Four years ago I was just starting out working on The Kubrick Project, focused solely on dissecting 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was visiting Ringling to support a friend who was graduating, and I brought up the project to one of my teachers to see what he thought. I will never forget how unimpressed the look on his face was, and I will never forget the “So what?” response I received from that face. Since I’m no stranger to people not understanding what I’m so passionate about, I took it in stride and considered myself an innovator. Nobody else was talking about how Kubrick deserved to be in museums and studied like Da Vinci, at least I was starting that conversation.
That fledgling conversation has now grown to a full rumble.
There’s tons of people pointing out the ‘hidden messages they see in Kubrick’s films, most noticeably The Shining; the film my project manager and I have watched almost every day for 3 years. It’s inspiring, assuring, and so completely frustrating to still feel thick in the middle of the dissection phase while people tout off their opinions about The Shining being an underlying message about Kubrick faking the moon landing.
Before I even see the film, which we all know I’m going to see, I thought I’d list off the underlying messages I see in this film. I’m not posting any evidence because I’d lose you all within 3 sentences, but the evidence is coming. I’m too scientific to leave it to “just because”, and I’m far too exacting to throw it out there before it’s perfect. The messages, however, I know inside, outside, upside down, backwards, forwards, and everything in between. Let’s begin shall we?
What is it about?
At it’s very core, The Shining is about the abusive dynamic extremely present within the Torrance family. The beginning “Interview” sequence shows Wendy healing from a black eye, describes Danny having to exit nursery school because Jack dislocated the shoulder, and even shows Jack lying about his remaining family member’s personality. Throw in there another story of a man killing his family based on “something old timer’s call ‘Cabin Fever’ ” and the narrative has begun.
Another aspect that creates another heavy layer to this story are the characters inability to tell “the full truth”, or even a consistent truth. You’ve got the Charles/Delbert Grady confusion, the Grady Girls not being the twins everyone refers to them as, the Escher-esque floor plan designs that physically change throughout a scene (check out that Kitchen tour during A Closing Day sequence. or I should say, try and notice that Kitchen scene tour). How about that very clear to understand sequence involving 237 and Halloran in bed? Any guesses? It’s Kubrick confuscating his messaging system, a beautiful semiotic trick that mimics the confusion and disorientation found in trauma victims, horror film victims, and other victims. Kubrick then manipulates and capitalizes on this confusion and disorientation to perpetuate the conceptual underpinnings he’s built.
One that I know tons of people see, and it’s probably the most apparent in terms of a high level allegory is the American History aspect, or the focus on Native American culture. While this is tinged across the entire movie in the decor of the hotel (an easy thing to take for granted), it’s also present in the attitudes and perspective of the characters as they talk about “the best people”, and who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys”. ie: “The hotel is built on an old Indian burial ground. I believe we even had to repel a few Indian attacks as we were building it”. Here is a horror film cliché that feels like it was lifted straight from the mouth of Stephen King, but was actually 100% Kubrick. The importance of noting that it was once a sacred space for one culture, but an invading culture with more money and whiter skin wanted to build a structure on that land. They even had to repel attacks to build that structure! Could you imagine? Perspective goes a long way in this film.
It also should be said that Halloran, very much acts like a stereotypical “jivey” Uncle Tom-esque black man in the film, but Kubrick shows scenes that takes place inside Halloran’s condo, scenes that show that he has a nicer living space than the white “important” Torrances. Halloran even has furnishings that appear to be amalgamated from other rooms of the hotel; most specifically the Colorado Lounge and The Gold Room (by far the ‘richest’ of the hotel’s interior). What about the fact that Halloran is ‘head chef’ (head chief) of the Overlook, and Grady refers to him as a “ni**er cook”? That thing about perspective makes a strong case here.
Another aspect to throw into this discussion are the parallels that Kubrick makes to show that while this is “modern” America, the attitudes towards women and motherhood in general align the society with an older, assumed to be antiquated, America. Wendy is always shown in the kitchen, and always references food when she’s around Jack. While it is Jack shown interviewing for the position of caretaker, it is Wendy shown wearing the exact same shirt, performing the tasks Jack was seen accepting when Danny comes walking into the Colorado Lounge with bruises. My favorites are her “inability” to see the door locked in the kitchen as she drags an unconscious Jack to the pantry, and her inability to exit out of the bathroom window because of her breasts (which aren’t that big, no offense to Shelly Duvall). Femininity and its societal link to weakness is present within this film, but it’s not a topic that’s openly discussed within pop culture’s love of The Shining.
There are so many rich conceptual nuggets within this film that I knew it deserved a thoughtful, and fully considered study. It’s something that I walk into every morning with excitement, and still after all of this time, find new realizations and understandings to this film that I have overlooked (uh, no pun intended here please) so many times before.
While I am so grateful that Kubrick’s films are finally being treated as the art that they truly are, I still am holding back my findings until I can be as sure of them as he was with this film. I feel it’s the only way to do these films, and by extension Kubrick, any justice.