My Analysis of 'The Shining'
Part 1 : Haunting setting and Rich symbolism
Today, I want to share my fascination for the movie The Shining, which talks to me on so many levels, with its haunting setting, tormented characters and countless hidden messages. This is my interpretation of the story and I completely understand that some or most of you may disagree with the way I see this movie, how it made me feel and the lessons I learnt by watching it numerous times.
I read and watched many reviews of The Shining and decided to write my own review because, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t left with the same understanding of the story as other reviewers. In this post, I will share my impressions on The Shining, and would love to hear about your comments and opinions on the movie and my article.
The movie starts with an ominous message, powerfully staged with beautiful imagery and haunting sound effects. The introduction of the rich setting is complete when the main character, Jack Torrance, reaches the Overlook Hotel.
The opening scene tells a story before the actual story even begins. The sinister and eerie music reveals a tragic past and terrible events to come. We know at the very beginning of the movie that things will go terribly wrong by the end of the story. Native American singings that can be heard over the opening music after a few moments suggest a funeral ceremony or preparations to go to war, as grieving pain and anger can be perceived in the voices.
Jack is driving towards the place that will eventually kill him, not to mention the attempt to kill his family, who ultimately manage to survive and escape. While Jack is heading to some far-away and isolated place in nature, he’s losing himself already. The Native American singing starts to let us know that he’s trespassing: he’s entering a forbidden territory and will face the wrath of the original inhabitants if he doesn’t turn back. He’s a white man entering the turf of Native American tribes.
Ironically, the manager of the hotel, Mr. Ullman, tells Jack during the first conversation what happened to the last caretaker and his family, without us realizing that similar events will occur later in the movie.
1. A growing feeling of isolation
The story is set to take place at the Overlook hotel, located high on the mountains and surrounded by nature, in an isolated area of Colorado.
On top of that, the Torrances have to spend the entire winter in the premises all by themselves. The danger that this situation might present has already been outlined by the manager of the hotel, Mr. Ullman, when he warns Jack about the “cabin fever” and what happened with the last caretaker.
The feeling of claustrophobia is increased by a serious snowstorm starting in the middle of the movie, lowering the chance of the family to escape or seek help from the outside world in case of emergency.
Finally, the danger is made clear when we realize all the means of transport and communication have been destroyed.
2. Native American culture is pervasive throughout the movie
There are a lot of visual references to native American culture throughout the film. The Overlook was deliberately decorated with features inspired by the Native American culture. It almost feels as if the Torrance family is unwelcome, surrounded by Native Americans and in enemy territory.
3. The psychological importance of the maze
The maze has a metaphorical meaning and represents the never-ending circle of violence introduced in the movie, in which Jack will lose himself. We can easily deduce that the maze is not real because it’s nowhere to be seen in the first scene showing an aerial view of the Overlook Hotel. It’s merely a representation of the maze the Torrance family entered when Jack took the caretaker job.
The maze is omnipresent throughout the movie since it takes several forms:
- The maze outside the hotel
- The maze of corridors inside the hotel
- The mental maze the characters step in when they arrive at the hotel
The first time Wendy and Danny enter the maze located outside of the house, Jack is somehow watching them on a miniature version, and an enchanting music starts when they reach the center of the maze: the trap is closing in around Wendy and Danny. The hotel’s spirits can see it through Jack’s eyes.
Danny’s endless wanderings in the hotel show us impossible twists, turns and rooms. The hotel looks like a changing maze, possibly because it went through renovations and transformations since it was built and somehow stills “remembers” previous twists and turns, rooms and passages. The maze, inside and outside the house, also suggests that the family is now trapped and lost, and only progressing further into the maze.
The Torrance family arrived at a dead end, they are condemned to run in circles as long as they are in the hotel.
Now if we want to analyse how the maze affects each of the characters:
- This situation benefits Jack because he wants to keep his power over his family. He treats his wife poorly and barely gives any consideration to his son, but we can feel that he is still terrified that they are going to leave him one day, possibly when they discover that he is a fraud and that there is no possible future with him. The man always dreamed of becoming a famous writer. He became a teacher as a way to make end meet but was fired because of his alcoholism. When he is hired as a caretaker at the Overlook, he immediately believes this is his opportunity to dedicate his time to writing, but soon realizes he is incapable of producing anything. At that point, his slow descent to madness begins.
- Wendy has to deal with a husband who is going crazy and a son she wants to protect. She’s the character who evolves the most in this movie: she starts as a docile and forgiving wife, gradually takes the role of the head of the family, and tries her best to hold it together (she fulfills the duties of the caretaker, she takes care and—when she can—protects Danny from harm, and ultimately saves Danny by escaping the hotel with him). She finds her way through the maze by becoming stronger and making tough decisions.
- Danny becomes aware of the danger before the family arrives at the hotel but is helpless in coping with the situation. He can see the spirits and senses the terrible events that happened/will happen in the hotel, but still won’t say anything to his parents. As a result, he gets injured by the hotel’s spirits and takes refuge in his own mind, unable to deal with what he’s been through. Danny is lost in his mind until Jack attacks him and Wendy with an axe. The scene in which he runs into the maze and manages to fool Jack, the minotaur of his own mental maze, is powerful since it shows us that he found his way through the maze, but also proved to be smarter than his attacker. He owes his salvation to his courage and intelligence.
4. Room 2037: Did Danny empower the hotel's spirits by entering in the room?
We first learn about Room 237 when Danny asks Halloran, the head cook, about what’s inside. Thanks to his abilities, Danny can sense that the hotel’s spirits—the core of the curse affecting the hotel—are most powerful in Room 237. While Jack is slowly seduced by the hotel’s spirits and Wendy is oblivious to them, Danny knows an evil force is at play in the hotel and wants to find out about it, hence his question to Halloran.
The head cook’s reaction seems guided by fear and caution towards Room 237 as he enjoins Danny to never go in the room. Since Halloran also possess the “shining”, the ability to have visions of what happened in the past, the present and the future, we can infer that he also knows the hotel’s spirits find their power in this room.
As we see Danny pass in front of the room, we can feel his urge to know what is inside Room 237, what is calling him and the reasons behind his visions. That’s why he tries to enter, only to find out the door is locked.
Danny ends up going in the room, but not by attempting to go inside once again. He’s playing near the room and suddenly realizes the door is open when a ball is thrown his way.
If we take it from a historical point be view, this scene can be perceived as a reenactment of the invasion of Native American territory and the massacres that followed. The colonists were after the wealth of the land and power. The yellow ball used to lure Danny in the room may represent the gold and wealth that colonists longed for when they committed atrocities and slaughtered Native Americans. Danny knows he shouldn’t enter in Room 237; even putting aside the fact that Halloran warned him it could be dangerous, he’s not supposed to go in the hotel’s room, since it’s forbidden.
But Danny still decides to enter this room, just as colonists trespassed and invaded territories occupied by Native Americans. Danny was lured into the room with a ball but it just sounds like an excuse to go in the room. After all, we don’t know if the ball came from the room, we just assume that because the door is open at this moment, and even in this case it’s not enough a reason to enter. Even though Danny was lured in the room, the fact that Danny enters can be felt as an intrusion.
The whole situation escalates from the moment Danny enters in Room 237: the ghosts appear for Jack to see them only after Danny enters in the room.
Danny was attracted to the room from the moment he sets foot in the hotel because the hotel’s spirits called him: they need his power to manifest themselves in more powerful forms (the ghosts). Before Danny goes in Room 237, the seduction of the spirits over Jack was performed through the whistling sounds we hear when Jack looks at the window with a vacant look, while Wendy and Danny play outside in the snow, and the repetition of the sentence “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” typed on his manuscript (although we only become aware of the content of the manuscript near the end of the movie).
The hotel’s spirits’ whole plan was to lure Danny in the room and harness enough power from him to be able to drive Jack insane. Right after this scene, Wendy hears Jack screaming and finds him asleep while seated at his desk. Wendy wakes him up and he tells her about his nightmare: he killed Wendy and Danny, and chopped their bodies.
This nightmare’s realization is the end goal of the hotel’s spirits. It was as if the hotel’s spirits gained a significant amount of power, enough to torment Jack with more strength than before, from the moment Danny enters the room and gets attacked. The spirits managed to get in Jack’s head and his reaction shows us that the will of the spirits —for him to kill his family—is definitely not his will. At this moment of the story, Jack has no intention of hurting his family and he seems deeply disturbed by his nightmare. As Danny appears with injuries on his neck, Jack is accused by Wendy and finds no explanation to give her.
In this scenario, Danny—not Jack—is guilty of wrongdoings. Danny entered in the room and gave to the hotel’s spirits the means to torture Jack’s mind, and eventually seduce him. Jack is also innocent regarding Danny’s injuries since he was at his desk, we can imagine, if we follow this theory that Jack was working when Danny went in the room and fell unconscious when the spirits got their hands around Danny’s neck and managed to extract power from him.
Wendy finds out later what happened to Danny: he was attacked by a crazy woman who tried to strangle him. She runs to Jack and asks him to go to check Room 237. The crazy woman—the corpse of the old lady Jack finds in the room—is the embodiment of the hotel’s spirits. So, Danny is telling the truth when he says he was attacked by a crazy woman.
The green bathroom scene perfectly sums up what happens to Jack during the whole story and the hotel's effects on him. He's first completely seduced by what the hotel's spirits show him, and gives in to them. However, as soon as he sees the hotel's spirits for what they really are and understands their intentions, he starts feeling fear and tries to escape. It's unfortunately too late for him.
When Jack goes to the room and checks the bathroom, he’s firstly seduced by what he sees: a beautiful woman sitting in the bathtub. He has a delighted expression on his face when he sees her as she approaches him, and they start kissing. Jack then looks into the mirror behind and notices the woman he’s holding is in fact the decomposing corpse of an old woman who starts to walk towards him as he steps back, completely horrified and disgusted.
It is the first time he is horrified by what we see in the hotel because, at this moment, he sees the true face of the hotel, and he realizes the alarming situation he’s in. The hotel’s spirits only want to deceive him and absorb him in the hotel’s history. It’s made clear by the mocking laughter of the dead woman moving towards him with arms stretched.
The hotel’s spirits show Jack what he wants to see in the first place, only for the deception to be revealed in the mirror. Jack wants to run but he’s already under the control of the spirits and a brainwashed Jack goes back to the family apartment.
Jack's mind is completely taken over by the spirits the moment Danny enters Room 237. Danny plays a key role in the escalation of the situation because the spirits get more powerful and take a stronger hold on Jack’s mind when he enters Room 237 and gets attacked. They needed Danny’s abilities to execute their plans and they intended to take all the boy’s powers eventually. During the conversation between Jack and Delbert Grady in the red bathroom, the spirits admit that they are strongly interested in Danny’s powers and insist on how great his talent is. We’re left to wonder what the spirits would be capable of doing if they could get hold of all Danny’s abilities.
We can only assume that the Grady twins also went in Room 237, found out about the dead lady and decided to burn the hotel to destroy her. That would explain why they appear in front of Danny on two occasions, and why he has a vision of them when he tries to open the door of Room 237 for the first time. They mean to warn him.
5. The haunting sounds effects and music
Native American singings can be heard during the first scene of the movie while Jack is driving towards the Overlook hotel.
The same singings—and screams—also start right before Jack snaps at Wendy, when she’s telling him that they have to get Danny far away from the hotel. Jack investigated Room 237 and comes back in the family’s apartment to tell his wife he didn’t find anything odd. He remains very calm and collected until Wendy suggests they should take Danny to a doctor.
Danny can be seen lying on his bed with a terrified expression. Right after Wendy says "Get him out of here," Danny starts shaking. It looks like he’s foreshadowing Jack’s outburst of rage against Wendy, while he sees a flash of the blood river with a pure look of terror on his face. Jack is completely under the control of the hotel’s spirit, which slowly become enraged at the idea that the Torrance family may leave. Danny sees exactly what the hotel’s spirit wants with the flowing blood river.
The blood river is both an expression of the tragic events that occurred during the construction of the hotel and the cycle of never-ending slaughters that repeats itself. The Native American singing represents the wrath and desire of revenge of the Native Americans who defended the burial site the hotel was constructed on.
6. Danny's helplessness translated into mute violent scenes
On several occasions, Danny is shown screaming but we’re unable to hear him, translating into his helplessness to do anything about what he’s going through and to protect himself.
Danny knows that staying in the hotel is dangerous but can’t do anything to stop what is going to happen other than investigating and calling Halloran for help. He’s just a kid after all.
He’s very secretive about his abilities and never tells his parents about his visions or how he feels about the hotel. Danny is protecting himself by not telling anyone but Halloran about his powers. We learn later in the movie what happened to the Grady’s twins when they realized something was terribly wrong with the hotel and tried to burn it.
Danny’s last scream in the movie can be heard because he is no longer able to contain his fear and horror as he witnesses Halloran’s murder by his father’s hands.
The mute scenes also support the fact that children rarely have any say in family decisions and their opinion is usually disregarded. This might also be a reference to the silence surrounding child abuse in a family. An abused child will almost always remain silent about the abuse he’s facing, and even if the child comes forward to reveal it, his cries for help can go unnoticed, either because children might not be taken seriously or because they are too traumatized or fearful to communicate effectively.
In the next article => My Analysis of The Shining; Part 2: The characters and their evolution (1/2)