Sunday, February 15, 2009


I watched The Shining today for the first time in quite a while, which in turn led me to go online and search for answers to some age-old questions regarding some of the film's more inherently, esoteric meanings.

I came across this fantastic website:The Kubrick FAQ. It is ran by a guy called Rod Munday and I have to say it is one of the most informative examinations of a director that I have had the pleasure to read. Below are a couple of excerpts:

What is the meaning of things that seem to double in "The Shining"?

In his dictionary of symbols J. E. Cirlot (1) writes, "Every case of duplication concerns duality" balanced symmetry and the active equipoise [equilibrium] of opposite forces. Double images the symmetrical duplication of forms of figures [...] symbolise precisely that." There are two sorts of doubling produced by reflection.

i. Horizontal doubling that occurs when something is reflected by the surface of a lake - as in the opening shot of The Shining.

ii. Vertical doubling that is produced by looking into a mirror where the image is reversed. An example of vertical doubling is when Jack is shown reflected in a mirror when Wendy brings him breakfast.

William Stewart (2) observed that "a mirror reflects what is in front of it and is the only way we can see ourselves. It is the instrument of self contemplation [...] in some magical way looking though the door of the mirror [reveals] hidden truths." Mirrors also are discussed in Freud's essay "Das Unheimlich" (3). identifying the original function of the 'double' as an insurance against the destruction of the ego, and energetic denial of the power of death' Freud quotes Otto Rank observation that "probably the immortal soul was the first double of the body. [..] but when the double reverses its aspect. From having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes a the uncanny harbinger of death."

French critic Michel Ciment pointed out in his book 'Kubrick' that Danny's response to Jack's violence against him was to invent Tony "a little boy who lives in his mouth." (this may be a variation on the above observation s by Freud and Rank). As Jack descends into madness Danny becomes entirely possessed by Tony and tries to warn Wendy through mirror writing, suggesting that Tony is the mirror of Danny. Other notable doublings of the protagonists in The Shining are Jack and Grady the former caretaker who's fate Jack seems hopelessly destined to repeat, and the two Grady girls that at first seem identical but on closer inspection are not physically alike at all. Some things double twice, as in the two pairs of two girls that Ullman says goodbye to while showing the Torrences around. Other things double by changing, and changing again, as is the case with the woman in room 237, who changes from a young beauty into a diseased hag when reflected in the bathroom mirror and then into a much older woman floating in the bath tub.

Mark Ervin wrote, "The Shining is a film which penetrates our awareness with disembodied items of reality which clash with expectation. Doubling and mirroring symbolism serves a higher purpose of 'expectation shock.'

Expectation depends on processes by which the mind "normalizes" events into memory traces. The film is a non-stop parade of disintegrating memory traces. The doubling back of time in "The Killing" has been revised into a doubling back on reality. If the mind is unable to sort out what was incomplete or irregular then these traces are lost and forgotten. No surprise that Danny's escape is to retrace his steps and that Wendy talks of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. Jack, as we are, is trapped in circle of evil he does not understand, a labyrinth created of memories which have proven unreliable and pathways that are then forgotten."

What does the ending mean?

"I hope the audience has a good fright, has believed the film while they were watching it and retains some sense of it. The ballroom photograph at the end suggests the reincarnation of Jack"

Stanley Kubrick

Here's a section of Jonathan Romnay's essay on The Shining from the August '99 edition of Sight and Sound.

Amid the quiet - broken only by the ghostly strains of a 20's dance tune - the camera tracks slowly towards a wall of photographs from the Overlook's illustrious history. It closes in on a central picture showing a group of revellers smiling at the camera and the in two dissolves, reveals first the person at the centre of the group - Jack himself, smiling and youthful in evening dress - and then the inscription, "Overlook Hotel, July 4th Ball, 1921" Cue credits, cue shudder from the audience.

Just what makes this chilly pay off so uncanny? It appears to reveal something, the final narrative turn of the screw, or perhaps an explanation of the stories ambiguities - but really it reveals nothing for certain. What's more the last thing we see is not an image but and inscription hardy the chilling coup de theatre we expect from a horror film. But The Shining is a film that, while it uses written language sparingly is most concerned with words: not just words of the literary chef d'oevre Jack attempts to write, but also the film's frequent intertitles, and the fetish word REDRUM (murder in mirror writing that preoccupies Danny,

The closing inscription appears to explain what has happened to Jack. Until watching the film again recently I'd always assumed that, after his ordeal in the haunted palace, Jack has been absorbed into the hotel, another sacrificial victim earning his place at the Overlook's eternal the dansant of the damned. At the Overlook , it's always 4 July 1921 - although God knows exactly what happened that night [..]

Or you can look at it another way. Perhaps Jack hasn't been absorbed - perhaps he has really been in the Overlook all along. As the ghostly butler Grady tells him during their chilling confrontation in the man's toilet. "You are the caretaker, you have always been the caretaker Perhaps in some early incantation Jack really was around in 1921, and it's his present day self that is in the shadow of the phantom photographic copy. But if his picture has been there all along, why has no one noticed it. After all its right at the centre of the central picture on the wall. and the Torrances have had a painfully drawn our winter of mind numbing leisure in which to inspect every corner of the place. It is just that, like Poe's purloined letter, the thing in plain sight is the last thing you see. When you do see it, the effect is so unsettling because you realise the unthinkable was there under your nose - overlooked - the whole time.

However you interpret the photographic evidence with which the film singularly fails to settle its uncertainties, this strikes us as an uncanny ending to an uncanny film. One of the texts Kubrick and his co writer Diane Johnson referred to when adapting Steven King's novel was Freud's 1919 essay "The Uncanny." The essay defines uncanny as the class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar. Or as Freud put it, quoting Schelling, the uncanny is "something which out to have remained missed but which is brought to light. [...]

The Overlook doesn't want a neat caretaker, let alone a resident writer. It likes to reduce clever people to menials: look at Grady the butler, clearly a cultivated man through and through. the Overlook wants Jack as a clown, an entertainer for the bored spooks wintering up there alone, The privilege Jack is accorded (Tolerance from Lloyd the sepulchral barman, limitless credit from the management) are the sort of deals given to the in-house cabaret act. The ghouls are assembled to watch Jack wrestle with his demons and lose: this is effectively Kubrick's second gladiator movie, after Spartacus (1960).

Hence Jack's reward after his defeat: a central place among, who knows how many other doomed variety acts on the Overlook's wall of fame. He's added to the bill on the Overlook's everlasting big night back in 1921. And having done his stuff, he deserves an acknowledgement from us too as we get our coats and leave. And that's exactly what he gets. The last thing we hear in the film after the echoing strains of midnight with the stars and you is a round of polite applause over the end credits, which then dies down as the ghouls leave the theatre.


Anonymous said...

As I told Ciment at the time, 'Look...237 is my room & I refuse to be gawped at anymore Can't woman have any privacy?'

BTW...did you know that while he was formulating his duality hypothesis, Frued was exploring his own via a huge stash of extremely well cut Class A. Not exactly confidence ;p

Hope you're a lot better, LD :)

Be safe!

Anonymous said...

You still with us, CL?

Just checking cause I think I've read your entire blog now & I'm in withdrawal :)

lu said...

A friend of mine worked with Kubrick on Full Metal Jacket.
He said the man was every bit the genius he was touted to be. His strongest memory was of Kubrick yelling "more blood!" in the midst of the sniper fire scene.