Hello all you imaginary people living in children’s throats! Have I talked about The Shining before? Surely I have. I never SHUT UP about Stephen King. But look, going through the archive to find out when and how much I’ve talked about The Shining is a lot of work. Work I don’t feel like doing. No one has ever accused me of being thorough in my blogging. So buckle up buckos! We’re talking adaptation, authorial intent, and abuse today! Should be fun!
So which version of The Shining is better, the book or the movie? Better question: does it matter? Beyond the most superficial aspects (haunted hotel, kid with psychic powers, dad with drinking problems) the stories are completely different. Stanley Kubrik’s iconic movie is a bleak, cruel story about a family in the grip of an abusive monster who is losing what little humanity he has left; the book, however, is a humanistic look at the horror’s of addiction and a father fight not to fall prey to his own inner demons.
The book is an incredibly personal story, all of Stephen King’s fears and insecurities laid bare. It’s recovering alcoholic main character is a struggling writer that is a look at what Stephen King easily could have been had a few things in his life broken bad. The movie is purposefully alienating and oppressive, every scene designed to build anticipation for the inevitable tragedy. In Kubrik’s version everything is broken and there is no hope.
Not that it matters much for the purposes of today but I like the book more. It’s a good encapsulation of what I like about Stephen King’s work: his humanity and his optimism. One day I’ll do a post about the book. But today let’s talk the movie.
The Shining is a movie that inspires a peculiar obsession in many of its fans. Many hundreds of thousands of words have been written analyzing every possible aspect and frame of the movie looking for clues to…something. Some deeper meaning, usually, which I feel is a reflexive reaction many people have because our culture still wants us to be ashamed of enjoying genre fair. Some are looking for clues to a conspiracy theory they’re convinced Kubrik was central to. The most famous of these analyses is the idea that Kubrik helped fake the moon landing and for some reason he chose to film The Shining as his covert confession. The smoking gun for this is a sweater.
Maybe the most popular analysis is that the movie is a secretly encoded message about the slaughter of Native Americans. Which actually isn’t as crazy as it sounds.
But, I don’t really care about any of that because it has very little bearing on the plot. What I do care about, and what I mostly want to talk about today, is the subtle undercurrent of abuse present throughout the movie.
The amazing (but overly long and occasionally up-its-own-ass) analysis of the movie by Rob Ager at Collative Learning explains it in far more detail than I ever could but I’ll give a quick rundown.
At the beginning of the movie Danny has a some sort of fit and Wendy has a doctor come to their apartment to see him. He’s lying on the bed, his head resting on a stuffed bear that takes up a majority of the frame. It has a big red mouth. Throughout the movie there is a recurring motif of bears, there are pictures of bears hung up throughout the Overlook Hotel, particularly one above Danny’s bed, and the infamous scene of when Wendy sees the two ghosts.
A lot of people assume the man on the floor is in a dog costume because that’s how it is in the book. But in the movie he’s actually wearing a bear costume. And this scene shows the abuse Danny has suffered at the hands of his father.
It may seem crazy but an easily missable detail at the beginning of the film gives a major clue that this is what it’s supposed to be. When Jack is waiting in the lobby after he and the family have come to the Overlook, he’s reading a Playgirl magazine. The specific issue he’s reading has a cover story titled, “Incest: Why Parents Sleep with Their Children.” Obviously this could be dismissed as a joke. A little prank Jack Nicholson wanted to play. But this doesn’t fit at all with what we know about Kubrik as a director. He was an infamous perfectionist who notoriously made Shelly Duvall cry on set after making her retake a scene over 100 times. Dude exerted total control over his movies. There’s no way he would have left such a gag in the movie. Not to mention no one connected with the movie has ever mentioned it.
Combine this with the fact that the scenes in which Jack interacts with his family are all framed negatively. The music is ominous, Jack looks always on the verge of exploding, or is actively berating Wendy. Jack is not a happy man, nor is he a stable one. Danny and Wendy both act nervous and afraid around him in nearly every scene. It’s clear that things are not well in the Torrane household, even before the ghosts come for Danny.
There’s a lot more to it than that and I encourage you to read that analysis. Well most of it. Some of it. At least the chapters titled “Danny’s Ordeal” and “Bear in Mind.” The rest is very interesting and it even goes into the Native American slaughter analysis stuff. But again, it’s real long so if you’re not into scholarly analysis you might not dig it.
I’ve never liked The Shining as much as a lot of other horror fans. It’s a good movie and an effective horror. It’s certainly entertaining. But I can understand why people like it so much. Kubrik stuffed it full of evocative symbolism and deeper themes than most horror movies are willing to bother with. So if you dig horror and you haven’t seen it yet, give it a watch.
Just make sure to pour one out for Shelly Duvall, who was another woman who had her life destroyed at the whim of a “genius.” Stanley Kubrik was kind of a dick ya’ll.