Jack had once dislocated Danny’s shoulder is dismissed by Wendy as a freak accident, but we have to wonder just how abusive Jack has been[3]. Wendy’s belief that, as they all drive up to the Overlook, they are passing near the spot where the famous Donner Party[4] incident had occurred is incorrect (Jack is right when he assures her it was “further West, in the Sierras”), but this mention of the possible sinister outcome of being snowbound in the mountains nevertheless seems ominous. Jack’s forthright explanation to Danny of who the Donner Party were seems fraught with hostility to his own son. This seems to be a family in trouble, hardly the sort that one would choose to spend the winter isolated together in the mountains.

Danny spots the twins again almost immediately after the Torrances reach the hotel, but there is still room to believe it might simply be his active imagination. Meanwhile, we get our first sight of the hotel’s now-famous hedge maze, while Ullman casually drops the news that the hotel was built (in 1907–1909) on the site of an old Indian burial ground—and that they even had to repel a few Indian attacks during construction, suggesting that the site was quite important to Native Americans in the region. When the Torrances are introduced to Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), the hotel’s head chef (who is about to head to Florida for the winter), Danny and Hallorann seem to establish a psychic connection. By this time, Wendy’s seemingly innocuous remark that the rapidly emptying hotel will soon be “just like a ghost ship” seems surely to carry much more significance than she herself realizes. When Hallorann reveals to Danny that he, too, has psychic powers, including the ability to communicate telepathically (which he refers to as “shining,” thus the title of the film), we begin to wonder what that means in terms of the visions Danny has been having. We also wonder what it means that Halloran seems awfully interested in Tony or that Hallorann describes the Overlook Hotel as having “something about it that’s like shining.” Hallorann’s blunt warning that Danny should stay out of Room 237 also suggests that he knows more than he is actually saying.

Danny is naturally concerned, though the Torrance parents seem, at first, to be settling in well. Jack seems particularly enthusiastic, but his suggestion that he feels so at home in the hotel that it is as if he had been here before will retrospectively have grim connotations. Then he makes spooky noises, suggesting that it is almost as if he has a supernatural affinity for the place. In one early scene, Wendy brings Jack breakfast in bed, using luxurious settings from the hotel kitchen. Jack, we can see, is wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of “Stovington,” the school where he formerly taught (at least according to the King novel). However, the shirt is first seen in a mirror, so that the name reads in mirror-reverse, thus prefiguring Danny’s fascination with the term “Redrum” (mirror-reverse of “murder”) later in the film. Mirrors and mirroring will, in fact, be important throughout the film.

Soon afterward, Wendy and Danny go to explore the strangely mysterious-seeming hedge maze, while Jack stays in the lounge of the hotel to work on his writing—or rather his not writing, as he spends most of his time playing with a tennis ball. He also spends some time gazing at a scale model of the hedge maze that sits in the lounge. Then, in a strange moment that is never explained in the film, he appears to see tiny figures of Wendy and Danny moving about inside the model, just as the real Wendy and Danny move about in the real hedge maze outside. Perhaps this is just meant to be interpreted as an artful shot, but it does at least call attention to the maze, which will play a crucial role later on[5].

Later, Kubrick treats us to another bit of foreshadowing as Wendy hears a report on the television about a woman who is missing in the mountains after going on a hunting trip with her husband. She also hears that a huge snowstorm is approaching. Meanwhile, Jack grows more and more withdrawn from the family and more and more hostile and abusive in his interactions with Wendy, who nevertheless continues to try her best to placate him. His treatment of her is by this time almost painful to watch. For his part, Jack seems (and looks) more and more sinister and deranged—a kind of vibe that Nicholson has created throughout his career better than almost anyone else in the history of film. As the snowstorm rages outside, Jack types away in the lounge. Then, Wendy discovers that the hotel’s phones are out, making them even more isolated. Normally, this development would be at least on the verge of horror film cliché, but here it is simply one more in a long series of moments that have contributed to a growing sense of dread from the film’s first moments. At least the radio still works, allowing Wendy to check in with the area forest rangers, but at this point we’re just waiting until the radio goes out as well.

Danny’s trips about the hotel’s corridors on his tricycle—which read like a sort of mad attempt at the sort of cognitive mapping that Fredric Jameson has seen as necessary for successful negotiation of postmodern life—seem more and more ominous as well, aided by the tense musical score that accompanies all of his trips, which include a stop outside Room 237. They also include a sudden stop as he rounds a corner and spies the Grady girls standing together in their characteristic pose at the end of the hallway. This time they actually speak, inviting him to come and play with them … forever. An intercut shot of their bloody, murdered bodies in that same hallway, with a bloody axe nearby, is presumably Danny’s vision, via his gift for “shining,” but it could still just be his imagination. Then the girls disappear, but poor little Danny is obviously terrified. Tony tries to reassure him, though, that he is just seeing visions that aren’t real.

In another odd shot that helps to create the sense of unease that runs through the film, Danny and Wendy watch the 1971 film The Summer of ’42 on television on a set that seems connected to nothing, including a power source or antenna. Aside from the fact that this film hardly seems ideal viewing for a small child, one wonders how they have television reception at all in such a remote location, much less the excellent reception that this disconnected set seems to have. The Shining seems to want to unsettle its viewers in other ways as well, as in the unusually long, slow dissolves that often connect one scene with another. It is also a film that, though extremely carefully constructed, seems to have an unusually large number of continuity and other types of errors: furniture appears and disappears between shots, doors open and close, carpet patterns change, the pubic hair on the young woman in Room 237 keeps changing, and so on. One could argue, of course, that this is simply because The Shining was such a difficult and complex film to shoot, with numerous takes of almost every scene. But, whether or not these errors are really errors, they are actually quite effective, again reinforcing, in an almost subliminal way, the sense that something is seriously amiss in the Overlook Hotel. Moreover, some of the errors are so blatant (as when the Torrances arrive at the hotel with a gigantic pile of luggage that could not possibly have fit in the trunk of that Beetle) that it is hard to believe that Kubrick could have been so sloppy unless it was intentional. One thinks here of the declaration by Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s Ulysses (a book that has itself been famously riddled with typographical errors in various editions): “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”

Granted, to focus on all these errors as intentional clues of some sort might seem paranoid to many, but The Shining is a film that clearly invites (and repays) paranoid readings[6]. The film is liberally laced with hints at all sorts of interpretations, but never really provides definitive support for any of them. For example, in addition to the information that the hotel was built on the site of an Indian burial ground, the hotel is generously decorated with Native American motifs—which Wendy, in fact, calls attention to at one point. Even the kitchen storeroom includes a large supply of “Calumet Baking Powder,” with a picture of a Native American chief in full feathered headdress on the cover[7]. The image is a contradictory one, like so many things in this film. The headdress worn by the chief on the can of baking powder is a war bonnet, but a “Calumet” is a ceremonial pipe often described as a “peace” pipe, though it is used for other purposes as well. In any case, with all this Native American imagery, Native Americans seem to play no direct role in the film at all. The ghosts haunting the hotel (if, indeed, there are such ghosts) all appear to be white, and none of these ghosts seem related to the Native American past of the hotel site.

One can, of course, still read the film as an allegory about the genocidal extermination of Native Americans by European settlers in the American past, even if Native Americans are not literally involved in the plot. Reporter Bill Blakemore, writing in the Washington Post in 1987, interpreted the film in just this way, arguing that the haunting of the hotel in the film serves as a reminder of the baleful legacy of the wresting of America from its native inhabitants. But the film has inspired other interpretations as well. Cultural historian Geoffrey Cocks, for example, has argued that The Shining conveys a subtle commentary about the Holocaust, which Cocks has seen (in his book The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History and the Holocaust) as a thread that in fact runs throughout Kubrick’s work[8].

I would argue that both of these interpretations are useful, but that neither is the “correct” one. They are, instead, merely two different versions of a concern with the weight of the past on the present that runs throughout The Shining, somewhat in the mode of Karl Marx’s declaration (in The Eighteenth Brumaire) that “the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living” (Tucker 595). The genocidal extermination of Native Americans and the Nazi Holocaust are merely two of the worst of the many bad memories that weigh on Western civilization, just as the memory of Jack’s former abuse of Danny weighs on the Torrance family, and the legacy of all the past guests at the Overlook Hotel (including four presidents, we learn) still haunts the hotel.

After all, a luxurious establishment like the Overlook is a walking announcement of what is perhaps America’s guiltiest secret—that the land of equality is built on inequality, especially in terms of class. For generations, the Overlook has been a location where wealthy patrons are catered to by an underclass of servants, though the servants were probably more servile in the past. Fredric Jameson’s spirited reading of the film as a demystifying uncovering of a nostalgia for the starkly-drawn class distinctions of the 1920s is a specific elaboration of this sort of reading. For Jameson, Kubrick’s decision to locate his ghosts all in the 1920s (in King’s novel they come from a variety of periods) is a telling focus, because that decade was a time in which the rich (figured in the film as the hotel’s guests) so proudly and ostentatiously differentiated themselves from the poor (figured in the film as the hotel staff). For Jameson, the 1920s were

“the last moment in which a genuine American leisure class led an aggressive and ostentatious public existence, in which an American ruling class projected a class-conscious and unapologetic image of itself and enjoyed its privileges without guilt, openly and armed with its emblems of top-hat and champagne glass, on the social stage in full view of the other classes” (Signatures 95).

Jameson goes on to note that the nostalgia that is interrogated in The Shining is, like so much nostalgia amid the psychic isolation and fragmentation of the postmodern individual, a longing for a lost collectivity, for a sense of connection to a larger community. For him

“the nostalgia of The Shining, the longing for collectivity, takes the peculiar form of an obsession with the last period in which class consciousness is out in the open: even the motif of the manservant or valet expresses the desire for a vanished social hierarchy, which can no longer be gratified in the spurious multinational atmosphere in which Jack Nicholson is hired for a mere odd job by faceless organization men” (Signatures 95).

Arguing that “occult” horror films such as The Exorcist are driven by a nostalgia for simpler times in which it was presumably possible to distinguish Good from Evil in an absolute way, Jameson concludes that The Shining instead expresses “a yearning for the certainties and satisfactions of a traditional class system” (97). But The Shining, I think, rejects and demystifies this nostalgia even more thoroughly than Jameson indicates. By couching this past time of longed-for certitudes in terms of something horrible, the film reminds us that we are wishing for something that was very possibly even more obscene and unjust than the global system of late capitalism—somewhat in the way that Marx and Engels, in The Communist Manifesto, depict capitalism as the worst thing that ever happened in human history—except for all the things that happened before. We might long for the certainties of the 1920s, and they might look as attractive to us as that young woman in the bathtub in Room 237, but a closer look might just reveal to us that this seductive image of collectivity and community has transmogrified into the toothless hag of brute-force inequality. The ghosts of The Shining thus represent a return of the repressed in which America’s dirty national secret, the secret of extreme class inequality, emerges from the national unconscious and reveals itself to be truly horrifying.

Of course, we might have a better perspective on the film’s treatment of class inequality now than Jameson did in 1981 when he first published his essay on The Shining. From our perspective now, we can see that the ghosts not only embody a look back at the grosser class inequalities of the 1920, but also anticipate the growing class inequalities of the past four decades of American history, the film’s release oddly corresponding to the days just before the beginning of the Reagan administration, whose policies set that phenomenon in motion. In this sense, it makes absolutely no difference whether we want to read the ghosts as real or as figments of the stressed imaginations of the Torrances; in any case, they take their real significance not from what they are in the film but from what they represent outside the film.

Midway through the film, none of these things are at all clear. Still, the film’s atmosphere of threat has been so effectively constructed, that, by the time we get into the second half of the film, even a potentially tender scene between Jack and Danny, when the father tells the son how much he loves him and that he would never hurt him, seems to bode ill. Indeed, soon afterward, Wendy has to awake Jack from a horrible nightmare in which he dreams that he killed her and Danny and then cut them up in little pieces. At this moment, Danny staggers into the lounge, seemingly in shock, with bruises and abrasions on his throat. We had just seen Danny wandering into the forbidden Room 237, so we suspect that something happened there. Wendy immediately suspects Jack, though, and she might well be right, despite the fact that Danny later tells his mother that a “crazy woman” in Room 237 tried to strangle him. Danny, of course, could here simply be covering for his abusive father, as abused children often cover for the parents who are harming them. Or he could simply be confused from the trauma of being strangled by his own father.

Angry and disoriented that Wendy would suspect him of harming Danny (clearly he doth protest too much), Jack decides that he desperately needs a drink, despite the fact that he had sworn off alcohol five months earlier. Jack stumbles into the Gold Ballroom and takes a seat at the bar, mumbling, “I’d give my goddamn soul for just a glass of beer.” The Faust allusion is apt, of course, but it is also one of the many ways in which The Shining goes out of its way to establish links to various motifs from the horror tradition. Suddenly, Jack sees Lloyd the bartender (whom he somehow knows and who also knows Jack), standing in front of fully-stocked liquor shelves, even though we have already been told that all liquor has been removed from the premises. It is up to us to decide whether we think Lloyd (played by Joe Turkel) is a ghost or simply a figment of Jack’s fevered imagination. (Later, when Wendy comes to fetch Jack, Lloyd no longer seems to be there, but this could mean either than Jack imagined him or that Jack has a special affinity that allows him to see the ghosts when Wendy can’t.) Jack orders a bottle of bourbon and prepares to start drinking. “White man’s burden,” he says to Lloyd. “White man’s burden.” Jack ironically suggests that it is his duty as a white man to drink the bourbon, but he also evokes the colonial past[9]—and perhaps the Native American past as well. A central stereotype long applied to Native Americans is that they cannot hold their liquor, or “firewater.” If this is a film about the legacy of the interaction between white settlers and Native Americans, then Jack might here be suggesting that it is his duty to drink the bourbon, thus preventing the dire results that might occur were it to fall into the hands of Native Americans.

Weirdly, Jack tells Lloyd that he was “always the best goddamn bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine. Or Portland, Oregon, for that matter.” Jack thus makes Lloyd sound like a timeless, almost mythical figure. Then Wendy comes to warn Jack about the woman in Room 237, and Jack goes to check it out, leading to one of the film’s most famous scenes. Jack goes into the room, with its weirdly sexual carpet design, then finds a young, attractive woman naked in the tub in the room’s decidedly unusual green art deco bathroom. The woman climbs from the tub (with a full triangle of public hair) and approaches Jack seductively (now with a trimmed rectangle of pubic hair), luring him into her embrace—whereupon she transforms into an old, toothless, rotting, cackling hag as they kiss. Jack backs away in horror, and she pursues him, still cackling. Jack rushes from the room and locks the door as Danny, back in their apartment, has a vision of the hag, possibly the source of his throat injury, though he might have simply seen her in the room when he went there earlier.

As Jack’s behavior grows more and more unhinged, Danny’s visions become more and more frightening. When Jack, after another angry encounter with Wendy, goes back to the ballroom, he finds it now full of apparent ghosts, in party mode, in elegant full-dress 1920s regalia (though the music playing is a 1934 recording of the song “Midnight, the Stars, and You,” by Ray Noble and his Orchestra. Jack seems perfectly comfortable among the ghosts, though he does have an unfortunate encounter when a waiter (played by Philip Stone) crashes into him and spills Advocaat (a creamy Dutch alcoholic beverage) all over his jacket. The waiter escorts Jack to a strange red-and-white bathroom[10] to help him clean up. There, we learn that the solicitous waiter is none other than Delbert Grady, whom almost all commentators have assumed to be an apparitional version of the same man who was the caretaker during the 1970 tragedy, even though that man was named Charles Grady. Moreover, Delbert Grady assures Jack (in a conversation made even more strange by the stark shot-reverse-shot editing) that he was never the caretaker at the Overlook. “You are the caretaker,” he cryptically tells Jack. “You’ve always been the caretaker.” He then warns Jack (crudely referring to Hallorann as a “nigger cook”) that Danny is attempting to contact Hallorann via his psychic powers. He warns Jack that his wife and son need to be dealt with, which sounds very ominous, given what happened in 1970. Indeed, Grady offers himself as an example, noting that he “corrected” his family when they expressed opposition to staying in the Overlook.

Hallorann, wintering in Miami, senses via his psychic powers that Danny is in danger. He then makes a heroic journey back to the Overlook via plane, car, and snowcat, despite the horrific winter storm buffeting the area, and makes his way back into the hotel just as Jack is engaged in an all-out attempt to murder Danny and Wendy. Those accustomed to Hollywood magic might expect the rescue attempt to be successful, especially after all Hallorann has gone through just to get there. In point of fact, however, Jack is prepared (apparently thanks to Grady’s warning), and Hallorann is immediately killed by Jack via an axe to the chest, just as the chef creeps into the hotel.

So Jack’s mad chase after his wife and daughter continues unimpeded, as we momentarily forget all about the ghosts and watch as The Shining transforms, through most of the last half hour of its runtime, into essentially a slasher film of the kind that were then becoming so popular with American audiences. By this time, Jack has (predictably) sabotaged the radio and the snowcat, and Danny has momentarily been possessed by Tony, who issues his famous “Redrum” warning. Other well-known developments have occurred as well, such as Wendy’s disturbing discovery that Jack, while seemingly working, has simply been typing “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over. The only variation is that the pages he has written are sprinkled with typographical errors, echoing the various “errors” embedded in The Shining itself. Wendy has whacked Jack with a Carl Yastrzemski signature model baseball bat (sending him tumbling down a flight of stairs), then dragged his semi-conscious body into the storeroom and locked him in. Jack then escaped when Delbert Grady apparently unlocked the door for him—in the only instance in the film, to this point, in which a ghost seemingly intervenes in a way not easily explained as a hallucination on the part of either Jack or Danny. Subsequently, Jack, pursuing his family, has hacked his way through two doors with an axe, while imitating, first, the Big Bad Wolf, and second, Ed McMahon’s famous introduction of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, suggesting that we are witnessing a murderous patriarchal drama with roots in ancient folk cultures and with a support system that extends throughout modern popular culture. All of these scenes are now iconic ones, well known to most horror fans.

Soon after Hallorann’s killing, Wendy apparently begins to see ghosts as well, first wandering onto a scene in which someone in a bear costume seems to be fellating a man on a bed in one of the rooms. This scene is, in itself, weird enough, though it is only one of many odd moments in the film with sexual intonations, possibly suggesting that Danny has been sexually, as well as physically abused. Wendy, of course, could also be hallucinating by now, after what she has been through, which quickly includes a sighting of Hallorann’s bloody body, followed by another apparent ghost, with head split open and blood trickling down his face. He’s in a good mood, though. “Great party, isn’t it?” he asks Wendy. That scares her so badly that she appears to flee into another movie entirely, dashing into the hotel’s lobby, which now seems to be located within an old-time horror film, hung with cobwebs, the rich colors of earlier scenes replaced by black-and-white, with perhaps just a tint of blue. The lobby is populated by skeletons in formal dress, also covered with cobwebs.

The Overlook lobby as seen by Wendy, transformed into a Halloween display–or a scene from a classic horror film.

It’s such a classic horror movie scene, in fact, that it does seem like a hallucination, like something Wendy might expect to see, based on her memories of old horror movies, or funhouses, or Halloween decorations. It seems more of a pop cultural cliché than a genuine supernatural occurrence. In any case, this transformed lobby is completely out of character within this film, which features no other scenes that are even similar or that might explain this one in any way. Of course, when Wendy flees from the lobby to encounter the elevator doors spewing blood, just as in Danny’s visions, one could take it as stronger evidence that supernatural events really are occurring in the hotel, even if those events only involve Danny’s telepathic abilities, which has allowed him subliminally to transmit his visions to his mother.

Then comes the film’s famous ending. Wendy and Danny escape in Hallorann’s snowcat. Jack, reduced to inarticulate, animalistic babbling at the end, collapses in the frozen, snow-covered hedge maze, presumably freezing to death. A shot of his frozen face is then followed by a slow tracking shot as the camera moves through the hotel and into the Gold Room, where “Midnight, the Stars, and You” is still playing, A final shot of a photo on the wall in the room shows a gathering of revelers dated July 4, 1921. As the camera moves in on the photo, we see a tuxedo-clad Jack, front-and-center, possibly suggesting that Jack has now joined the ghosts who haunt the hotel, though in point of fact there is no interpretation of that final photo that really explains it, just as there is no definitive explanation for so many things in this complex and enigmatic film.

Kubrick himself, for example, once suggested in an interview that the photo implies that the Jack Torrance we have been watching was the reincarnation of a man who had been present at the hotel in 1921. Again, however, to seek a literal interpretation for the photo misses the real point, which is that Jack has, in the course of the film, joined the world of 1920s capitalism. In transforming from his former status as a secret and furtive child abuser to his later status as a ravening axe murderer, he has symbolically moved from being a subject who resides within the complex and nefarious workings of late capitalism to one who resides within the more brutal and obvious displays of the emergent consumer capitalism of the 1920s.


Blakemore, Bill. “Kubrick’s Shining Secret.” The Washington Post (July 12, 1987). Available on-line at Accessed March 13, 2019.

Cade, Octavia J. “Sifting Science: Stratification and The Exorcist.” Horror Studies 7.1 (2016): 61–72.

Cocks, Geoffrey. The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History and the Holocaust. New York: Peter Lang, 2004.

Donnelly, K. J. The Shining. London: Wallflower, 2018.

Jameson, Fredric. Signatures of the Visible. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Tucker, Robert C., ed.  The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd Ed. New York: Norton, 1978.


[1] K. J. Donnelly, in a useful book-length discussion of The Shining and the cultural phenomena surrounding it, describes the film as “a matrix of ambiguities which has begged painstaking approaches to interpretation and thus furnished the film with its singular cult reputation and unique status in cinema more generally” (3).

[2] This sequence was actually shot in the Glacier National Park, in Montana.

[3] In one of the film’s many apparent inconsistencies, Wendy tells a doctor who has examined Danny that Jack quit drinking five months earlier, in response to the injury to Danny’s shoulder. In the later scene in which Jack first meets Lloyd the bartender, he verifies to Lloyd that he has not had a drink for five months, but he says that the incident with Danny happened three years earlier. He might, of course, simply be lying, but such inconsistencies frequently occur in this film.

[4] The Donner Party were a group of pioneers traveling West to California from Missouri when they were stranded in the Sierra Nevada due to snow in the winter of 1846–1847. Some of the party famously resorted to cannibalism in order to survive.

[5] Hedges play an even more important (and supernatural) role in King’s novel. Indeed, one of the main reasons why King was reportedly unhappy with this adaptation was Kubrick’s decision to change to a hedge maze, whereas the novel features topiary animals that at one point come to life and actually move around.

[6] There is a limit, however. As Donnelly notes, some of the “conspiracy” interpretations of the film seem completely unrelated to what is actually in the film (95).

[7] Calumet is a real brand of baking powder, established in 1889 but sold to General Foods in 1929. The brand is now marketed by Kraft Foods, which merged with General Foods in 1990. Today’s Kraft-branded Calumet Baking Powder still features a Native American chief on the label of the can.

[8] These two theories are among numerous interpretations of The Shining that are reviewed in the highly entertaining 2012 documentary film Room 237.

[9] The phrase “white man’s burden” comes from an 1899 poem of that title by Rudyard Kipling. It expresses a long-held British justification for colonialism which argued that the British had an obligation to colonize most of the non-European world so that they could bring civilization to it. Interestingly, though, the poem in this case is actually addressed to America, urging the U.S. to colonize the Philippines.

[10] This room seems unreal, but it was reportedly modeled on a real bathroom in an Arizona hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Many of the rooms in the Overlook were modeled on real rooms from various hotels—which is one reason why the Overlook itself just doesn’t quite seem to fit together as a coherent whole.