The Case of The Shining

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In the late 1970’s, one of the most celebrated directors of all time, Stanley Kubrick, was in search of a new project. He sat in his office, flipping through books and throwing them against the wall when they didn’t catch his interest. This went on for several days, until the thudding sound of rejection finally ceased. Kubrick’s assistant went to check on the director, only to find him reading a book: Stephen King’s The Shining

The Shining was King’s third novel, published in 1977. It followed The Torrances, a family living in a remote hotel for the winter. It was a deeply personal story, based on the author’s own fears of the consequences of alcoholism, and the destruction of a family. His main character held many similarities to himself, a former teacher and aspiring writer, hoping to reconnect with his wife and child. 

When the book caught Kubrick’s attention, he went full-steam-ahead on the project. He set out to make a film that would become one of the most iconic and celebrated in the horror genre. Even non-horror fans are familiar with The Shining, with its enduring imagery and classic performances. 

The film was a slow-burn that didn’t get immediate praise or huge box office numbers. But over forty years later, The Shining has an intense following of die-hard fans. The film is no doubt a classic, and we thought it was the perfect way to end Frightening February! So, today we’re checking in to the Overlook Hotel for an extended stay, and learning all about The Shining!

Although there are many differences, Stanley Kubrick’s film is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. 

  • After gaining success from Carrie and Salem’s Lot, Stephen King decided to take a vacation with his family in Colorado. It was late September, and they chose to stay for one night at The Stanley Hotel. Because it was the last night before the hotel closed for the winter, they would be the only guests there. 
  • Wandering the halls of the spacious hotel, King decided it would be the perfect setting for his newest book. He said of the experience, “[The hotel] seemed the perfect—maybe the archetypical—setting for a ghost story. That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed.”

We wanted to lay out some of the key differences between the movie and the book. Like most of our episodes, this will have spoilers. But we wanted to warn you, just in case you have not seen the film, because the experience relies on suspense and surprise. 

  • There aren’t a lot of characters in The Shining, simply because the plot forces the main characters to be isolated. One of the main characters is Dick Hallorann, the head cook at the hotel. Hallorann has a strong connection with Danny, because both characters “shine.” If you’re unfamiliar, many Stephen King characters have special abilities, and it’s often referred to as “the shining” or “the touch.” 
    • In the film, Danny reaches out to Hallorann for help when things start to get a little distressing. When Hallorann appears at the hotel to help, Jack kills him with an axe. In the book, this does not happen and Hallorann survives. 
  • One of the many iconic features of the film is the gigantic hedge maze on the property. In the book, the maze did not exist, however there were large Topiary animals. Kubrick eliminated these from the movie because he felt they would be too “hokey.” 
  • The Ending of the film doesn’t match the book in several ways. Since there is no maze in the book, there isn’t a dramatic scene where Danny loses Jack in the hedge maze, leaving Jack to freeze. Instead, the hotel burns down after Jack is able to break from his mania to warn Danny and Wendy, telling them to run. Jack then dies in the fire. In the film, Jack never has this redeeming moment.
    • However, Kubrick had another idea for the ending that differed even more from the book. Stephen King was quoted in an interview with Peter S. Perakos, saying, “When I first talked to Kubrick some months ago, he wanted to change the ending. He asked me for my opinion on Halloran becoming possessed, and then finishing the job that Torrance started, killing Danny, Wendy and lastly himself. Then, the scene would shift to the spring, with a new caretaker and his family arriving. However, the audience would see Jack, Wendy and Danny in an idyllic family scene-as ghosts-sitting together, laughing and talking.”
      • Luckily King was able to dissuade him from this ending.

Since The Shining has such a dedicated following, many fans have assigned their own meaning to the film. There are enough theories about the movie to make up an entire documentary (that we watched). The documentary is called “Room 237.” Here is a link to a vulture article that lays out the four major theories of the of the film.

  • Stanley Kubrick offers no explanation of his films. He believed that they should speak for themselves. He believed that a good critical review did not reveal to him anything about his work but only served as a marketing tool to attract more viewers. In light of this, there have been numerous attempts to explain the meaning behind The Shining, ranging from the minute detail to the most blatant. 
  • One of the most famous theories is that the film is about the Holocaust. Viewers have pieced together clues, like Jack’s German-brand typewriter, the number 42 appearing on a Jersey Danny wears, and the image of an eagle. The eagle was a symbol of the Nazi party. Jack wears an eagle shirt in one scene, and the name brand of his typewriter means, “eagle.” 
  • Another theory is that the film is about the historical genocide of Native Americans. There is Native American artwork and imagery in the hotel, particularly a sand painting that features two nearly identical people wearing the same shade of blue as the twins that Danny sees in the hallway. Here is a link to a 1987 article of The Washington Post about this theory.

SYNOPSIS

  • Recovering alcoholic and aspiring novelist Jack Torrance accepts a job as a caretaker for The Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. Hoping that the isolation will help him finish his book, Jack moves his wife and son Danny to the hotel with him for the winter. As they stay, Jack becomes more and more influenced by the dark nature of the hotel. His son, Danny, is gifted with something called, “The Shining,” and has the ability to see the horrors of the hotel, past and present. 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • After reading The Shining, Stanley Kubrick teamed up with Diane Johnson to begin writing a screenplay. Diane is a novelist and this was her first screenplay to ever work on. To say the screenplay was a work in progress would be an understatement. It changed several times-before and during shooting, actors sometimes learning new lines the day of. 
    • The script would be re-written so many times that each time a new script came out it was put on different colored paper in order to easily see who had the newest versions. This led Jack Nicholson to say that he stopped looking at the first drafts and only took the script from the current day in order to film that scene.
  • Stanley Kubrick was famous for his perfectionism. He mapped out shots with a telescope device, and reportedly didn’t print anything unless it was the 35th take. Because of this, the film took 56 weeks to shoot–putting it way behind schedule. 
    • Part of this was due to the Overlook Hotel set catching fire and having to be rebuilt!
    • The crew and actors filmed 6 days a week, up to 16 hours a day.
      • This reportedly added up to about 1.3 million feet of film by the end of shooting.
      • Kubrick felt that no matter how great the script seemed on paper, once the actors are rehearsing it you become painfully aware of what you will be missing if you stick faithfully to the script. Along this same note he felt that if you planned out shots and angles beforehand you will miss opportunities to have the best result for the scene.
  • Location
    • The exterior shots of the hotel were that of an actual place called the Timberline Lodge. The interior however was a soundstage in England. In order to not scare customers away the Lodge requested that the book’s hotel room number 217 be changed to one that did not exist.
    • Interior
      • In an interview with John Hofsess for The Soho News, Kubrick said that “Every detail in those sets comes from photographs of real places very carefully copied.” These photographs were taken from several different places.
        • This would explain the cultural references in the art and decoration throughout the hotel, something that viewers have combed over and analyzed for decades. 
    • Lighting
      • In order to simulate the intense light that would be coming from the windows of a hotel in the high latitudes in the winter they used 750 1000-watt bulbs (That’s a lot of light!) These intensely hot bulbs would be what caused a fire to the set.
      • The chandeliers were also 1000-watt bulbs but on a lower voltage in order to create a warm glow of light compared to the harsh bright light of the windows.
  • The Steadicam 
    • The newest invention for filmmaking at the time was the steadicam, and Kubrick was a fan. He was even able to get the inventor, Garrett Brown, to come and film the movie. Garrett did not mind the fact that Kubrick wanted to do take after take because he was able to learn more and improve his invention. One instance of improvement is when they inverted the device to be able to track Danny, who was low to the ground.
      • This lower angle conveyed the vastness of the hotel, and the steadicam allowed them to move fluidly with Danny as if being dragged behind him.
    • Stanley Kubrick and Ron Ford created a special wheeled chair to ride while filming, being able to capture lots of smooth tracking shots, and keeping up with actors as they ran through the hotel. 

MUSIC

  • While the visuals of The Shining surely give us an unsettling vibe, the music helps to elevate the suspense even more. In order to bring the movie to life Kubrick used music from the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. His pieces were also known to bring the creep factor to “The Exorcist” as well.
  • The Main title and “Rocky Mountains” were written and performed by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind specifically for The Shining. These two pieces were the only ones that did not already exist.
    • They also both worked on A Clockwork Orange and the recent Ready Player One soundtracks.
    • Wendy Carlos also composed the music for Tron! 

STARRING

  • Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance
    • Nicholson is a well known actor that has a wide range. He has been in things such as A Few Good Men, As Good As It Gets, Chinatown, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
  • Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance
    • Shelley has retired from acting but has been in Popeye, Three Women, and Annie Hall.
      • It was her role in Three Women that got her the part of Wendy in the Shining. When Kubrick offered her the part, they had never met, and there wasn’t a script yet. He just told her to read the book. 
    • She also produced the critically acclaimed show, “Faerie Tale Theatre,” and had a television show that featured animation and stories called, Shelley Duvall’s Bedtime Stories.
  • Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance
    • Danny was not in very many things and is most known for The Shining. He does appear very briefly in the sequel Doctor Sleep as a father in the crowd of baseball parents.
    • Since Danny was very young at the time of filming he was told he was working on a drama and not a horror film. He was shielded by Stanley Kubrick of the more terrifying scenes. During one scene Shelley Duvall is even carrying a lifesize doll as she is screaming at Jack. 
    • He was chosen out of 5000 young applicants. During his audition, Danny improvised the classic finger wiggle as his imaginary friend Tony speaks. Stanley Kubrick liked the improvisation and kept it in the film! 
  • Scatman Crothers as Hallorann
    • Scatman appeared in many television shows like Laverne and Shirley, Magnum PI, and The Transformers. He was also in movies like Bronco Billy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the voice of Scat Cat in The Aristocats!
  • Barry Nelson as Ullman the employer
    • Barry Nelson also popped up in many tv series. Other movies that he was in were Airport, A Guy Named Joe, and Shadow of the Thin Man.
  • Philip Stone as Grady the previous Caretaker 
    • Philip is also known for being in A Clockwork Orange, Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, and Flash Gordon.
  • Joe Turkel as Lloyd
    • Joe has also been in Blade Runner, Paths of Glory, and The Killing.
  • Anne Jackson as the Doctor 
    • A few things Anne was in were Dirty Dingus Magee, “So Young, So Bad”, and How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life.
  • Tony Burton as Durkin who provides Halloran with a vehicle to reach the Overlook
    • Tony was a professional heavyweight boxer and is most known for his appearances in the Rocky movies as the corner man. 
  • David Baxt and Manning Redwood as the Forest Rangers
  • Lisa and Louise Burns as The Twins
    • Thirty Seven years later the two talked about what it was like. The dresses were not comfortable and made of an awful material. On top of this the costume designer only had the two dresses and so therefore they had to shoot the bloody scene last for fear that they could not recover them from any stains.
      • This also meant that Kubrick could only do very few takes, which was against his style of directing
      • According to Lisa, Kubrick was only shooting with one steadicam so he would do just one shot but have them roll several times with the same lines. In the Entertainment Weekly article titled The Shining These Twins Still Want To Play With You Lisa said “To us, we weren’t saying our lines any differently. He just heard something different every time.”
    • The girls auditioned because Kubrick was looking for sisters, but not twins. They speculated years later that Kubrick might’ve gone with two sisters of different ages, as they are in the book, if they hadn’t auditioned. 

Acting is tough work, and with every movie there are challenges on set. For this movie, though, there were some particularly challenging moments for a couple of the actors. 

  • The film took over a year to shoot, which was difficult on the actors for various reasons. For one, the actors were mainly American, and they filmed at Elstree Studios in England. This meant they were away from their families for long periods of time. 
  • Shelley Duvall was sick during most of filming, suffering from dizzy spells and other ailments. 
    • She was incredibly dedicated to the role, and rented a flat near the set, living alone for over a year with a dog and two birds. 
    • Duvall also had difficulty crying as much as she did for the film. Remember, Kubrick sometimes did hundreds of takes for scenes, and Duvall is crying in most of them. She told Roger Ebert, “And in my character I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week.”
    • One of the most controversial points of the film is how Shelley Duvall was treated on the set of the film. Although Duvall herself has said that she felt Kubrick treated her a certain way to elicit a stronger performance, some of those that witnessed it weren’t as convinced. In a Hollywood Reporter article released earlier this month, Angelica Huston (who was living with Jack Nicholson while he filmed the movie) was quoted saying, “I got the feeling, certainly through what Jack was saying at the time, that Shelley was having a hard time just dealing with the emotional content of the piece,” she says. “And they didn’t seem to be all that sympathetic. It seemed to be a little bit like the boys were ganging up. That might have been completely my misread on the situation, but I just felt it. And when I saw her during those days, she seemed generally a bit tortured, shook up. I don’t think anyone was being particularly careful of her.”

FUN FACTS:

  • Just as in our last episode Poltergeist, this movie has connections to Toy Story! As a tribute, the carpet within Sid’s house is the famous carpet from the Overlook Hotel, but with a slightly different color. Lee Unkrich who has had a hand with all four Toy Story Movies is such a fan of The Shining that he has a website dedicated to the ephemera of the classic film as well as a book that will be released soon which details the behind the scenes of the film.
  • In 2017 Universal Orlando did their 27th annual Halloween Horror Night. Every year they create houses based on specific movies and television shows. During that year they created a house for The Shining in which they were able to replicate the wall of blood scene using 80-psi water cannons inside a glass vestibule where the “blood” once finished would filter down the slanted floor to be refilled back into the cannons. It took them 3 days to create it. 
  • One scene from the film is in the Guiness Book of World Records for “most retakes for one scene with dialogue.” It’s the scene where young Danny and chef, Dick Hallorann, discuss what it means to “shine.” The take was done 148 times.  
    • We have found sources citing another scene in the film as the record holder with 127 takes. But according to the Guinness World Records website, this scene holds the record. 

HOW THE MOVIE WAS RECEIVED

  • In the US The Shining grossed about 45 million dollars. It was not a hit at first. It was especially hit by critics reviews that were a mixture of confusion with the openness of the story, disappointment that it was not more like the book and its characters, and dislike for the acting within it. Instead of being nominated to win Oscars or Golden Globes, it instead was nominated for Razzies in the Worst Director category and worst actress category for Shelley Duvall.
  • However, the film’s VHS release helped make it a classic. More and more people enjoyed it and even Roger Ebert had a great review of it, giving it a full four stars and saying that “The movie is not about ghosts but about madness and the energies it sets loose in an isolated situation primed to magnify them.”

STEPHEN KING ON THE SHINING

  • One notable critic of the film was Stephen King, who famously hated the adaptation. Over the years, he has gone back and forth with his disdain for the film. This could be confusing to those that love the film, since King has been happy with unfaithful adaptations of his stories before.
  • Some believe that Stanley Kubrick teased the author with some of the changes he made to the story. For example, in the book, Jack’s car is red and the Snowcat is yellow. The film reversed the colors for no apparent reason. 
  • The likeliest reason that King still dislikes this interpretation of his book, is because the intention of the film doesn’t match the intention of the novel. The stories don’t necessarily have the same meaning. Stephen King felt that Kubrick’s Jack didn’t have any of the heart that his version did, and didn’t seem to love his family at all, even in the beginning. This is especially apparent by the different endings. King’s version had Jack fighting his impulses in the very end, redeeming himself by letting his family go. Kubrick’s version gave Jack no redemption, focusing more on his descent into madness and man’s capacity for violence. Many would speculate that this upset the author because the story was so personal to him. 
  • King was also outspoken about the portrayal of Wendy in the film. It wasn’t necessarily Duvall’s performance that upset him, but more how the character had been changed. King felt that his version of Wendy was much stronger, and that Kubrick’s version had been reduced to a “screaming dish rag.” King felt the film overall was misogynistic, which is interesting with the context of how Duvall was treated on set. 

The Shining is a staple in the horror genre. At first glance, it’s a loose adaptation of a book, and a regular scarefest. But upon another look, it’s a layered masterpiece that still has audiences questioning its meaning over forty years later. The Shining gives us a story that is inherently terrifying, attacking the things we all hold dear, and tossing some spooks in for good measure. It’s a film bathed in uneasiness, suspense, and sometimes confusion. It makes you question your own mind, as you watch a man slip into madness before your very eyes. 

Stanley Kubrick was such a perfectionist, The Shining is exactly what he intended for it to be. And what that was, we’ll never truly know. But, at least we get to enjoy it forever, and ever and ever and ever…


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