The Shining was one of the first “grown-up” films I watched in a theater during my pre-teen years that I was truly able to appreciate as a masterpiece and a work of art. Apocalypse Now, which I’d seen in a theater that previous September, at the wise old age of 10, was the first such film to have that strong of an impact on me.
Since that Saturday afternoon matinee with my dad in June of 1980, I’ve seen The Shining, I’m guessing, at least three dozen times, if not more. When the film had its ABC Friday Night Movie premiere in 1983…
…I was there, eyes glued to the TV screen.
Since the late 1980s, I’ve owned copies of the film on VHS, Laserdisc, three times on DVD, and now, finally, on Blu-ray. It’s one of those rare motion pictures I never grow tired of.
Several years ago, I was introduced to this particular theory on Apocalypse Now (1979):
“At exactly the 7 minute, 33 second mark, — the moment Capt. Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) opens the door of his seedy Saigon motel room — I believe we have entered Hell. Not figuratively, literally. I believe that just prior to opening that door, Willard either committed suicide or drank himself to death and has subsequently been sent to Hell for his many, many sins … and he doesn’t even know it.
Everything that happens afterwards, the cold human indifference found in every relationship, the complete absence of reason, and the mission itself — a mission to kill a monstrous version of himself and the only person he’ll connect with on any kind of emotional level — is the eternal Hell Willard built during a life lived in the darkest ways imaginable. The fact that he survives the mission is a major giveaway, but early on in the story, Willard outright admits that this mission given to him was for his sins.
Indeed it was.”
Interesting take, I thought. Not something that would have ever occurred to me, and it’s probably not enough to change my own view of the film, but it’s an intriguing idea.
I recently read through an incredibly dense and detailed film analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining:
If you’re interested in films and their possibly hidden/deeper meanings, I recommend you check it out. Its author, Rob Ager, raises several interesting points about the film, many of which I’d never considered.
Ager raises many different theories about The Shining, some more plausible than others, but, overall, it was a heavily detailed, worthwhile read.
However, there was one aspect of his analysis that had me furrowing my brow in doubt, namely this:
There are no supernatural occurrences at the Overlook Hotel, only hallucinations and dreams in the minds of the psychologically unbalanced / traumatized Torrance family.
Therefore, when Danny claims to have been strangled by a ‘crazy woman’ in Room 237, he’s misremembering an attempted strangling done to him by his father Jack, which occurred at the end of the scene where Danny enters the family apartment to get his toy fire engine and finds his father awake, seated on the side of his bed.
The strangling happens in the moment this “fatherly love” scene cuts abruptly to the black screen title card WEDNESDAY, the violence indicated by the jarring conclusion of the music cue playing under the scene.
There is no Room 237 in the Overlook Hotel. The hallway outside the room doesn’t exist, either, because the hallway carpet resembles something a child would create in their imagination. Ager refers to the carpet’s design as resembling spaghetti, I guess this because of the carpet’s colors and because the circles could be seen as meatballs. Also, Ager writes, because we don’t see any other such carpet designs in any other part of the hotel.
When Jack enters Room 237 and encounters the rotting old woman in the bathtub, it’s actually just an “unannounced dream sequence” Danny’s having, due to being traumatized by his father’s earlier (offscreen) attempted strangling of him. Danny’s dream is a creative re-imagining of the incident. The old lady represents his father, while his father, in the dream, has taken Danny’s role.
Ager insists these ‘unannounced dream sequences’ illustrate the ‘hidden narrative’ Kubrick placed within the ‘surface’ narrative. According to Ager, the film has many ‘unannounced dream sequences’.
For instance, Danny never encounters the creepy twin girls in his waking life, neither in the Overlook’s gaming room, nor while riding his Big Wheel (tricycle) through the halls of the Overlook. These are just unannounced dream sequences, representative of Danny’s fear of spending all winter in the hotel with his violent father.
Ager says the “come play with us, Danny” scene is very likely another “unannounced dream sequence”, not to be taken literally.
Danny doesn’t have ESP. His kitchen conversation with Dick Hallorann about ‘shining’ was just imagined by Danny. Hallorann’s ‘shining’ about Jack’s encounter with the rotting old hag in Room 237 was another ‘unannounced dream sequence’.
Subsequently, Hallorann’s concerned phone calls about the family’s safety weren’t actually happening, either; Ager states they were just part of the novel being written by Jack Torrance about a fictional take on the Grady murders at the Overlook Hotel, hence (what Ager refers to as) the flat dialogue spoken in these scenes by Jack Torrance’s writer’s version of Hallorann.
Hallorann does actually show up at the Overlook, but not because he believes Danny’s in danger. He travels across the country on short notice because what originally was presented as Hallorann’s cover story to his friend Larry Durkin, while requesting a SnowCat rental over the phone, is actually the truth: Mr. Ullman has asked Hallorann to check on the ‘unreliable assholes’ at the Overlook to see if they need to be replaced. His trip just so happens to coincide with Jack’s murderous attack on Wendy and Danny.
Jack’s Gold Room conversations with Llloyd The Bartender and Delbert Grady were just Jack talking to himself, indicated by the presence of reflective surfaces Jack stares into during these scenes (mirrors, shiny metal doors).
However, when Jack is talking to Delbert Grady in the men’s restroom, it’s no longer Jack Torrance, but Jack Torrance’s father, who was abusive to Jack in his childhood. Delbert Grady is not the former caretaker who murdered his own family at the Overlook, but the father of Charles Grady, the actual murderer mentioned earlier by Mr. Ullman, hence the difference in first names. This, per Ager, was Kubrick’s densely coded means of conveying the concept of generational abuse of children by their fathers.
Because Kubrick didn’t believe in ghosts, Ager believes the filmmaker didn’t actually intend to make a movie about the paranormal or the supernatural. Among a few other Kubrick quotes, Ager includes this one to back up his theory:
“It’s just the story of one man’s family quietly going insane together.” – Kubrick discussing The Shining with John Hofsess, quoted from p415 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto
As someone who’s watched The Shining between thirty or forty times (perhaps more) since that summer in 1980, I would have never guessed, based on what I’ve seen and heard in the film, that every member of the Torrance family was going insane. Certainly the father, but his wife and child? Did Kubrick’s statement reflect the entirety of his feelings on the film or was there more to it than that brief quip?
I was skeptical of Ager’s notion of “unannounced dream sequences”, which he insists occur throughout the film in support of Kubrick’s “hidden narrative”, so I revisited the film after several years’ absence.
Some of the visual clues Ager cites as indications of Danny dreaming can be easily explained.
For instance, why Danny would be riding his tricycle through the hallways “late at night”? That’s highly unlikely, Ager insists, so it could very well be indicative of a dream.
Well, we don’t know what time it is during these trike-riding scenes, but what I do know, is that, in Colorado, where the story takes place, December sunsets, on average, occur around 4:30 pm, meaning it’d be pitch dark by 5:30 pm. Most young kids aren’t put to bed at 6 o’clock at night, but more likely between the hours of 7 or 8. That would leave plenty of time for Danny to ride his Big Wheel through the halls before bedtime.
“Another important indicator of Danny’s dream sequences is their timing in relation to other scenes. The very first tricycle sequence, where Danny rides around the Colorado Lounge, is followed by Wendy bringing Jack breakfast in bed. We see Jack asleep through the mirror and the mirror overlaps the doorway to Danny’s room, possibly a hint that Danny is also asleep. This of course would confirm the tricycle sequence as one of Danny’s dreams.”
In the scene, as Jack wakes, he asks Wendy what time it is. Delivering the breakfast tray, she tells him “It’s about eleven-thirty”. “Eleven-thirty? Jesus.”, Jack replies. If his mother’s already awake and moving about the hotel, why wouldn’t Danny be dressed and playing on his trike elsewhere in the hotel? It is almost noon.
“Just before the second tricycle sequence, the one in which Danny tries to enter the locked doors of room 237, the hotel exterior is shown in the late evening, followed by a shot of Wendy preparing dinner for the family. This cuts to the tricycle sequence and then to Jack typing in the Colorado Lounge at night – the one where Wendy disturbs Jack’s writing and he tells her where to go. A logical mismatch here is that Jack doesn’t want to be disturbed, yet Danny’s tricycle was shown riding around the upper floor of the Colorado Lounge. If Jack couldn’t tolerate his wife walking in and disturbing him then why would he tolerate the noise of Danny’s tricycle coming from upstairs? Combined with the lateness of the hour this suggests that Danny was again dreaming the tricycle sequence.”
Again– how do we know the second scene of Danny tricycling through the halls takes place in the late evening? Remember: It gets dark early in Colorado in Winter.
How do we know Jack was in the Colorado Lounge writing during Danny’s tricycle riding, or at least for the minute or so that we see Danny riding it onscreen?
How do we know what time it is when Wendy interrupts Jack’s writing?
How do we know Danny’s not eating his own dinner in front of a TV somewhere else in the hotel during Jack’s irritated dismissal of Wendy?
How do we know it’s not much later in the evening, after Danny’s been put to bed?
We don’t know. We can only guess.
Noting the discrepancy between Ullman’s earlier description of the murdered Grady girls and the creepy twins whom Danny sees twice in the hotel, Ager cites this as evidence that the non-shining Danny is only dreaming his encounters with them, as opposed to the twins being a supernatural presence.
As far as the viewer knows, Danny’s never been told about the murder of the Grady girls. We can assume Jack may have mentioned it to Wendy in Danny’s presence, much like their discussion of the Donner party and cannibalism, but that would only be an assumption.
During their Overlook appearances, the twins never identify themselves as the Grady girls. Audience members, myself included, have always assumed that’s who they were. Given the hotel’s dark history, as indicated in King’s novel, as well as in the scrapbook Jack discovers about the hotel in the one of the film’s deleted scenes…
…these twins could have just as easily been two different characters altogether, for what little information about them we’re provided with.
Ager also points out the discrepancy of Ullman’s description to Jack of the Grady girls’ ages (“Two girls, about eight and ten”) versus the fact that, when Danny sees them, they’re identical twins.
But, if you recall, Grady was hired by Ullman’s predecessor, not Ullman. His knowledge of the family isn’t firsthand. Ullman could have simply gotten it wrong. The girls may have been twins, yet been described to Ullman as having been ‘between eight and ten’, which Ullman could have then remembered as ‘about eight and ten’, making it sound as if the girls were different ages.
During Jack’s job interview, Ullman mentions the hotel was built in 1907. Later, when guiding Jack and Wendy on a tour of the Overlook, Ullman tells them “The site is supposed to be located on an Indian burial ground and I believe they actually had to repel a few Indian attacks as they were building it”.
Indian attacks in 1907? Really?
In Kubrick’s version of the story, Ullman always struck me as a BS artist, a smooth talker in love with the sound of his own voice, instinctively driven to baffle people with bullshit. In other words, a natural born salesman. Regarding factual information, I’d be skeptical of at least half of what a guy like this had to say.
Again, that’s just speculation on my part. I could be wrong. Much of what Ager writes in his analysis is also speculation, but he presents portions of that speculation as fact.
If Danny’s “shining” ability is not real, how did he manage to picture the Overlook’s ‘river of blood’ elevator and its adjoining hallway into the lounge, exactly as it existed in waking life, when he was ‘talking to Tony’ back in Boulder?
Danny hadn’t been to the hotel yet. If he has no ESP ability, how could he visualize anything from the Overlook in such precise detail?
If Room 237 and the hallway outside it were created in Danny’s imagination, indicated by carpeting and bedspread design details that Ager perceives as things which might be created in the mind of a young child, why were there no such ‘child-imagined’ details in this as-of-yet-unseen Overlook location?
Let’s not forget, Kubrick showed us this hallway, in a long Steadicam take, as being connected to other parts of the hotel during the scene where Danny first stops outside Room 237 and finds it locked.
If the vision of the bloodied, axe-murdered twin girls was just a figment of his imagination, and Danny’s initial shining moment in the film was merely a projection of his own fear regarding his violent father, as Ager insists, why didn’t Danny visualize the dead girls during his first ‘shining’ moment back in Boulder instead of visualizing the Overlook’s elevator spewing blood?
How is it Wendy has an identical view of Danny’s initial ‘shining’ premonition, of those elevator doors releasing the ‘river of blood’, when she’s running through the hotel at the end of the movie?
My own perception of the film’s finale is that, when Jack starts chopping the axe through doors to murder his family, then stops due to the arrival of Hallorann, the malevolent forces in the Overlook go all-out to help Jack achieve his murderous goals.
Conjuring up all sorts of disturbing apparitions in order to keep Wendy distracted, slowing her down, the Overlook presence seeks to prevent her from reaching Danny in time and rescuing him from the maniacal Jack. Because it’s Danny whom the evil presence in the Overlook really wants.
In support of his claim that Jack’s encounter with the rotting old woman in Room 237 is just a symbolic dream Danny’s having, Ager writes:
“As Jack staggers away from the woman he backs down a couple of steps and for a few seconds afterward his view of the approaching woman is from a low angle, like a child’s would be.”
It’s seen from a low angle because the adjoining bedroom (which Jack is backing away through) is three steps down from the bathroom doorway. We see the steps leading up to this doorway during the POV’s approach.
Peculiar, isn’t it, how the approaching POV into Room 237 is shot from the eye-level of an adult and not a child. How would Danny know where an adult’s eye level would be situated? Why would Danny’s dream begin with an adult’s eye-level, but end with his own?
I’ve always felt that Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining involved a mix of family dysfunction and psychological deterioration spurred on by the malevolent supernatural forces inhabiting the Overlook Hotel. Because Kubrick treats us to several of Danny’s visions during the first hour of the film, long before Jack meets Lloyd the bartender, I never doubted the existence of the story’s paranormal elements.
The resentful, self-loathing Jack Torrance was only a means to the Overlook’s ends– its acquisition-by-murder of Danny’s ‘special talents’. Jack’s already stated his desire to stay in the Overlook “forever and ever and ever”. And he’s determined to achieve that desire, no matter the cost.
That’s why Jack never told Wendy the truth about the rotting old hag in Room 237; he knows Wendy would insist the family vacate the hotel immediately. Attempting to pacify Wendy’s fears, Jack lies to her about what he saw in Room 237, then tries blame-shifting about how Danny received his neck bruises to alleviate any suspicions Wendy may still have about Jack having done it.
One of Ager’s most controversial declarations about The Shining‘s alleged ‘hidden narrative’ is that Danny was sexually abused by Jack:
I’ve never perceived the costume in question as being that of a bear. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was supposed to be, but the mask looked more like a dog to me (which is how the costume was described in the King novel)…or like some bizarre mix of dog, walrus, wild boar and, yes, perhaps, a teddy bear, but exclusively a bear?
Not really. The face of that costume has always struck me as an animal mask designed by a lunatic, or a costume which could have easily appeared on the cover of this album–
It’s possible Kubrick placed the bear imagery in the film because it matches the story’s theme of fathers murdering their wives and children. Adult male bears are known to kill bear cubs which are not their own and sometimes kill the cubs’ mother in the process. (The 1976 film Grizzly made mention of this unpleasant fact).
If one views it that way, then Wendy coming face to face with the apparition dressed in the strange bear costume, which is involved in what looks like fellatio on the tuxedo-clad man, could symbolize Wendy’s horrified realization that her husband is not who she had thought him to be. He’s actually a deadly stranger…who browses Playgirl magazine…and is actively trying to kill her and her “cub”.
Ager also insists that Danny was strangled not by the ‘crazy woman’ in Room 237, but by his father, for entering the apartment and waking him up (**), the moment their father-son scene cuts to black screen accompanied by a jarring musical note on the soundtrack.
Traumatized Danny then re-imagines his father as the rotting old hag in Room 237’s bathtub, while his father serves as Danny’s double for the incident.
“The dream sequences that followed – being summoned into room 237 by a rolling ball, and Jack’s encounter with the rotting woman – were simply trauma induced nightmares that Danny had after the fatherly love scene.”
In his argument for this ‘unannounced dream sequence’ indicating Jack’s attempted strangling / sexual abuse of Danny, Ager fails to adequately explain, in both his written analysis and his You Tube video, a key detail which, in my opinion, undermines his theory:
Danny’s change in sweaters.
Torrance Family Apartment: Mickey Mouse sweater. No neck bruises.
Hallway outside Room 237: Apollo 11 sweater, collar intact. No neck bruises.
Later on, same Wednesday
Colorado Lounge: Apollo 11 sweater, torn collar. Hideous neck bruises.
Strangled by his father on Monday, but not bruising from it until Wednesday? Not possible. Wearing the Mickey Mouse sweater during the alleged strangling…but the Apollo 11 sweater, two days later, is the one that gets torn?
And what was Wendy doing Monday through Wednesday? She sent Danny to get his toy fire engine during the day on Monday, discovering him with ripped seater and neck bruises two days later.
If Danny was strangled on Monday, what the hell was Wendy doing all day Tuesday? You mean to tell me this doting mother had no contact with her only child, at all, for what could possibly be 48 hours? Not…bloody…likely.
Sweater Logic, according to Rob Ager’s analysis:
Insisting that Danny playing in the hallway outside Room 237 was an ‘unannounced dream sequence’, Ager offers no real explanation for Danny’s Mickey Mouse-to-Apollo 11 sweater change.
That’s because Jack didn’t try to strangle Danny on Monday.
Rather than signalling an abrupt physical attack by Jack on his child when the ‘fatherly love’ scene finished, Kubrick likely chose to time Bartok’s music to cap the scene’s tension with its slight stinger, as a dramatic exclamation point.
In his analysis, Ager pulls various quotes from Kubrick interviews to support his analysis of The Shining. Curious to read some of these interviews myself, I located the Michael Ciment interview, where Kubrick discusses The Shining:
I found some interesting exchanges between Ciment and Kubrick, such as–
Ciment: It is strange that you emphasize the supernatural aspect since one could say that in the film you give a lot of weight to an apparently rational explanation of Jack’s behaviour: altitude, claustrophobia, solitude, lack of booze.
Kubrick: Stephen Crane wrote a story called “The Blue Hotel.” In it you quickly learn that the central character is a paranoid. He gets involved in a poker game, decides someone is cheating him, makes an accusation, starts a fight and gets killed. You think the point of the story is that his death was inevitable because a paranoid poker player would ultimately get involved in a fatal gunfight. But, in the end, you find out that the man he accused was actually cheating him. I think The Shining uses a similar kind of psychological misdirection to forestall the realization that the supernatural events are actually happening.
(Is Kubrick referencing his film or King’s novel? It’s unclear to me, since, in the section just before this one, Kubrick was discussing adapting the novel with co-screenwriter Diane Johnson.)
In one of the most mind-boggling portions of Ager’s analysis, he floats the idea that Hallorann’s scenes between the Room 237 scene and his arrival at the hotel didn’t actually happen, but were instead visualizations of the fictional story on the Overlook and Grady family murder-suicide, which was the actual book Jack Torrance was writing.
Ager believes this because he found Hallorann’s behavior, combined with the flat, lame quality of Hallorann’s dialogue in these scenes, to be indicative of talentless Jack’s lousy writing skills.
Ager also posits that Hallorann didn’t actually experience the Room 237 ‘shine’ with Danny, but that Danny merely dreamed Hallorann was shining it. If Hallorann had indeed experienced the frightful images from Room 237, Ager insists, then the older man wouldn’t be so calm and composed while making those phone calls to the Park Service and Durkin’s Garage in concerned response.
Of course Hallorann’s not going to be ranting and raving, in blind panic, in these scenes, or gasping desperately into the phone with a tone of paranoia and fear. He’d be dismissed as a crazy person and either hung up on, or, if he’d behaved this way during his flight, been taken into custody upon the aircraft’s landing, or would have run himself off the road on his way to the Overlook.
I’ve always thought Crothers’ performance appropriately conveyed the character’s concern over the situation, particularly while en route through the snowstorm, as he draws closer to the Overlook.
Another excerpt from Ciment’s interview with Kubrick:
Ciment: When you shoot these scenes which you find theatrical, you do it in a way that emphasizes their ordinariness. The scenes with Ullman or the visit of the doctor in The Shining, like the conference with the astronauts in 2001, are characterized by their social conventions, their mechanical aspect.
Kubrick: Well, as I’ve said, in fantasy you want things to have the appearance of being as realistic as possible. People should behave in the mundane way they normally do. You have to be especially careful about this in the scenes which deal with the bizarre or fantastic details of the story.
Ager also states that Hallorann traveled cross-country to the Overlook in a blizzard precisely for the reason he gives the gas station owner, Durkin: That he’s going to the Overlook to check on the caretakers on behalf of Ullmann, who’s found out the Torrances are “completely unreliable assholes“.
But then, later, Ager suggests that Hallorann never actually arrived at the hotel, but that the character’s murder by Jack is merely an ‘echo’ of past tragedies, i.e. the U.S. genocide of Native Americans.
As far as Ager’s theory that neither Danny nor Hallorann have any psychic abilities, this quote from Kubrick seems to refute that notion:
Kubrick: If Danny had perfect ESP, there could be no story. He would anticipate everything, warn everybody and solve every problem. So his perception of the paranormal must be imperfect and fragmentary. This also happens to be consistent with most of the reports of telepathic experiences. The same applies to Hallorann. One of the ironies in the story is that you have people who can see the past and the future and have telepathic contact, but the telephone and the short-wave radio don’t work, and the snowbound mountain roads are impassable. Failure of communication is a theme which runs through a number of my films.
Ciment: How do you see the character of Hallorann?
Kubrick: Hallorann is a simple, rustic type who talks about telepathy in a disarmingly unscientific way. His folksy character and naive attempts to explain telepathy to Danny make what he has to say dramatically more acceptable than a standard pseudo-scientific explanation. He and Danny make a good pair.
Kubrick: Danny has had a frightening and disturbing childhood. Brutalized by his father and haunted by his paranormal visions, he has had to find some psychological mechanism within himself to manage these powerful and dangerous forces. To do this, he creates his imaginary friend, Tony, through whom Danny can rationalize his visions and survive.
…’haunted by his paranormal visions‘…
Does that sound like a director secretly signalling that Danny’s ‘shining’ ESP visions were actually ‘unannounced dream sequences’ or symbolic re-imaginings of traumatic abuse?
Ciment: In the normal scenes you used dissolves and many camera movements. On the other hand, the paranormal visions are static and the cuts abrupt.
Kubrick: I don’t particularly like dissolves and I try not to use them, but when one scene follows another in the same place, and you want to make it clear that time has passed, a dissolve is often the simplest way to convey this. On the other hand, the paranormal visions are momentary glimpses into the past and the future, and must be short, even abrupt.
Kubrick uses a dissolve between the scenes of Danny’s approach to enter Room 237 and Wendy’s performance of maintenance checks in the hotel’s boiler room…
“…when one scene follows another in the same place, and you want to make it clear that time has passed, a dissolve is often the simplest way to convey this.”
If Room 237 exists only in Danny’s imagination, why did Kubrick choose a dissolve for the scene transition to an actual part of the hotel, i.e. in the same place? If the boiler room’s real, but Danny’s only dreaming the symbolic hallway outside Room 237, and the room itself, then neither are actually part of the Overlook Hotel.
Ciment: The child creates a double to protect himself, whereas his father conjures up beings from the past who are also anticipations of his death.
Kubrick: A story of the supernatural cannot be taken apart and analysed too closely. The ultimate test of its rationale is whether it is good enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. If you submit it to a completely logical and detailed analysis it will eventually appear absurd.
I believe many of Ager’s observations are solid. He pointed out several interesting aspects or details in The Shining which I’d never noticed before.
When he delves into other areas, often asserting his speculation as truth…
…that there’s nothing supernatural in the story, only ‘unannouced dream sequences’ and trauma-induced hallucinations within the disturbed minds of the Torrance family…
…that Danny and Hallorann don’t actually have the ESP, but, rather, Danny’s paranormal talents are only in his mind…
…that the Gold Room encounter between Jack and Grady is actually not Jack and the previous murderous caretaker, but both those characters’ fathers…
…that Danny was sexually abused by Jack…
…that the creepy twin girls, Room 237, and the hallway outside it, didn’t really exist outside of sleeping Danny’s dreamtime imagination…
…or that Jack was, in fact, writing a fictional account of the Grady family murder-suicide at the Overlook, and not merely the ten pounds’ worth of paper on which he’s typed, ad infinitum, the immortal ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY…
…his analysis, rather than the film itself, becomes absurd.
Upon discovering Ager’s analysis of The Shining, I was initially on board with a few of his interpretations. The deeper he dove into it, the more convoluted his analysis became, the less convinced I was.
Based on recent comments by The Shining‘s producer Jan Harlan and Kubrick’s co-screenwriter Diane Johnson…
Harlan: Very often crew members asked him, “Can you explain that to me?” And he said, “I never explain anything, I don’t understand it myself. It’s a ghost film!” You can’t imagine how much fuss was made over the big golden ballroom and the big lobby and huge windows that could never have fit into the hotel [based on the] establishing shot from outside. Any child can see that. And Stanley’s explanation was, “It’s a ghost film! Forget it!” … It’s not a movie with a serious message. I know many people think its impossible that Kubrick did a film which didn’t have serious messages and an enormous amount of [theories have been] invented. While he was alive all that was relatively quiet. After his death, these [theories] came out which were funny, and partly insulting. The most insulting one is the idea that The Shining is a film about the Holocaust. That’s outrageous. That’s an insult to Kubrick, that he would deal with the most serious crime in human history in such a light way, and also an insult to victims of the Holocaust. The other ideas are much more harmless, where continuity mistakes are attributed with deep meaning.
Two key scenes that heavily impacted the ending were actually shot and then deleted from the final cut. The first was a scene where Jack finds a scrapbook in the basement which chronicles events from the hotel’s dark past. The photographs set up the final haunting image of Jack in the 1921 picture. The scrapbook is briefly glimpsed in the final cut sitting on Jack’s writing desk.
Johnson: The scene that I thought was really necessary was the scrapbook scene. The point of it in [King’s] book and in the script was that the scrapbook was “the poisoned gift” — in Russian structuralist fairy-tale parlance. It’s an element in classic fairy tales — like the poisoned apple. Jack seizes the scrapbook to use in his book, and at that moment he’s now under the power of the hotel. I argued very strenuously [to keep it].
The second outtake was a two-minute hospital scene that was placed after Jack froze to death and before the final shot of the ballroom photograph. In the scene (read the script pages), the hotel manager, Ullman (Barry Nelson), visits Wendy and Danny after their ordeal and explains that no supernatural evidence was found to support their claims of what transpired. Just when the audience begins to question everything they’ve seen, Ullman ominously gives Danny the same ball that was rolled to him from an unseen force outside Room 237.
Johnson: In other words: All of this really happened, and the magic events were actual. It was just a little twist.
Harlan: The tennis ball is the same thing as the photograph — it’s unexplainable. It makes Ullman now another ghost element. Was he the ghost from the very beginning? The film is complex enough because nothing is explained. That non-explaining is what was bad for the film initially. It was not a huge success. Now everybody thinks it’s the best horror film ever or whatever. But when it came out the audience expected a horror film with a resolution, with an explanation. Who is the baddie? What was going on? And they were disappointed — many of them, anyway. The fact they were left puzzled was exactly what Stanley Kubrick wanted. And when the film [screened for critics] and wasn’t well received, Warners quite rightly suggested, “It’s enough, just take [the hospital scene] out.” So Stanley did it. He’s not stubborn, especially since this is a film mainly to entertain people. But Stanley was actually very sad that he misread the audience, that he trusted the audience to live with puzzles and no answers, and that they didn’t like it.
…as well as the following exchange between Kubrick and Michael Ciment, it would appear that the supernatural Horror film I was blown away by nearly 40 years ago was precisely what Kubrick intended to deliver to screens:
Ciment: How do you see the main character of Jack in The Shining?
Kubrick: Jack comes to the hotel psychologically prepared to do its murderous bidding. He doesn’t have very much further to go for his anger and frustration to become completely uncontrollable. He is bitter about his failure as a writer. He is married to a woman for whom he has only contempt. He hates his son. In the hotel, at the mercy of its powerful evil, he is quickly ready to fulfill his dark role.
Ciment: So you don’t regard the apparitions as merely a projection of his mental state?
Kubrick: For the purposes of telling the story, my view is that the paranormal is genuine. Jack’s mental state serves only to prepare him for the murder, and to temporarily mislead the audience.
In closing, I present this quote:
“People can misinterpret almost anything so that it coincides with views they already hold. They take from art what they already believe, and I wonder how many people have ever had their views about anything important changed by a work of art?”
(*) In his You Tube video, which I’ve linked here, Ager states the Room 237 ‘nightmare’ is experienced by a guilt-ridden Jack, in which he re-imagines himself as the rotting old hag, while Nightmare Jack is actually a stand-in for little Danny.
(**) Jack was already awake when Danny entered the apartment.
In the still above, does Jack look or behave like someone who was just woken up by a quietly tip-toeing child? Or does it look as if he’s been sitting on the edge of that bed, staring like a zombie out the window, for at least a minute or so, prior to Danny entering the apartment?
Note this portion of the scene’s dialogue exchange between Jack and Danny:
Danny: Dad? Do you feel bad?
Jack: No. Just a little tired.
Danny: Then why don’t you go to sleep?
Jack: I can’t. I got too much to do.
Danny didn’t wake his father upon entering the apartment. It’s clear to me from this scene’s dialogue, and Nicholson’s performance, that the character has insomnia, likely inspired by his muse, the Overlook, and Jack’s own desire to find a good idea worth writing about.