Reappraising Kubrick's The Shining

by Brian Siano

I decided to have another look at The Shining recently, and I have to pass along some comments about the film. Most of the argument about The Shining centers around the King-versus-Kubrick scheme. It's very easy to cast things into a catfight between two caricatures, Kubrick the Artist versus King the Popular Hack: the film and novel differ substantially, both are protective of their works (King has taken to producing his own adaptations as TV miniseries, including an upcoming remake of The Shining), and while there is overlap in their respective fans, the temptation to cast things into this catfight is pretty strong.
First of all, I should say that I don't regard Stephen King as a popular hack. I think he is an exceptionally talented writer who is committed to improving and refining his craft. King does have his faults as a writer. His habit of recycling old ideas in horror loses its charm after a while. His later books tend to be far longer than their slim plotlines seem to demand (Insomnia is a good example). Overall, I don't think his work is what I'd call "great literature" in the scale of Gravity's Rainbow or Catch-22. But when King is good -- as with The Stand, or The Shining, or The Dead Zone, among many -- he is very, very good, and dumping on him as a horror-book hack does him a major disservice.
When The Shining was announced, I was among those who hoped for, and expected, something that would do for the horror film what 2001 and A Clockwork Orange did for science fiction cinema. Kubrick's legendary remoteness could combine with King's imagination to make a relentlessly terrifying movie. King himself said he'd hoped for audiences having heart attacks, a hope I sure as hell shared when I cut school to catch the day-of-release matinee. The previews were also enticing as hell: just a continuous shot of a bank of elevators belching a torrent of blood. (I should mention that King has disappointed me as well: I'd expected The Tommyknockers to be a black satire of technology, as King had said in interviews. Instead, we got just another variation on John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos. Oh, well.)
Although the film was a major moneymaker at the time, a lot of fans were extremely disappointed. Instead of the ultimate horror film, Kubrick seemed to deliver a slasher film as done by Ingmar Bergman. Scenes were slow, deliberate, and stagy. Jack Nicholson tore up the sets with his out-of-control performance. Shelley Duvall did little but scream and shriek. Most of the scary scenes just weren't that scary. And the climax was a massive let-down. Although the film got many favorable reviews, most seemed to think that the deliberate pacing was misapplied from Barry Lyndon.
Of course, Kubrick's films frequently gain in the passing years, and a reappraisal is always welcome. Barry Lyndon, for example, seems to be attracting some enthusiasts, myself included. So a second look at The Shining is certainly worth it, especially sixteen years after its release. Has it gotten better with age?
To be brutally honest: No. The Shining has several flaws that really can't be, well, overlooked. Sure, it has moments of brilliance, but overall, I think the film has several flaws that put it into the "interesting failure" category.

A recap of the plot, in both book and film, might be a good idea. The Overlook Hotel, located in a remote, mountainous region of Colorado, shuts down every winter. Jack Torrance is hired to be the hotel's caretaker, and we're told how this is very much a last chance for him: he's had a drinking problem that's ruined his teaching career, and harmed his family as well. The requirement of the job is, rather than spend one night in a Haunted House, Torrance and his family must spend the winter isolated in the mammoth, empty, and very haunted hotel -- where a previous caretaker had chopped his family into pieces thanks to "cabin fever."
His son Danny has psychic abilities, or a "shine," as the hotel's cook Hallorann calls it. It's never made quite clear whether the hotel's haunts are spurred on by psychic abilities, or whether the hotel's evil spirits are working harder to absorb Danny's talents, but never mind: while Danny is having horrifying visions of the deaths and murders in the hotel's past, Jack is being gradually seduced by the hotel's past by means of a found scrapbook, occasional flashes of better times in the past, and imaginary conversations with Lloyd, the ghostly bartender.
Things progress with Jack regressing into his alcoholic behavior under the hotel's influence. Danny manages to psychically cry out for Hallorann's help, and the cook courageously travels to the hotel to help. The hotel convinces Jack to kill his family -- it's evident that the hotel wants Danny's powers in both film and book.
It's at this point that the book and movie diverge most sharply. In the book, Jack manages to cripple Hallorann and Wendy with a rogue mallet before cornering Danny. At the last minute, Jack/the Hotel realizes that the hotel's faulty boiler is ready to blow up, and the other three escape as the hotel explodes. In the film, Hallorann is killed by Jack, Danny flees into the hotel's hedge maze, and manages to trick Jack into getting lost. Jack freezes to death in the maze; a short epilogue reveals Jack in a photograph of an Overlook hotel ball in 1921, absorbed into the hotel's past.

Jack and Ullman

The film opens with Jack's interview with Ullman, the hotel's manager. In the book, Jack is seething with resentment at Ullman's officiousness, including Ullman's dredging up Jack's drinking history during the interview. It's a very good opening chapter. It sums up the Overlook's past in a succinct manner, and it delineates Jack's character extremely well.
In the film, however, Jack behaves affably, and Ullman says nothing about his past: there is the story of the previous caretaker's family butchery, however. Barry Nelson's performance recalls Heywood Floyd in 2001: he's much friendlier than King's Ullman, but it's mostly managerial bonhomie. But Jack Nicholson's performance here is a little too measured, and his bonhomie is a bit forced: many reviewers felt that Nihcolson was "crazy" right from the get-go. I'd disagree: a case can be made that, in this situation, Jack Torrance would behave pretty much like Nicholson did.
But the problem is the same as much of ther rest of the film; its staginess. Ullman behaves like a human being we've all encountered, but Nicholson is stilted, and there are awkward pauses before he delivers his dialogue. Job interviews have a lot of back-and-forth conversation, but this doesn't have much of that. This is one fault with Kubrick's approach, and it really does echo the formalism of Barry Lyndon in a way that just doesn't make for a great scene. It sets up the situation, at least.

Wendy and Danny

In both book and film, Danny's psychic abilities present him with "Tony." In the book, it's explicit that Tony is merely Danny at a later age. In the film, the device of having Danny Lloyd wiggle his finger as he croaks Tony's dialogue is, well, inspired; we haven't seen it before, and it seems like something a kid with an invisible friend would do. It is Tony who notifies Danny that Jack's got the job, and hints that awful things are in the works at the hotel. Throughout the film, Danny Lloyd gives a fine performance.
Wendy Torrance, however, is a different story. In the book, her character, while likable, is still very ill-defined. She's not as imaginative as Jack and Danny (and is the last to "shine"). She eventually develops enough courage to try to save Danny from Jack, but by and large, Wendy is not a very strong characterization on the part of King. (King admitted at the time that he wasn't very good at dealing with women characters, though given Carrie White and later books, I think he was a bit hard on himself.)
Shelly Duvall's performance is, therefore, a mix. On the plus side, I doubt that many actresses could be as convincingly hysterical as she is in the film's finale. I also think she's cute as hell, too. But in her scenes with the doctor who comes to examine Danny -- which suffer from the same deliberate pacing that hurt the Jack-Ullman scenes -- she's unnatural, and her shaking while lighting a cigarette seems almost puppet-like.
But in these two introductory scenes, it's the pacing that hurts. Kubrick seems to insist that when people talk, a beat should happen between each line. I'm certain that the actors probably could have made these scenes play more naturalistically, and such pauses might be in place in the work of Harold Pinter, but I'm afraid the blame must be laid at Kubrick's feet.

Introducing the Overlook

This sequence in the film manages to provide a rough idea of the major portions of the hotel. Ullman takes the Torrances on a tour that includes the Colorado Lounge, the hedge maze (changed from a topiary in the book, because Kubrick couldn't get acceptable hedge animals in specal effects tests), the Gold Room, and the kitchen. We see glimpses of the snow cat and a few side corridors, but we do get a sense that the place is a mammoth maze in and of itself.
The late Scatman Crothers gave a fine performance as Hallorann, and in the scene where he's talking about "shining" with Danny, even Kubrick's deliberate staging works to their advantage: they're talking about very personal abilities that they've probably never talked about with strangers.
The Overlook set is one of Kubrick's triumphs. It really does seem all of one piece -- in fact, I sat down and sketched off a rough "map" of the set, and only the Gold Room and the hedge maze are truly separate from all else. Small details, like fire bells in the kitchen, the punch clocks in the utility corridors, and the arrangement of historical photographs in one stairwell (they wind with the precise placing of a professional hotel decorator), are about as "real" as a set can get. Few filmmakers could create such vast sets for so small a cast.

Settling In

After Ullman and others depart, the Torrances settle into their routine. Wendy and Danny adapt very readily: Wendy happily wheels a cart full of breakfast food to their tiny apartment, while Danny drives his Big Wheel all around in some remarkable Steadicam shots. Later, we also seen Wendy checking the hotel's boilers -- a job Jack should have been doing.
In the book, Jack does do work on the hotel, and we get to learn more of his past through interior monologues. In the film, however, Jack does nothing. We see him only in the apartment, laying in bed, talking about how great he feels about the place. But as the scenes progress, we see him do very little as a caretaker. Occasionally we see him write, but more often, he bounces a ball in the Colorado lounge, hunting for inspiration. A brief foray into the front entrance lets him "shine" as he looks down onto the maze model -- as Wendy and Danny explore another section of their new world. We later see Jack, sitting catatonically, staring silently while Wendy and Danny play in the snow.
This is where we have to give Kubrick some slack, as interior states of mind are difficult to portray in film, but are child's play in writing. In the book, King allows interior monologues to drive internal moods, and the occasional "leads" the hotel throws Jack -- vague memories of long-lost parties in the hotel's past -- demonstrate a process of psychological seduction.
One of King's best devices for this process is the scrapbook. While cleaning the basement, Jack discovers a scrapbook that tells a lot of the hotel's unsavory history -- mob hits, exchanges of ownership, the involvement of a depraved Howard Hughes-type millionaire, suicides, murders, etc. Jack, enthralled by the piecemeal history, considers writing a book about the hotel's history (and in one gut-wrenching scene, he baits Ullman over the phone and nearly loses his job over it). The chapter on the scrapbook is a marvel, and I'd love to see this material restored in King's upcoming minseries.
Kubrick's strategy is to show Jack's frustration over writer's block, and the "shining" over the hedge maze can be seen as the hotel's giving him a "first taste" of being a visionary -- or a madman. The later shot of a catatonic Nicholson could be seen as his regression into his own brain, fed by the hotel's fantasies.
I've heard accounts of a lot of things Kubrick filmed, or considered using, in this film (Nicholson's head splitting open and spilling out worms, the John Williams soundtrack, a game room scene where the games are haunted, etc.), and the scrapbook does turn up. It's seen on Nicholson's table when Wendy interrupts his writing.
It's my guess that Kubrick had originally planned to make more use out of the scrapbook, perhaps in the way King did. The scrapbook would certainly have made Wendy's ghoulish-party visions a lot more sensible: the bit wih the man in the dog costume has many viewers scratching their heads. I'm thinking of the scene in Jaws where Roy Scheider flips though a book about shark attacks; a similar scene with the scrapbook would have reinforced the theme of the seductions of the hotel's past, as well as provide a basis for Wendy's visions towards the end of the film. If this had been Kubrick's intention, then the omission of the scrapbook was a mistake.

A Brief Pause on Kubrick

One fact about Kubrick's work habits has fueled a lot of interpretative theories; his obsessiveness over detail and planning. All who have worked with Kubrick report that he lives to gather information, synthesize it, and use it as effectively as he can. Every detail of his films is planned out carefully, usually in pre-production to keep the actual production costs low. Therefore -- and this is where the theory-fuel comes in -- everything in Kubrick's films has deliberate significance.
I don't think this is true in many significant incidences. Kubrick is also known to make substantive changes in his films during and after production. Strangelove lost its famous pie-fight sequence, partly due (according to Terry Southern) to the extras clearly displaying inappropriately happy expressions. Accounts of Full Metal Jacket's production credit Lee Ermey with providing much of his own raunchy dialogue. And 2001 was very frequently an exercise in Kubrick's own improvisation: Douglas Trumbull talks about the changes the script went through even as cameras were rolling, and Arthur Clarke had to hold off on completing his book to reflect the film's changes as well.
In the case of The Shining, we've seen reports of scenes that were cut (the epilogue with Ullman, a brief shot of Nicholson sabotaging the Snow-Cat), and scenes that might have been shot (the aforementioned wormy head). There was the soundtrack, originally supposed to be composed by John Williams, but now Kubrick's collection of Bartok, Penderecki and Carlos. And I'd suggested that there was more attention on the scrapbook than we see in the finished product.
Also, there are continuity errors that, I think, point to a certain degree of improvisation, or daily script-change. The problem with the door Nicholson chops apart (only one of the door's panels is seen being chopped: but in the shot when Nicholson hears the Snow-Cat arriving, both panels are chopped), and the slip over the location of the frozen meat-locker (watch carefully: the door Hallorann opens is opposite the door he closes), are actually pretty minor. These can be explained by the excision of a scene or two.
There are two discrepancies in the film that are occasionally argued to be deliberate. The first is Grady's name change. In the opening scene, Ullman refers to him as Charles Grady. However, when Grady and Jack talk in the men's room, he states that his name is Delbert Grady (the name King gave him). The second discrepancy is the appearance of paper in Jack's typewriter after he curses out Wendy. The scene begins with him ripping paper out of the carriage, and in many shots afterward the carriage is noticeably empty. But, when he returns to his writing, the typewriter has been reloaded.
Both of these could have been deliberate, and actually do lend themselves to critical interpretation. Does Grady's name imply a shifting of identity? Is the hotel feeding Jack paper to feed his madness? Both are possible, but there is also a very real possibility that, since there are continuity errors in the final film (described above), these may very well be continuity errors as well.

Things Get Scary -- Sorta

In the middle of the film are extended sequences that show the hotel starting to take action against the characters. Danny is seen riding his Big Wheel around, and momentarily considers exploring room 237. Jack is interrupted by Wendy as he writes, and he berates her for wandering in. Danny, riding in the staff section of the hotel, encounters the ghosts of Grady's daughters who entice him to stay "forever and ever and ever" -- a phrase Jack echoes when he and Danny have a frightening heart-to-heart talk.
While these sequences help build a sense of dread, they do seem disconnected from one another. We don't get much of a sense of how much time has passed between them, for one thing. Given the title cards Kubrick uses ("Tuesday," "Thursday", etc.), they could be happening during a particular week -- rather than having the more realistic pace of King's novel.

The Final Days

The final sequence of events appears, in the film, to happen over the course of two or three days.
Danny wanders into the notorious Room 237. Jack has horrible dreams of chopping his family up; when Wendy comes to comfort him, Danny turns up bruised and traumatized, leading Wendy to accuse Jack of hurting him. Jack, in turn, goes to the Gold Room and shares his problems with Lloyd, the preternaturally calm bartender.This monologue with Lloyd is probably the film's greatest sequence -- on repeated viewings, it surpasses even the typewriter scene. A lot of it is based on King's book, but Kubrick cuts out a lot of Jack's more literary ruminations about being "on the wagon" in favor of a delightfully chauvanistic tirade: Jack's sarcastic bonhomie about having problems with "the ol' sperm bank upstairs," Jack making the "foot pound per second per second" gesture ever so precise, Jack's revelation about breaking his kid's arm. The camera stays on Nicholson as he works through this monologue, catching every swing of mood, every inept joke, every sideways glance that shows that this is a man who expects the walls to be closing in on him next. King provided a rich basis for the scene, Kubrick whittled it down to a red-hot core, and Nicholson gave it ten minutes of his greatest work.
(One critic notes a small conflict of dates. Jack claims he broke Danny's arm three years ago, but he went on the wagon only six months ago -- contrary to Wendy's assertion that he stopped drinking as a result of his hurting Danny. I don't think this is a continuity error: it reveals Jack as fundamentally loveless, and Wendy as a spineless apologist.)
Wendy eventually asks Jack to investigate Room 237, and once again, we depart from the book in a major way. In the book, Danny goes into room 237 by himself, and finds a dead woman in the tub -- who rises up and begins to strangle him. When Jack investigates, he goes into the bathroom momentarily, finds no trace that anyone had been in there -- but, imagining what could have been in there, he skitters off and claims that he saw nothing there.
The scene in the book is quite good, and King reports that it's one of the very few that scared him when he wrote it. It could easily have been one of the scariest parts of any film (some have pointed out its resemblance to the climax of Clouzot's , which King says he hadn't seen at that time). And the scene with Jack's investigation is, I think, even better. Kubrick's version, however, falls a little flat.
In Kubrick's version, we never see what happens to Danny. Instead, Nicholson goes into the room (the camera moves with his p.o.v.), and goes to the bathroom. A woman's hand draws the shower curtain back, slowly. A stunning beautiful creature, she steps out -- and then we see Kubrick's first misstep, where Nicholson's face breaks from fear and turns into lust. Even Nicholson's earlier exhibitions of dementia -- the strange talk he has with Danny in the bedroom, the staring scene, etc. -- don't make this shot any more believable.
Still, when Nicholson embraces the woman and begins kissing her passionately, there's still a chance the scene will scare the hell out of us. When I saw the film, I expected to see the camera make a slow, graceful circle until we saw what was in the mirror -- that Jack was making out with a corpse -- a moment or two before Jack did. Instead, we get a "crash pan" into the mirror, and there's a revolting moment when we see the corpse's dessicated flesh.
And here's where the scene really does fall apart. We have a montage of the woman -- a cackling old lady moving towards Nicholson, the dead woman rising from the tub, Danny "shining" on the experience, and the lady's laugh flooding the soundtrack. I'm sorry, readers, but this didn't strike me as being terribly scary. I can think of at least three different ways to film the sequence that would be pretty frightening -- but Kubrick took a route that, sadly, fell flat.
I don't think any excuse can be made by appealing to what Kubrick had wanted to do, or trying to think of a theme or allusion that was served by this sequence. I can't think of one. The sequence is obviously meant to scare us, and such scenes either work or they don't. And this one doesn't.

Building towards a Climax

As I said, this whole sequence happens over a couple of days. Following his adventure in Room 237, Jack goes back upstairs to try to convince Wendy that nothing's wrong. When Wendy begs him to try to get Danny out of the hotel, Jack launches into a tirade about how ruined they'd be if he were to shirk his responsibilities to the hotel. He storms out of their apartment.
Danny, still traumatized by his Room 237 experience, sends a psychic message to Hallorann begging for help. In one remarkable shot, Kubrick zooms slowly in on Scatman Crothers as his expression shifts from mild boredom to utter, hopeless despair as he starts getting Danny's cries. However, it's implied that Danny has sort of spent himself doing this: growling how "Danny isn't here anymore, Mrs. Torrance" in Tony's voice, and writing "Redrum" while in a trance, he's obviously not the same boy we started out watching.
Jack, in turn, wanders through the Overlook (where party trappings have materialized) and strides happily into the Gold Room, where one of the Overlook's 1920s parties is in progress. It's a warm, happy party, an idealized past for Jack to escape into when he can't hack his current life. While Lloyd provides him with free drinks, he stumbles into a waiter who spills a drink on his jacket. They go into the bathroom to wash it off -- and in the course of chatting, Jack learns that the waiter is Delbert Grady.
The conversation with Grady is yet another brilliant piece of writing. (I'm an architecture fan, and it was fun to learn that the bathroom set was based on one of Frank Lloyd Wright's designs.) One point is played for laughs -- the look on Nicholson's face as he realizes just who he's talking to. But once Grady states that "You have always been the caretaker," Nicholson's mood shifts: he's no longer scared, but he's suddenly very receptive to Grady's advice. This advice is delivered in a stern, vaguely threatening voice, as he talks about how Danny is bringing in an "outside party," and how he "co-rect-ted" his wife and daughters, with insinuations that Jack's masculinity is in question.
In all of Kubrick's films, there are perhaps two or three women with major, notable roles: the Hazes in Lolita, the wife in The Killing, and Wendy in The Shining. By and large, Kubrick's films are about men, and much of the time they're about the insecurities and threats to the masculine ego. Lolita dwells on the competition between Humbert and Quilty. The characters in Paths of Glory are maneuvered into their places with insinuations about their bravery. Dr. Strangelove is a panorama of male dementia. Alex in A Clockwork Orange is emasculated by the Ludovico technique. The recruits in Full Metal Jacket are not only trained in an all-male environment designed to demand proof of their abilities, but they're plunged into a Vietnam were the "tame" woman are whores -- and the one woman who's not manages to kill several of the Lusthog Squad.
In The Shining, Jack presents us with a prime example of the way Kubrick's dealt with men in his films. Lloyd listens sympathetically to the "white man's burden" laments. Grady twice offers Jack a chance to prove his worth to the "hotel." And as with Pyle in Full Metal Jacket, Jack is isn't all there to begin with; he's fundamentally incapable, so when he falls headlong into the demands of the Man's World, his particular behavior's going to be strained, erratic, and murderous.

Once we know of Jack's murderousness, we follow Wendy as she tries to cope with her situation. (One of the funniest in-gags is Danny's watching the Road Runner cartoons, with their theme song of "the coyote's after you... when he catches you, you're through.") Taking up Danny's baseball bat, she goes down to get some food, and wanders into the Colorado Lounge.
And this is the one genuinely great and original sequence of The Shining.Seeing Jack's typewriter, Wendy decides to read what her husband's been pouring his mind into over the past few weeks. The result is, simply, hundreds of pages of the same sentence "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" typed in endless configurations. As she's realizing the worst -- she's married to a lunatic -- Jack appears behind her and asks, "Like it?"
(In one interview, King says that Kubrick should have simply had Nicholson pop up behind her and give the audience a HUGE shock. I'd disagree: in the film, Kubrick's camera moves from behind a pillar behind Wendy, and Jack moves into frame as he delivers his line. King's big-shock would have had a moment of relief afterward: Kubrick's choice, to let the sequence stay on its high-tension level, is clearly better.)
Jack begins stalking closer and closer to Wendy who, terrified, can't do much more than answer her husband's maniacal questions. Jack goes on about his responsibilities, and how he feels Wendy's been yanking him down all their lives together. Eventually, Wendy begins swinging the bat, knocking Jack out. She drags him to the food locker, which is probably the only secure room in the place.
During this time, Hallorann tries to get to Colorado. We see him trying to get through on the phone, arranging flights (one shot ostensibly in a Colorado airport looks like Heathrow to me), and finally getting a Snow-Cat to get to the hotel. (In the book, Hallorann rides a snowmobile.)
After an indefinite time (apparently a few hours), Wendy has managed to learn that Jack's sabotaged their own Snow-Cat and has ruined the radio. She spends her time in the apartment, trying to figure out what to do -- like Dave in 2001, she's forced to improvise in the face of genuine danger, although she's really not getting very far.
Jack, on the other hand, is again taunted by Grady, who lets him out of the food locker -- one of the only moments where we can be certain that the ghosts of the hotel are real. He gets an axe from somewhere, and goes after Wendy and Danny in one of the film's genuine high points. It's not just Nicholson's performance, and delivery of certain choice lines, that makes this a pretty scary sequence; Shelly Duvall's hysteria is absolutely convincing. (In interviews, Nicholson claims that the "Here's Johnny!" line was his suggestion, and that Kubrick had been out of the country for so long he didn't know that it came from Johnny Carson.)
Jack is distracted by Hallorann's arrival, and once again we depart from the book. In the book, Jack has been using a roque mallet as a weapon, and Hallorann and Wendy get the crap beaten out of them -- but they live. In the film, Hallorann wanders into the hotel, and in one sustained tracking shot, he calls out to the empty lobby -- just as Jack pops out and slams the axe into his chest.
At this point, I have to ask about a huge plot hole. We've seen that Danny has escaped by sliding out of the bathroom window, and he's also managed to get back into the hotel and hide in one of the kitchen cabinets during this whole sequence. However, this is when Hallorann is arriving: the same man whom Danny has been able to psychically alert across a continent. Why didn't Danny hear Hallorann arriving? Why couldn't he know Hallorann was there, and perhaps warn him, or get close to him, of whatever?
While the scene of Hallorann's death is shocking, and very well staged (I kept wondering how the aging Crothers could take an axe hit in the chest during retakes), this is the point where the film begins its worst period. Hallorann's death is accompanied with the clanging sounds of one of Kubrick's modern-music choices (I have the album, but my turntable's not hooked up, so I don't know which music it is), which really does seem as though Kubrick chose it because of its sudden, clanging sound. King is of the opinion that Kubrick killed Hallorann off because he wanted to signal that "all bets were off," and that seems about the best explanation so far.
But now we get a sequence where Wendy wanders through the hotel, encountering her own visions of the ghosts of the Overlook. Most of these visions, like the man with the split head announcing "Great party," and the man in the dog suit performing fellatio on a man in a tuxedo, come directly from King's book. Others -- that striking shot of a hotel lobby filled with skeletons and cobwebs -- have no real precedent, and really do look out of place in the film.
There's a lot to be said about these scenes. Each member of the family gets his or her "own" figures: Danny gets the twin girls, Jack gets Lloyd and Delbert, and Wendy sees the hotel's dead past, in those blue-night shots of the dessicated mummies in the hotel lobby. These could be "from" Wendy's reading of horror novels (one critic noted the reemblance to old Hammer films of the 1950s). And each member "overlaps" with another: Danny and Wendy "overlap" with the bleeding elevator vision (a raw, primitive image), and Wendy and Jack overlap with the party figures (which require knowledge of history that Danny wouldn't have).
Still, many of the scenes just fall flat, and once again we have to blame Kubrick's staging. Each is punctuated by that clanging modern music. Even the shot of the two men getting it on -- not an especially horrifying image -- gets that music plus a shot of Wendy's terrified reaction. Without the background material, the scene seems, well, silly.

Okay, Now the Climax

The finale is the wild chase through the hedge maze between Jack and Danny. The Steadicam zooms after Danny with terrific speed, and for a moment we're exhilarated with the camera movement itself. (I don't think anyone's used the Steadicam quite as well since.) The hedge maze is, by this time, completely alien territory. We've seen it before, but not at night, covered in snow, and lit by those blue-grey lights. It's an entirely new realm in this sequence; the realm of a children's terror-tale, as Nicholson shambles along with his axe, screaming Danny's name, and looking for all the world like an ogre from the Brothers Grimm.
There's a lot that could have been exploited in this sequence. In an interview prior to the film's release, King said he suspected that Kubrick might make the maze do something like the hedge animals -- a scene where someone gets lost, and realizes that the hedge maze is changing its walls to keep him in, for example. Or, for example, we see Danny running along, and around a corner ahead, he sees Jack's shadow go humping by -- another few steps and he'd have stumbled right into Jack's path. That sort of thing.
The shot where Jack follows Danny's footprints has similarities to two other such shots in Kubrick's canon. There's the famous p.o.v. of HAL as Frank and Dave talk about disconnecting him, of course. And then there are those shots from the sniper's nest in Full Metal Jacket. But Danny turns the tables on this through the simple trick of retracing his own steps, carefully walking backwards in his own footprints.
And here's a simple action by one character can create a whole lot of speculation. Jack follows the footprints until they simply end -- and after a moment of confusion, Jack decides to blunder on into the maze, getting more and more lost, until he hears Wendy and Danny making their escape. The finale is Jack wandering in the maze, wailing with misery and loss, until he finally sits down in the frozen labyrinth and dies.
It's this last decision of Jack's that does him in, and we can spend a little while analyzing it. Until this point, Jack has been pretty damn methodical -- removing the parts from the radio and the snowmobile, tracking Danny's footprints -- but here, on an impulse, he makes the fatal decision to go blundering ahead with no real plan in mind. One can relate this to his earlier isolation, where he steadfastly refused to leave his "writing" and go explore and understand this universe of the Overlook. Or, one could relate it to all of the failed plans and last-second-foulups of Kubrick's other films (the suitcase in The Killing, for example).
And then there's that nagging question: as clever as Jack is, why didn't he realize that Danny got out by backtracking through the maze? (While typing this, I had a wonderful idea for an additional sequence: Jack realizing the backtracking bit as soon as he found the end of the footprints, starting to run back through the path he'd come... and then finding a fresh, new wall in the way, his own footprints coming from the other side. Yes, the Overlook has trapped him, and _then we get the wailing, the moaning, the futile anger over having been so well tricked.)
And the film closes with yet another of Kubrick's missteps. As Jack wails and cries, wandering in the maze, we have a moment where we might sympathize with the guy. Nicholson slumps in the snow -- and suddenly, a crash-cut to his frozen corpse. Usually, such crash-cuts are done to make us jump, or start, at something really scary -- but here Jack's corpse just sits there, looking faintly goofy with its upturned eyes. It just doesn't scare us. The scene might have worked better with some more graceful moment of desolation -- say, a slow fade to Nicholson in the snow, or even a last visit from Grady or Lloyd. Instead, Kubrick's crash-cut irritates us.
The final shot, where we see Nicholson as a part of a photograph taken in 1920, remains something of an enigma. It really does seem to be a grace note, tacked on to a very sudden ending. Yes, it has been foreshadowed, in Grady's saying that Jack has "always been" the hotel's caretaker. But Jack's history with the hotel is no more than a slight subplot in the film. If the film had included more of King's backstory to the hotel -- say, more use of that scrapbook -- then maybe this last shot would feel like it meant something more than Kubrick trying to add a little bit of the supernatural to the film. It does leave us with an interesting mystery; has Jack escaped into an enticing past, or has the hotel absorbed him into a hellish eternity of stasis?


The best summary I can make is, well, kind of trite: The Shining is an extremely flawed piece of work, but there's enough in specific sections of the film to make it a worthwhile effort. I think King's criticisms of the film are justified, for the most part. He'd probably say the same things even if he hadn't written the original novel: that while there's a core of brilliance that demands our attention, and while certain scenes are truly amazing, the film is somewhat distant for most viewers to watch as a horror film.