Random thoughts on rewatching The Shining

Toby Frost

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#1
Spoilers follow

1) The man who speaks to Jack at the ball isn’t the same man described by Mr Ullmann at the interview near the start of the film. Ullmann calls him Charles Grady, and says that he was the caretaker. The man Jack meets is called Delbert Grady, and is dressed like a butler or waiter. Also, Ullmann says that Grady went mad ten years ago – so somewhere around 1970, whereas the ballroom scene looks 1920s in style (the picture at the end is dated 1921). To my mind – and it is very hard to pin anything down with this film – the Grady that Jack meets is either a creation of the hotel itself or a version of the real Grady that has been assimilated and changed, perhaps as Jack is assimilated at the end of the film.

2) The “default setting” of the hotel appears to be a replay of the Independence Day dance, 1921, as written on the photograph in which Jack appears. The ghosts that Wendy sees seem to be dressed for a ball, and the balloons seen in the corridor seem to support this. Perhaps some terrible event occurred at the party (in the novel, the party Jack attends is depicted as being full of gangsters and seriously debauched). Apart from some vague talk from Ullmann about the hotel being built on an Indian burial ground, we never get a clear idea of what caused the Overlook to become evil. It seems to be concentrated in Room 237, but other than that, it’s hard to tell.

3) For skillfulness of direction, and for camerawork, I think The Shining is better than Alien. It is less repulsive (although the decaying woman in the bathtub and the bear-faced man are pretty grim) and lacks Alien’s stomach-churning mix of threat and sexual undertone. Overall, I think Alien is a more intense and powerful film, but it lacks The Shining’s weird ambiguity and is less open-ended. I prefer Alien, but it’s hard to say which is better. (Superficially, Wendy reminds me somewhat of Lambert, but Wendy is more resourceful).

4) On re-watching, it’s interesting how much Jack seems like an archetypal wife-beater: full of rage at his situation, convinced (or perhaps convincing himself) that his life has been ruined by his browbeaten wife, who doesn’t seem capable of ruining anything. I can’t help wonder if he is a much worse writer than he thinks, and that the hotel has convinced him that his genius is being stifled by Wendy and Danny. There’s a hint that Grady was inspired to kill his family by a sense of stern parenthood and duty. Maybe this shows the hotel exploiting the weaknesses of those that it wants to use.
 

Toby Frost

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#2
5) And another curious thing about Alien. Both Alien and The Shining have a piece of exposition about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through, delivered by the closest thing to the Alien and the Overlook Hotel: namely, Ash and Grady. (Ash and Grady look and sound roughly similar, too, and both actors would have made an excellent Hannibal Lector). In both films, this is the moment where the horror suddenly becomes epic in scope: in Alien, it is revealed that the Company has betrayed the crew, and that the Alien is an indestructible, god-like creature. In The Shining, not only do a huge number of sinister ghosts appear in a massive room, but Grady suggests that the evil of the Overlook stretches back for decades, and seems to repeat itself. In a way, it's upping the stakes for the final act, but it's also the last big intellectual reveal before all hell breaks loose.
 

Venusian Broon

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#3
Oh crivens Toby, don't get me started on this film :p

There is so much to point out, Kubrick was masterful in the film in so many ways - at least the European version of the film (!). Having now read the book, I'm afraid Stephen King fans, I feel he's just taken the story to another level and I much prefer this (although it's there's a lot of talk we could have about how he changed the book and played with the concepts.)

It's interesting that you're making comparisons with Alien. My mind doesn't quite make the same connections. If I think best horror films I've ever seen...then The Shining and The Exorcist (and The Exorcist III maybe) come to the top, yet Alien, although one could portray it as a haunted horror house in space, is, in my mind, something else. It doesn't have the investigation of human madness that the Shining has, and there's hard(-ish) SF explaining of what the Alien is....so I'd firmly place it in the SF camp. With horror overtones of course.
 

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