When it comes to directing, Stanley Kubrick is one of the greats; his few films are like Picasso paintings, a master at work. His perfectionist status is cemented, and his works are well known for their pinpoint accuracy.
Famous stories of his attention to detail include putting off his adaptation of Super Toys Last All Summer Long known as A.I. Artificial Intelligence until a realistic robot could be made – he eventually died leaving it to friend Steven Spielberg to make with a human actor instead.
His hatred of flying resulted in palm trees being shipped over to the UK so he could make his Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket in Battersea, that hatred also resulted in four blocks of New York being recreated at Pine Wood Studios for his NY centric odyssey Eyes Wide Shut.
But his attention to detail, his legendary dedication and his obsession with perfection are on display no more famously than in The Shining, his somewhat loose adaptation of Stephen King’s horror opus of the same name.
The Shining is in the public consciousness quite prominently at the moment due to Mike Flanagan’s new film Doctor Sleep, both an adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel novel and a continuation of the story from Kubrick’s film. The Shining’s story is a classic haunted house one, in which recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) move into the ominous Overlook Hotel where Torrance takes a job as the winter caretaker while trying to work on his novel, but the hotel has a dark past and the ghosts that reside there take a liking to young Danny and his psychic abilities.
The film is considered by many a benchmark of horror cinema and has given way to people seeing absolutely everything in it that they can. There is a film documentary about the film called Room 237 that examines the various theories about what the film may mean and may not be about. The film might appear crazy to some, with people coming up with ideas that it could be about Kubrick’s apology for faking the moon landing (Danny wears an Apollo 11 sweatshirt), the holocaust, the death of the natural world or a retelling of the Minotaur myth.
While there are a few literary and cinematic illusions – D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms is re-created for the famous “here’s Johnny” scene, and there are illusions to classic works of literature.
Perhaps the most likely theory around the film’s meaning is about the genocide of the Native American culture. The hotel itself is said to be built on an Indian burial ground, and that the owners were forced to fight off protests from Native Americans as a result. Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) lays this out at the beginning of the film, and the fact that all of the art and carpeting is based on Native American art work and their culture, the soup and the products in the pantry that Jack wakes up in all have Native American logos.
Many interpret the opening of the elevator doors that then reveal as river of blood to be the way in which the blood of the Native American people coming out into the open, no longer hidden from history.
Further into this, the Imperialism of America is alluded to in the final shot, as the hotel finally takes Jack’s soul (or spirit, or perhaps he was never free of the hotel at all) he is seen in a photograph of the Overlook on the July 4th weekend in 1921. For the Native Americans Independence Day was not that, but instead another example of the White Man taking from them, and massacre of their people. The Hotel is finally taking Jack’s soul has claimed one more white man for it’s collection of suffering as revenge, forever trapped on a date that will never be seen for the horror it was.
Many times Jack shows a disregard for the hotel, as he turns to drinking and his demons become more and more apparent. He throws a tennis ball against pictures of the Native American artwork, and alludes to Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” which was written in favour of American colonisation.
All this analysis might be one of the reasons that the film has got such a power over people, that years later it still cracks top-ten lists of horror films it even ranked as our second best King adaptation. Now admittedly King never much liked the film as he felt Nicholson immediately looked like an unhinged killer before he arrived than the slow decline of a good man that the novel portrays, he also changed the ending from King’s in which the hotel explodes from the boiler outwards to the boiler dying and it freezing hall to hall.
Moreover, The Shining is known for it revolutionary use of a steady cam. Kubrick wanted to follow Danny through the halls of the hotel on his big wheel bike without cutting, since a dolly track would show tracks, a new system was created for this, and the steady cam was built as a result, this gives his trails an off kilter feeling.
The Shining is also so famous it has given birth to popculture memes. Of course people will remember The Simpsons’ lampooning of the film, but also in films like Passengers which make direct references to Lloyd the bartender in it’s robot butler.
Perhaps the fact that it is well put together, and has an enigmatic nature is why we’re still revisiting the film years after, and with Doctor Sleep out there, it’ll continue to be looked at and watched for many years.
Or maybe, just maybe, anyone who visits the Overlook is doomed to stay there forever.