Odds and Dead Ends: A maze inside the mind / Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, The Shining, is my favourite horror film of all time. For those that (somehow) aren’t familiar with the film, it is the story of the new caretaker (Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson) and his family at the remote Overlook Hotel over the winter, where ghostly apparitions send him spiraling into madness. Based on the novel by Stephen King, a major feature of the movie which wasn’t in the book is the hedge maze on the hotel grounds. In this article, I’m going to look at this maze, and how it acts as a kind of middle-ground representation of Jack’s ever-twisted mind, as it is changed by the hotel.

Please bear in mind that, as with everything I write for HorrorAddicts.net, in a short article such as this, there’s no way I’m able to cover the wealth of interpretations and analysis and ideas on this film. This is a starting point, where hopefully you can springboard yourself into your own thoughts.

It has been well documented that the layout of the Overlook Hotel is deliberately impossible. Doors lead to nowhere, rooms move, furniture shifts position; everything possible is done to very subtly disorient the viewer. For example, in the first scene of Danny on his tricycle, we pass an exit stairwell leading down, and doors that would appear to go through the thin wall and open up onto the stairwell itself. It is, in fact, a maze of dead ends and double-backs.

Even furniture subtly moves between shots. Rob Ager has documented all this extensively, and his articles and analysis on the subject can be found at his site, which I’ll put a link to at the end of this article. One example is the appearing and disappearing chair behind Jack when Wendy interrupts his writing. Needless to say, with someone like Kubrick, this kind of mismatching wasn’t just sloppy but done deliberately. It is a visual representation of the chaos and insanity that it will try to bring Jack into.

The hotel slowly ratchets up its presence and ghostly manifestations in order to slowly drive Jack mad. This is helped by subtly-suggested alcohol issues (a carry-over from the novel which isn’t nearly as prevalent but still present), and flares of temper. Aided by the claustrophobia of the hotel (‘“what the old-timers used to call ‘cabin fever’”’), and the irritations at being unable to write (‘“Lots of ideas, no good ones though,”’) it all provides the perfect platform for the Overlook Hotel to begin to exert its influence on Jack. The reasons for the Overlook’s attempt to drive Jack to madness are as heavily disputed and debated as almost anything else in the history of fan-theories, and they won’t be discussed here, purely for length reasons.

With the Overlook trying to get a hold on its caretaker, Kubrick wants to give us a middle-ground, to understand that the links between Jack and the hotel go beyond the surface level. Here he presents us with the iconic hedge maze. As I’ve already said, the hotel is a maze in itself, full of twists and turns, and what’s interesting is that almost no two shots of the maze are the same. The map outside the entrance doesn’t match the way Wendy and Danny walk, and the model Jack looks down on doesn’t correspond with either of these. Even the entrance Ullman takes them to in the film’s beginning is on a completely different side of the maze to when Danny runs into at the finale.

There seem to be strong indicators, then, that just like the hotel, the maze changes shape and form. Wendy even says in the kitchen with Halloran that ‘“This place is such an enormous maze I feel like I’ll have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs every time I come in,”’ so if you’re wanting verbal confirmation of this connection, then there it is. But how do we link the maze to Jack?

Firstly, the exterior shots of the Overlook at the beginning of the film don’t show a maze at all. It isn’t present until the whole family are exploring the grounds; when Jack has arrived. Additionally, when Wendy and Danny are exploring it on their own, Jack walks over to the model version in the foyer. We then switch to a top-down view showing a miniature Danny and Wendy walking around the central section. Because, as discussed before, the model and the actual maze don’t add up, we have to assume that this isn’t actually a top-down view of the real maze, but a subjective view of Jack imagining his wife and son in the maze.

By switching to a subjective viewpoint, Kubrick suggests a linking between Jack’s mind (his imagination), and the hedge maze. This doesn’t mean very much throughout the film as, for a large portion of the film, the maze fades into the background. However, right at the very end, it makes a reappearance as Jack chases Danny inside. Surely, as the maze is intrinsically linked with Jack’s mind, this makes sense for the finale to play out there. This is the point where everything combines, hallucination and reality, the Overlook and Jack. In a way, this is almost a proving ground, an arena that the Overlook has provided for their caretaker to show that he can follow out their wishes; that he ‘has the belly for it.’

Ironically, Jack eventually ends up following Danny’s footsteps, just like the trail of breadcrumbs Wendy mentioned at the beginning of the film. He follows Danny in the same way as he followed them through the model before. He has descended into a manifestation of his chaotic mind, distressed by all the factors that enabled the Overlook to push him into pliable madness.

In the end, however, Jack is eventually outsmarted by Danny and stumbles around blindly inside. Whether you believe the ghosts are real or all just a hallucination is irrelevant, because everyone can see that Jack has slipped into madness at this point. Jack is unable to find his way out of the maze, out of his mind. He never recovers, even for a moment as King’s original character does in the novel, and so he freezes to death unredeemed and forever trapped inside the Overlook’s testing ground.

In the end, there really is a simple formula to understand this discussion: Jack Torrance + Overlook Hotel = Hedge Maze. It’s a simple concept, but one probably overlooked by many people watching for the first time, especially by those who aren’t accustomed to looking out for these kinds of interpretations in popular cinema. The Shining is a deeply layered text, and the idea presented is very much a theory, which probably disagrees with 50% of fan theories and analysis of the film, but that’s the way it works with The Shining; everyone has their own idea. In any case, I hope it piques your interest in re-examining the film, and re-watching it, of course. You could do worse things than re-watching one of the greatest films the genre has ever produced; just don’t let it get into your head too much.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

-A link to Rob Ager’s site, which I highly encourage anyone interested in film analysis to check out: http://www.collativelearning.com/

-check out my other articles at HorrorAddicts.net if you like this kind of analysis; I’m sure there’ll be something for you to enjoy: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/author/kjudgeimaginarium/


The Shining (1980) Encore Review

What can one say about the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining that has not been said before? The film has seen parodies in film, cartoons and even television commercials.  The film has influences on many screen writers, directors and even actors due to the performances seen in the film by the cast. The Shining is a film that has seen it’s name appear on favorite horror films time after time, and continues to this day to be enjoyed by horror fans.

The question is what has made this film such a pivotal film in the Horror genre?  Is it the fact that The Shining was based off of a great book by Horror writer Stephen King? Is it the great screen play written by Kubrick and novelist Diane Johnson?  Did Kubrick create such a mood in his direction that fans are drawn into the film and thus thoroughly drawing the viewer in? Or was it simply the performances by the cast?

Personally it was a combination of all these things that make The Shining a horror film that will continue to scare viewers for some time to come.  Jack Nicholson stars as Jack Torrance who is an ex-teacher working on a writing career when we are introduced to his character. Torrance is interviewing for a position at the Overlook Hotel which will give him the opportunity for months of peace to pursue his writing. There is however one piece of information that had been left out of his initial interview for the job.  Torrance finds out what had happened to a previous caretaker’s twin girls, the wife and the caretaker himself.  This tragic tail can be considered to be a bit of foreshadowing of events to come.

Wendy Torrance, played by Shelley Duvall, is at home caring for her son who is not looking forward to the temporary move to the Outlook. Young Danny, played by Danny Lloyd, may have some insight to what is to come through his “invisible” friend.  We get a hint on how psychic Danny’s friend is when he predicts the phone call from his father saying he has gotten the job.  Is this another piece of information that needs to be filed aware for later?

The film is full of other scenes and acts of foreshadowing that helps the viewer follow along and gain more and more interest into the story.  The spirits of the Overlook seem to be after one thing as the movie progresses.  Their plan appears to be to get Jack to do something terrible to his family.  In one scene we find the ghost of the previous caretaker telling Jack what he must do to his family.  The spirit doesn’t tell him directly what to do but if the viewer remembers the story from the interview chills may come to you.

There is one thing in this film that viewers should try and pick up on.  It is that although the film appears to show us that they are interested in Jack there are scenes that drop hints that maybe Jack isn’t who they really want.  Just listen to the subtle phrases and words spoken when the spirits talk about young Danny.  They are quite intrigued by his gifts and at times you may wonder is there a reason they want Jack to kill his family?  Do they have something in mind for Danny or that special gift we find out about?

The Shining is simply a masterful film.  The plot, the acting, and the direction are equally important to any viewer of this film.  Jack Nicholson’s acting as his character dives head first into madness is masterful. The is no doubt as we watch this quiet man fall to each of his own personal demons.  Be it giving into his aggressive behavior or sudden wish to begin drinking again.  The spirits are able to push each of Jack’s magical buttons to further his decent.  Be it an agreeable ear from a bartender or the advice of a long dead caretaker.  Either way Jack becomes a puppet to the wishes of the spirits and will by the end of the film is willing to do ANYTHING to show he is worth all their trouble.

The Shining is a film that Horror fans should enjoy and treasure.  The DVD version of the film shows us a sneak peak into the making of the film as Kubrick’s teenage daughter  shot a documentary of the making of the film. Fortunately for fans this documentary is on the DVD and should be equally enjoyed as the film.

The most interesting piece about this film is that it’s original release was slow.  It was only the word of mouth that drove this film to become the success it has become. So, follow the example that was previously shared and spread the word on this film.  If you, or friends, have not seen this Horror Classic then take some time and sit back and watch The Shining.  Hopefully you will find it to be a film that all you want to do is spread the word and help introduce the film to a generation that has yet to see it.