Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)

Warner Bros. presents The Shining

“Some places are like people: some shine and some don’t.”


Struggling to turn his life around in the wake of alcoholism and the abuse of his child, writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) agrees to take a 5 month long off-season caretaker position at The Overlook Hotel.  Completely isolated and left to his own devices, Jack’s young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), begins seeing things thanks to a unique psychic gift referred to as “shining”.  As a snowstorm moves in, completely cutting off the Torrance family from the rest of the world, Danny is plagued with visions of the future, events from the past, and is visited by ghosts who inhabit the hotel.

Also starring Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance, Jack’s wife and Danny’s mother, and Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann, the hotel’s chef and a man who shares Danny’s gift, The Shining is directed by Stanley Kubrick and is (loosely) based on a novel of the same name by Stephen King.

The Shining: spoiler alert

Warner Bros. presents The Shining

The division echoed by the film reviewing community and filmgoers alike when mention of Kubrick’s The Shining is made constitutes an all too familiar sentiment when the work of a popular author (Stephen King) is adapted to film.  Kubrick’s 144 minute adaptation is a slow-paced, dream-state that often breaks with the underlying themes, subject matter, and overall tone of King’s novel.  In fact, King has been quoted as saying Kubrick’s vision of his work is the only adaptation he could “remember hating”[1] mainly due to Kubrick’s changes to the personality of the main character, Jack.

There is a litany of theories in print and online that would like to inject deeper (and potentially more sinister) meaning into Kubrick’s intentional variances to King’s original work; including one that would have you believe Kubrick’s The Shining is the director’s confession to having been a part to the staging of the Apollo 11 lunar landing (see below for a link to the full-length documentary).  Still others, would ask that you consider Kubrick’s lifelong obsession with the Holocaust, and his frustration at never having been able to find an adequate project in which the matter could be explored, as a reason for the director’s hijacking of the film’s subject matter. [1]

Most of these theories are laughable, but strangely entertaining to investigate.  I, myself, lost many hours in a YouTube rabbit hole delving into such theories.  I invite you to do the same.  All of it, even the crackpot ideas, lend themselves to the Kubrick mythology and are relentlessly fascinating.

Warner Bros. presents The Shining

However you take Kubrick’s adaptation, a few irrefutable truths remain.  Kubrick’s The Shining is a multi-layered experience, replete with recurring motifs (Kubrick relies heavily on mirrors throughout the film), and shot construction as a method of revealing or concealing the true nature of the events taking place in the scene.

Warner Bros. presents The Shining

Is Kubrick’s The Shining a ghost story?  Not necessarily.  As film critic Roger Ebert pointed out, Kubrick’s The Shining lacks a reliable character from whose viewpoint the audience can be informed.[1]  It’s never exactly clear whether the ghosts depicted in the film actually “exist” or are just mental manifestations of Jack or Danny, both of whom have questionable mental health.

This means, we are never given a context for understanding the motivations or the intent of the ghosts inhabiting The Overlook Hotel.  Nor can we trust that the ghosts actually “exist.”

Warner Bros. presents The Shining

Kubrick’s The Shining then becomes a story about choice, not of ghosts, predetermination, or reincarnation (don’t let the photo at the end of the film fool you).  All of the characters in the film have multiple roles.  For instance, Jack is a father and husband.  He is both good and evil.  He is simultaneously an abusive and caring father and husband.  It is up to Jack to choose which he wishes to be.

In a sense, then, this means Kubrick’s The Shining should be viewed through the lens of being a psychological horror film despite it’s supernatural elements.

Warner Bros. presents The Shining

And that’s not a bad place to be, especially considering the most powerful moments in the film center around the mental fracturing, or unraveling, of its central characters, not the ghosts of The Overlook Hotel.  Even while the scene in which the room 237 “hag” chooses to reveal her true self to Jack is disturbing, it holds but a candle to the sense of “off-ness” you will feel when Jack is shown standing, staring out the window (see above photo).

Drenched in natural light, unshaven, with pink irritated eyes, everything about this single moment in Kubrick’s The Shining tells the audience things have just gone irrevocably off the rails. Warner Bros. presents The Shining

Despite the inconsistencies between book and film, Kubrick’s The Shining remains one of my favorite films.  It’s difficult to admit, given the fragile, hysteria-prone depiction of Wendy who continually allows herself to be mentally and verbally abused by her husband, Jack.

The decadence of the Gold Room, the never ending hallways, and grand interior design of the hotel lend a visual opulence to the film that I find intoxicating.  Every viewing of The Shining reveals something new.  Arguably, Kubrick’s masterpiece.


Did get it right?

1.) Yes.  It’s never a good idea to voluntarily isolate yourself for extended periods of time.

2.) Yes.  To this day, more than 30 years later, many people cite the bathroom scene in which Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, attacks his wife, Wendy, with an ax as giving them nightmares.  For me, the rivers of blood, the hand-holding twins, and the mysterious room 237 are enough.

3.) Yes.  Owing to startling and confusing quick cuts, trailing shots of Jack chasing Danny through a snow-laden labyrinth, an ax to the chest.




Here’s Johnny:


Elevator scene with rushing blood:


Have a drink at the Overlook Hotel’s famous Good Room:

there's more to explore

Wiki facts: The Shining

FAQ: The Shining

Is The Shining rotten or fresh?

How did The Shining do at the box office?

Watch or buy The Shining on Amazon

Buy and read the Stephen King novel upon which The Shining is based


The Shining: Fun Facts

Behind the Scenes: Jack Nicholson

Behind the Scenes: Shelley Duvall

Behind the Scenes: Garrett Brown (inventor of the Stedicam) Interview

Behind the Scenes: Into the Labyrinth

Related: Crypto-Kubrology

Related: Are there hidden messages in Kubrick’s The Shining?

With the release of Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, Read What He (Still) Thinks about Stanley Kubrick: Salon



[1] ”The Shining (film)” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Feb. 2013. Web.  17 Feb. 2013. <>


4 responses to “Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)

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