Since 1980, The Shining is considered a classic within the horror genre. The film’s portrayal of character Jack Torrance’s slow descent into maniacal madness within the isolated and haunted Overlook Hotel has been considered an exemplar of terror and suspense greatness amongst film buffs and critics. However, given the complex resume of Stanley Kubrick, The Shining’s director, simply associating The Shining as horror may minimize the intentionality from its director. Kubrick, whose directing style has become the topic of contemporary lore, often applied subtle societal commentary within the framework of the films he directed. The Shining, too, can be inducted into this canon. Through to Kubrick’s directing, The Shining transcends beyond the intentionality of Stephen King’s source material and instead offers the more complex message that madness is naturally inherent within society and showcases the unfortunate timelessness of bigotry towards others.
When writing The Shining, Stephen King famously considered the novel to be a veiled account of his own alcoholism and how vices, such as alcohol, made others susceptible to unspeakable behavior. The Shining was his means to convey his personal plights on paper for readers to digest. This was how his central character, Jack Torrance, was portrayed within the source novel: a young father, whose weaknesses were his own undoing. By being within the haunted Overlook Hotel, the hotel’s ghost residents manipulate Jack through his alcoholism to commit their violent deeds. Describing the novel, Ryan Vlastelica writes in his article, “Is Stephen King Justified in Hating Kubrick’s Vision of ‘The Shining,'” it is “as much tragedy as horror. Jack is a threat, but a sympathetic and relatable one.”
Kubrick disregarded King’s personal aspect of The Shining in place of his common approach to storytelling: social commentary through extreme circumstances. Rather than alcohol as the linkage between good and evil, Kubrick placed emphasis on the setting of the film, the wintery isolation of the Colorado mountains where the Overlook Hotel resides, seemingly alienated from civilization. This was a deliberate decision by Kubrick, which was reflective of his directing style. His style sought to have an “open narrative that erases the transparency of the film form and requires critical engagement of the audience in the discovery – and intention – of meaning” (Cocks 39). Kubrick’s style offered viewers an uncertain future, to which they were active participants in learning the purpose of events as they unfolded. This dramatically contrasts with King’s own intentionality with The Shining, which was to present a sort of expose on the effects of alcoholism and their indirect effects towards others.
Rather than highlight Jack’s alcoholism, Kubrick subtly used the Overlook Hotel and its ghost inhabitants as a means to convey a subtle message of the inherent madness and evil humanity possesses. This subtext strongly suggests that its occupants not only possess the halls and rooms of the hotel, but also possess a mindset of misogyny, racism, and possibly genocide from their given era (Smith 302). Rather than being allured to madness by alcohol, as written in King’s novel, Jack’s murderous insanity stems from directly identifying with the ghosts’ ideology of what-once-was, slyly suggesting the timelessness of bigotry. Kubrick is also subtle in his directing to have his ghosts’ disposition on human life be juxtaposed with literal cold: the snowy isolation of the mountains, reminding audiences how “cold reality and relationships have become in the modern world” (Manchel 73).
Depending on whether one reads the source material or the film adaption of The Shining, the intentionality of Jack Torrance shifts dramatically. Within King’s novel, Jack is sympathetic and is ultimately a victim of his vices. However, within the film, Kubrick sought to convey a subtle condemnation of society. Jack Torrance is inherently evil at the onset of the narrative, directly contradicting King’s crafting of the character. More so, Jack is a physical, contemporary continuation of the bigotry that existed in the past, to which his willingness to madness isn’t due to isolation, but rather a desire to join like-minded individuals in their existence of hatred. This offers a more complex narrative that suggests the Overlook Hotel wasn’t merely haunted, but it actively seeks living inhabitants within its walls to join them in their diabolical hatred for others.
Cocks, Geoffrey. “Stanley Kubrick’s Dream Machine: Psychoanalysis, Film and History.” Annual of Psychoanalysis.35 (2003). 35-45. Web. 17 July 2017.
Manchel, Frank. “What About Jack? Another Perspective on Family Relationships in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining.'” Literature and Film Quarterly.23.1 (1995). 68-76. Web. 18 July 2017.
Smith, Greg. “Real Horror show: The Juxtaposition of Subtext, Satire and Audience Implication in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining.'” Literature and Film Quarterly.25.4 (1997): 300-305. Web. 17 July 2017.
Vlastelica, Ryan. “Is Stephen King Justified in Hating Kubrick’s Vision for The Shining?” A.V. Club. Onion Inc., 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 15 July 2017.