notes on the study of the Film

The Shining; Mazes for Madness

As a narrative structure it helps you understand the basics of designing for narrative but also allows considerable speculation on technical, historical and aesthetical matters. As an adaptation from a work of fiction it is that rare animal, the film that improves on the book. See also other recommended films by Stanley Kubrick.

Designing Mazes for Madness, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980)
This research guide provides extracts for all levels of courses. Tutors are expected to extract the material they think most appropriate for their own group.

Title: The Shining
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Date and timing 1980,
119 minutes available, 146 on release.
Photography: John Alcot
Design:Ken Adam.Roy Walker
Bartok Music for Percussion and Celeste ;
themes from Penderecki's Dies Irae Oratorium Ob Memorium (the music of terror) orchestrated electronically by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind;
Midnight the Stars and You; performed by the Gleneagles Hotel Band.
Written: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson after the novel by Stephen King.
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Barry Nelson, Scatman Crothers Philip Stone.


Summary . (from Monthly Film Bulletin)

"Jack Torrance, a struggling writer drives the remote Overlook Hotel in the mountains of Colorado.


THE INTERVIEW. The hotel manager Ullman, briefs him on the job of winter caretaker and tells him of a previous caretaker, Grady, who murdered his wife and twin daughters after apparently being driven berserk by the isolation. At home in Boulder, Jack's small son Danny tells his mother Wendy that his secret 'friend' Tony doesn't want to go to the hotel, and Danny later has an horrific vision of the twins.

CLOSING DAY: The Torrances are shown round the huge hotel as the staff prepare to leave; the black cook Hallorann realises that Danny shares his extra sensory perception ('shining') which makes him aware of the hotel's violent past, and warns him not to go into Room 237.

A MONTH LATER: Jack, increasingly distracted, finds it hard to write: Wendy and Danny explore the hotel's giant maze.

TUESDAY : Jack furiously berates his wife when she interrupts his typing.

SATURDAY : Wendy makes contact with a Ranger station after snow storms break the telephone lines: Danny is confronted by the twins again, who invite him to play with him forever.

MONDAY : The now clearly obsessed Jack reassures his frightened son.

WEDNESDAY :: Finding the door of room 237 open, Danny enters. Wendy later discovers him, bruised and in a state of shock, and accuses Jack.. The latter repairs to the hotel ballroom, where a bartender, Lloyd, materialises. Jack curses Wendy for not having forgiven him for having hurt Danny three years ago in a fit of temper. Jack later investigates room 237 where Danny claims an old woman attacked him : there he is embraced by a beautiful young woman who suddenly turns into into a decaying, walking corpse. He tells Wendy he found nothing, and becomes furious when she suggests leaving the hotel. In the ballroom where a 20's party is in full swing. Jack is told by Grady, now a butler, that he must 'correct' his family for interfering in his duty to the hotel.. Hallorann, holidaying in Miami, meanwhile receives distress signals from Danny and sets out for the blizzard-bound Overlook. Menaced by the maniacal Jack, Wendy knocks him out with a baseball bat and locks him in a storage room. 4PM : Release by Grady, Jack beseiges his family in the bathroom with an axe. Interrupted by Hallorann , Jack kills him then pursues Danny into the maze. Danny backtracks and escapes with Wendy in Hallorann's snowmobile : lost in the maze, Jack freezes to death. A photograph on the wall of the Overlook shows him at a July 4th ball in 1921."

Issues and questions for de2igners .

1. the geography and architecture of the film

1.1 the Hotel ; Ullmann's office ; the Colorado Lounge ; the Gold Room ; the Torrance's apartment ; the Hotel as Maze; the model of the Maze. Draw a plan of the Overlook hotel from the evidence Kubrick presents.
Comment on the comparison of outside and inside.
Much of the design for the Overlook is influenced by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, comment. Even a brief biography will tell you why Wright is particularly appropriate. What images are used to decorate the walls of the Overlook ? Can you see a rationale in the theory of the comparison of abstract and figurative images?
Comment on the design of the manager's office.
Discuss concepts of symmetry and colour throughout.
Comment on the comparison of ballroom and lavatory in the film.
The toilet appears as a central motif in Dr.Strangelove , and Full Metal Jacket among others. Why so ?

1.2 the Maze Comment on the maze as metaphor in Kubrick's film What other Kubrick film might be said to use the theme of maze ? Why did Kubrick change Stephen King's original idea of the animal topiary ? Comment on the sequence whn Jack looks down on the maze and sees the tiny figures of Wendy and Danny appear ?
Comment on the use of the Steadicam in the maze (see beneath under technical)

1.3 Hallorann's room in Florida Comment on the design of Hallorann's room. Why these pin-ups ? What is the significance in the comparison of Miami and Colorado ?
Does it tell you about anything about Kubrick's attitude to the USA ?

1.4 the idea of the forbidden room in Bettelheim .Read Bettelheim and comment on its application to The Shining. Comment on the significance or Room 237. Research the theme in the corpus of Folk Tales. What specific references are made to fairy stories ?

2. the theme of the double as constituent element of the Uncanny.

2.1 people in twos Danny and Tony, Torrance and Grady, Torance and Bill(interview scene) Read Freud's essay on The Uncanny.

2.2 Comment on the significance of the theme in The Shining and the implications of the mirror.
Analyse the theme of the double in other works of art, eg Dostoevsky, Sylvia Plath.

3. the book's relationship to the film ;

"I thought it was one of the most ingenious and exciting stories of the genre I had read. It seemed to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural in such a way as to lead you to think that the supernatural would eventually be explained by the psychological."SK ,Interviews.

3.1 deletions, the empty wasps' nest that revives and attacks Danny,
the animal topiary that guards the entrance to the Overlook Hotel,
an elevator that moves by itself and contains evidence of the 1920's ball, a roque court ; a model Playhouse replica of the Hotel that contains a malign presence, ; room 217 not 237.

Comment on the changes Kubrick and Johnson have made from the book. Looking at the film from King's point of view, why do you think the author had so many battles with Kubrick over the interpretation of the book ? Compare the dialogue Kubrick uses with the lines written by King. What is not used in the film
4. time and the hotel

4.1 time in three parts and an Epilogue .
Part 1 : The Interview and Closing Day
Part 2 : A Month Later - Tuesday - Thursday - Saturday - Monday - Wednesday

Part 3 : 8 am 4pm
Epilogue : Two frozen images of Jack, in the hedge and in the photograph.
4.2 chronology 1921, the party July 4th
1970 Delbert Grady murders his family Comment on the way Kubrick suggests the passage of time. Why are the title cards significant in the pacing of the film ?

5. number symbolism in the film

5.1 Danny wears 42 in the film, watches Robert Mulligan's film Summer of 42 on the TV
5.2 237 added make 12, the key Kubrickian number.

6. commercial considerations and the editing of the film for release .

6.1 scenes omitted in the shorter version ; you have the shortened version and the extended version. What were the major results of Kubrick's cuts for general release ?

6.2 In the longer version, the scene of Danny being examained by the Nurse tells us more of Jack's attitude to Danny. What does the scene tell you of Wendy's attitude ?

7. references to comics, cartoons and the media

7.1 Wendy and Danny watch Road Runner on TV; images of cartoons and the mass media abound. comment on the way Kubrick feels about the mass media.

7.2 His treatment of his characters is often said to be almost cartoon-like (particularly because of his use of a powerful back light).
How many cartoon images can you remember having just seen the film.

8. political symbolism in The Shining

8.1 anti-Americanism in Kubrick's other work, Dr Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket If the Overlook is a metaphor for the condition of America, what point is Kubrick making about capitalism, about the family, about society in general ? What is the contribution of the Indians and their history to the film ?
8.2 political despair and pessimism Kubrick depicts in a pitiless way the souless condition of modern human beings, the banality of life in space of the Killer Apes in 2001, the killer babies of Full Metal Jacket. In what ways is The Shining a pessimistic film ?

9. psychological and societal themes in the film

9.1 the breakdown in communications.
The erosion of language is a strong theme throughout the film.
Comment on the deterioration of words in the family arena.
How does communication break down ?

9.2 Barry Lyndon and The Shining have been described as Oedipal films. Comment. At least speculate on the nature of the relationship of mother and son. Jack, Wendy and Danny have been seen as the classic Oedipal triangle ? What does this mean ? Does anybody care ?

10. technical aspects of the film

The Shining used the Steadicam, a gyroscopically controlled portable camera strapped to the operator's body, which gives a smooth image of the passage through space. Why is it so appropriate a device for the film ? Address your analysis to the maze chase and any other scene. Kubrick favours existing music that is played over his action. Why should this be so ? Analyse the use of music in the section of the film up to the Interview. Why is is electronic ?

Analyse the title sequence, how does it relate to Kubrick's other films ?
As best you can judge from the TV format, comment on Kubrick's favourite way of fraaming, the individual held symetrically between two flanking oblongs. Remember the shape of the Colorado flag.

If The Shining is a horror film (see Robin Wood's essay quoted beneath) it is far from the conventional dark Gothic convention ?
Comment on the lighting of the film. Read the article in the American Cinematographer (quoted beneath).

Jack Nicholson was criticised for a performance that went 'over the top'. Do you agree ? Comment on the casting of Shelley Duval and Philip Stone.
How would you have directed Danny Lloyd ?
The colour symbolism of the film is clearly indicative of the theme of America, red, white and blue.
Comment on the way it is used.

11. relationship to other films

The Overlook can be seen in the tradition of the haunted house with strong overtone of the personification. Compare the personality of the Hotel with any of the following equivalents, Psycho ,Meet Me in St. Louis , Friday the Thirteenth, Citizen Kane .In what way is The Shining a Horror film? has Kubrick truly gone Gothic ?

12. critical texts and reviews.

Discuss the following quotes,

"But what seems clear is that The Shining has more in common with 2001 than any other film Kubrick has made, and the type of cinema being atttempted by 2001 is crucial in understanding the new film." Titterington, Sight and Sound Spring 1981.

"Gradually the boy's shining becomes an extended metaphor for cinema itself and an image of great beauty.........The experience of cinema is literally a shining, the turning on of the light of the projector, the brilliance of the screen in the darkness. It becomes the image of the hope of communication and the metaphor for exactly the the kind of cinema Kubrick has been trying to create since 2001." Titterington op.cit.

"The Shining confirms what Barry Lyndon suggested [the artist's seclusion] has taken its toll; Kubrick has no more discussable subjects to tackle or vogues to initiate; he has been driven back on his own resources; he has become an auteur." Richard Combs, MFB as above.



from The American Cinematographer