“A masterpiece of modern horror,” The Shining is one of those stories that just haunts you — forever.
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic tale of supernatural terror is unique in that it really sticks to you. Like it won’t leave. One is left with more questions than answers, and they itch at you for a lifetime, maybe even longer if you believe the reincarnation theory about this movie I read on Redd… you know what, we’ll get to that.
With many horror movies, you escape the feeling of fright once you turn the lights on or start laughing about how cheesy it was. But with Kubrick’s The Shining, it’s always with you. Every time I round a corner in the hallways of my apartment that feels like an old hotel, every time I encounter the number 237, every time I have writer’s block. I see the smile, I hear the music.
So, as you can imagine, I was nervous to dive back into the world of The Overlook Hotel once more, especially while isolated on quarantine. But I’m a team player, and this is a huge collaboration for us at The Hundreds, so grow up, Danny Boy.
Like a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Jack Torrance telling Mr. Ullman that he was up for the challenge of manning The Overlook for five isolated months, even knowing the fate of those who had come before him, I accepted the challenge.
I read a ton of articles and theories on The Shining and watched a number of YouTube videos about Kubrick’s creative process, thinking (and hoping with all my might) that these would help me watch the film through an analytic lens rather than allow myself to get swept up in the sheer horror of it. But that all went out the window during the opening sequence.
The outdoor shots of the Rocky Mountains in the beginning, as Jack and his family make their way to The Overlook Hotel, make you feel like you are nothing, the smallest and most insignificant piece of this puzzle. Booming, haunting horns, set to the visual of these monstrous mountains and a winding road to the middle of nowhere, press the weight of the world against you immediately. The intro lets you know there is something deep and dark awaiting your arrival, heavier than you or any other mere mortal can withstand. It’s daunting. Kind of like the real outdoors right now, with its deadly pandemic and all.
One striking thing I’ve noticed about Kubrick films is that he keeps your focus on the here and now, completely in-the-moment. There are rarely any bits of background info in his films, and you’re left with simply what’s in front of you to figure out what is happening. We don’t learn all that much about the characters, even the main ones. They are simply pieces of this one story that Kubrick is telling and the rest of their lives are inconsequential to his narrative. With Kubrick, we rarely know much more than literally what he’s showing us. It’s like we, the viewer, are the protagonist, rather than most films where the main character is the one tasked with solving the problem and we get to just watch what happens and be entertained. Kubrick doesn’t let us off that easy, and that is inherently one of the most terrifying parts of the experience, that you have all of the available information he presents and still don’t know what the fuck is going on.
Sure, it would have helped to know more about Jack when he was Danny’s age, or (spoiler alert) Jack’s dad or grandfather’s relation to The Overlook, or what the family was up to before making the decision to go live at the murder mansion all Winter. But Kubrick wanted us to still be pulling our hair out 40 years later trying to fit the pieces into the puzzle.
And here I am, doing just that.
I’ve watched The Shining twice now during the quarantine, once a few weeks ago and another time last night. Terrible idea, both times. Don’t get me wrong, I love this movie. But watching it while you’ve essentially been stuck in the house for just about as long as Jack was at The Overlook before going batshit insane maybe wasn’t the best idea. I’m convinced I’m hearing things, even when I’m not watching it. And I’ve been having the most difficult time writing these last few months, the worst writer’s block I’ve had in years. I’ll find myself pacing, talking to myself, or even bouncing a ball off the wall to pass the time and bridge together the few-and-far-between ideas.
Have to say, it wasn’t ideal to see Jack doing the same things before he ultimately says, “fuck it, guess I’m just going to give in to these sinister spirits within me or within this hotel or whatever the hell is going on and just off my wife and kid, you know regular Saturday shit — oh wait it’s Wednesday.” Not a direct quote, by the way, but you feel me.
Luckily for me, if things go south, the only things I have to kill in my apartment are the spider in the southeast quadrant of my room and the rest of the Ben & Jerry’s.
The more I watched the movie, the more I questioned my thesis about what really happened. I went crazy about it, looking up every conspiracy theory about The Shining, from the one about it being a metaphorical explanation from Kubrick about why he helped stage the Apollo 11 Moon landing to it being about the CIA’s MK Ultra program, and everything in between. There are even those that say you need two screens to watch, one playing the movie forward, and the other playing it in reverse, to fully understand Kubrick’s vision. Well, not everyone has two TVs, you elitist pig.
I’m still sitting here wondering if it’s the spirits buried under The Overlook who are orchestrating these evil acts, or Danny and his “Shine” exacting revenge on his abusive father, even if it means hurting anyone and everyone else. Is Jack just a reincarnated version of his ancestors who had been to The Overlook decades before, as shown in the photograph from 1921 in the closing scene? Or is he unknowingly trying to kill his son to prevent Danny from becoming the same monster Jack (and those that came before Jack) had become, attempting to save whoever Danny may hurt in the future? Does The Overlook itself just do whatever it has to do to kill everyone inside it during the Winter season? Were Jack and his family even at The Overlook at all? Did he interview for the position and get spooked by Ullman’s warnings and then have a dream about taking the job and carrying out the same horrific acts as his predecessor?
I have about 30 additional pressing questions in my notes but I’m not trying to be committed. I even have to be wary of how I eat breakfast because I started noticing that I was dipping my bacon into my runny yolk incessantly. Even caught myself saying, “Things could be better, Lloyd” as I poured myself a drink late one night.
The Shining is an all-time classic and a film that everyone should see at least once or twice — but just know that Kubrick is somewhere out there in the abyss chuckling that you’d dare watch a movie about going stir crazy while you are, in fact, going stir crazy. If you are going to subject yourself to the terrors of The Overlook (you absolutely are going to) may I suggest making an emergency playlist of funny dog videos to lighten the mood should you start to freak out? I’ve used this one more than a few times.