Kubrick’s version of The Shining has long been debated in its divergence from Kings book and whether the delivery of the films horror is more psychological than supernatural.
In this blog I take a look at the hidden depths of Jack and Wendy, exploring how Kubrick uses the Overlook as a conduit for far more human horrors. Exploring how the real horror of the Overlook helps the films enduring appeal, and ability to not only scare but also play with our sense of family.
Criticism is often levelled at Kubrick’s version of The Shining due to the perceived weakness of Wendy in the film. Personally I think this is a narrow view of the character and the interpretation Kubrick delivers.
Throughout the film the spectre of domestic abuse & alcoholism in her home life is inherent. From her nervous meeting with Danny’s doctor to her constant smoking. Wendy does everything she can to keep Jack balanced in his emotions.
Once at the Overlook it is Wendy doing the mechanical checks of equipment in the hotel, and Wendy using the radio to check in, she is central to keeping things balanced right until the final act.
When things begin to crumble and Jacks behaviour becomes violent, she loves and protects her son beyond any love for her husband, putting Danny first at ever turn. Wendy is clearly a woman finally accepting the true nature of the man they married, taking her child and leaving.
In Kubrick’s vision the Overlook is a backdrop to this family breakdown and an awakening within Wendy. As she walks through its corridors in the final act she sees men having secretive liaisons alongside skeletons of people partying, a clear reference to past, endings and reflections.
The hotel represents her eyes being opened to lies of her own marriage, and her need to escape the domestic abuse, fear and control she has endured.
So we have explored the character of Wendy in The Shining, but what about Kubrick’s vision of Jack Torrence?
Jack sees his family unit as an inconvenience to the life he thought he would have. He failed as teacher due to his alcoholism and temper, taking these frustrations taken out on his wife and family. We know he injured his son as a toddler (on at least one occasion that is shared with us). The car journey to the hotel paints a picture of a man who likes to control and believes his wife a failure in the raising of his child. His discussion on the Donner party with Danny is almost judgemental in nature not at Danny but at Wendy for letting him ‘watch it on tv’. The winding roads to the Overlook give us a visual statement on his own mental health, and need to find a way out of his current journey.
He sees the Overlook Hotel as a fresh start from his previous failures, but the isolation only makes his failings more obvious. The hotel acts as a conduit for all his negative thoughts, his alcoholism, his violence, his work failures. For example ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ the restraint and frustration of his life laid bare on paper. The hotel feeds these internal desires and encourages the things that led him to failure. The woman in the bathtub is a clear example of his wish to free his sexual desire from the domesticity he endures. The hotel provides his freedom but also shows him the ugly nature of this desires at every turn.
He eventually sees the only way out being the removal of his wife and child. Once again as with Wendy, Kubrick plays with the notion of family breakdown, with the hotel a vehicle to making this a reality.