A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where a sinister presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from both past and future.
“The Shining seems to be about the quest for immortality–the immortality of evil. Men are psychic murderers: they want to be free and creative, and can only take out their frustrations on their terrified wives and children. The movie appears to be a substitution story: The waiter denies that he was the caretaker, but there has always been a caretaker. And if the waiter is telling the truth, it’s Jack who has always been the caretaker. Or maybe Jack is so mad that he has hatched this waiter, in which case Jack probably has always been the caretaker. Apparently, he lives forever, only to attack his family endlessly. It’s what Kubrick said in 2001. Mankind began with the weapon and just went on from there. Redrum (‘murder’ backward). Kubrick is the man who thought it necessary to introduce a godlike force (the black slab) to account for evolution. It was the slab that told the apelike man to pick up the bone and use it as a weapon. This was a new version of original sin: man the killer acts on God’s command. Somehow, Kubrick ducked out on the implications of his own foolishness when he gave 2001 its utopian, technological ending–man, reborn out of science, as angelic, interplanetary fetus. Now he seems to have gone back to his view at the beginning of 2001, man is a murderer, throughout eternity. The bone that was high in the air has turned into Jack’s axe, held aloft, and Jack, crouched over, making wild, inarticulate sounds as he staggers in the maze, has become the ape.”
“In The Shining, as in Barry Lyndon, Kubrick shows us a society in which surface elegance hides a dissipated and ultimately destructive existence. In A Clockwork Orange, he gave us one totally violent society; in The Shining, he gives us still another. This time, however, the violence is born of trying to live up to oppressive expectations and not out of some perverted lust for life. But what is most intriguing in The Shining is that Kubrick’s themes of violence and dissipation are developed in a decidedly American, not European, context. In 2001, Kubrick suggested we could transcend our dissipation with a new frontier–outer space. With The Shining, thirteen years later, he is observing that life in America might well destroy us first. If there are any frontiers left for Kubrick, they do not involve the expansion of boundaries but the construction of new social relationships within our existing borders. In her review of The Shining, Pauline Kael implies that Kubrick, too long absent from America, cannot really understand us. But it is evident from the film that he understands us very well and is trying to tell us something important about ourselves. Kubrick, in fact, is coming home.”
Flo Leibowitz and Lynn Jeffress2
“Kubrick’s 1980 film has certainly inspired reams of particularly labyrinthine scholarly and critical analysis, YouTube fan videos, and blogs, mirroring the hedge maze in the movie. It has spawned a mainstream (or cult?) documentary devoted to unlocking its purported secrets, Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 (2012). Named after the eponymous room in The Overlook Hotel, the deadpan documentary deconstructs the horror movie from a variety of perspectives. ‘Room 237 conceives of the film as resembling the Da Vinci Code, the viewer as Alan Turing confronted with an Enigma machine, and Kubrick as like Walter Sickert supposedly confessing in one of his East End paintings that he was Jack the Ripper.’ Kubrick and The Shining have stimulated the production of non-academic books as well. Derek Taylor Kent’s novel, Kubrick’s Game (2016), is constructed around the conceit that there was ‘a hidden game within [Kubrick’s] films.’ Ian Christopher’s The Games Room (2020) is subtitled ‘A novel insight into Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining.’ It alleges that ‘The Shining is a puzzle, a maze’ to be solved. Simon Roy’s Kubrick Red: A Memoir (2014) is both an interpretation of the movie and a memoir in which the two are intertwined. There is even a podcast, The Shining 2:37, dedicated to parsing the film 2 minutes and 37 seconds at a time. Jack Torrance’s nightmare of cutting up his wife and son into little pieces precisely augurs what this podcast, as well as what other scholars, fans, and critics, have done to The Shining.”
- 1Pauline Kael, “The Shining: Devolution,” The New Yorker, 9 June 1980, 130.
- 2Flo Leibowitz and Lynn Jeffress, “Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining,”Film Quarterly, Spring 1981, 45-51.
- 3Nathan Abrams, “Kubrick and the Paranoid Style: Antisemitism, Conspiracy Theories, and The Shining,” Senses of Cinema, July 2020. [This essay is part of The Shining at 40, a collection of texts compiled by Senses of Cinema celebrating the 40th anniversary of Kubrick's film.]