Study Guide

The Shining

The Shining Introduction


Release Year: 1980

Genre: Drama, Horror

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson, Stephen King (novel)

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Danny Lloyd, Shelley Duvall


You've seen Jack Torrance's grinning face on dorm room walls, in murals, and on t-shirts. You've heard the catchphrases so often they're probably etched in your brain: "Heeere's Johnny!" "Come and play with us. Come and play with us, Danny. Forever." "Redrum! Redrum!" You've seen the homages—from the Redrum Burger that graces the streets of a sleepy college town in Northern California to episodes of Key and Peele, Daria, and, of course The Simpsons.

There's cultural influence, and then there's the cultural influence of The Shining.

How did a movie about a psychotic would-be novelist suffering from cabin fever, his long-suffering wife, and his clairvoyant son work its way into the global consciousness in such an insidious manner? A better question would be: how didn't it?

When a movie a) is directed by renowned genius Stanley Kubrick b) is adapted from a novel by Stephen "I Will Give You Nightmares" King c) stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall and d) contains such immortal images as a creepy elevator full of blood, creepier identical ghost twins, and creepiest 1970's patterned carpeting… well, that movie is destined for greatness.

The Shining, like cult classics are wont to do, opened to mixed reviews. Perhaps the stuffy tweed bellbottom-wearing film critics of 1980 were disappointed that the infamously cerebral Kubrick had turned his sights towards the "lowbrow" genre of horror. Or maybe the world just wasn't ready to see Jack Nicholson attempt to axe murder his entire family.

  

But luckily—and rightly—critics and filmgoers changed their tune. Today, The Shining tops "Best Of" lists: Martin Scorsese's list of the "11 Scariest Movies," The Guardian's "5 Best Horror Movies," Time Out's "100 Best Horror Films," and Filmsite's "The Greatest Films In Cinematic History." And that's just scratching the surface.

You owe it to yourself, as a consumer of pop culture and a consumer of "high" culture, as a distinguished critic of the finest film auteurs and as a person who just likes getting intensely freaked out every once in a while, to watch The Shining. Because, let's face it: it's a rare movie that makes everyone—from chain-smoking French cinema buffs to suburban dads that would rather play disc golf than sit through a movie—fall in love with it.

Sadistic Jack Torrance may be a sociopath… but he's maybe the most eminently quotable sociopath of all time.

What is The Shining About and Why Should I Care?

We're going to go deep with this one—deep into the wild world of (our favorite subject) conspiracy theories.

Disclaimer: there are a bunch of non-conspiracy theory related reasons to watch, study, and love The Shining. We cover a bunch of them above, in "In A Nutshell."

But if you want to know the thing that sets The Shining apart from other beloved Kubrick films, cult classics, or movies that feature Jack Nicholson looking maniacal… well, that's where the conspiracy theories come in.

Maybe it's because The Shining is so weird, or because Kubrick was such an infamous perfectionist, of because other Kubrick movies lend themselves so well to obsessive analysis. Or maybe it's just because The Shining had such an insane cultural influence. Whatever the reason, this film has people scrambling to find hidden meaning.

We're going to give you a sampler platter of our favorite conspiracy theories—theories that are discussed in greater depth in the documentary Room 237, which is all about Shining conspiracy theories. (That's right: there is a movie about conspiracy theories about a movie: metafiction brain explosion.)

Here you go:

Theory 1: The whole movie is an elaborate confession on the part of Kubrick. What's he getting so confessional about? Oh, not much: just that he helped fake the Apollo 11 moon landings.

Theory 2: This movie isn't about a psychotic axe murderer… it's a coded indictment of the genocide of Native Americans.

Theory 3: This movie isn't about a psychotic axe murderer… it's a meditation on the lasting impact of the Holocaust.

Theory 4: The Shining isn't just about ghosts and blood-filled elevators. It's also about the Greek myth of the Minotaur.

Do these sound farfetched? Absurd? Like the ravings of a lunatic? Quite possibly… but it's also a testament to how totally absorbing and thought-provoking The Shining is. It's a movie that is just as good as a one-off Halloween scary movie or as a work of art to be dissected endlessly.

And nothing makes it clear how completely magnetic this movie is than the fact that numerous conspiracy theorists have created elaborate analyses about this film. After all, when you think about it, critical analyses are just conspiracy theories that cite Freud, Lacan, or Foucault (to name a few).

Again: that's the magic of The Shining. It's a movie that seduces everyone from aged professors to tween science buffs… and makes everyone want to understand it.

Trivia

Apparently, Stephen King was nursing a pretty bad hangover when Stanley Kubrick first called to ask him about making a movie for The Shining. King thought the whole thing was a joke until he actually heard Kubrick's voice.
(Source)

According to some folks who worked on the set of The Shining, Kubrick actually forced the actors to do some of the takes more than 100 times. The Guinness Book of World Records has even said that the staircase scene took more than 120 takes to get right.
(Source)

So how's this for an insult? Stephen King had actually written a screenplay of The Shining before Kubrick started working on the film version. But Kubrick didn't even bother reading it because he considered King to be a "weak" writer. But it makes you wonder why he loved King's story so much to begin with.
(Source)

The Shining Resources

Websites

The Shining At House of Horrors
This one fan wanted to make sure that people paid proper tribute to Stanley Kubrick's work after Kubrick died in 1999. So in a way, it'd be disrespectful not to check out this site.

The Shining at IMDB.com
This place might not have everything you need when it comes to The Shining, but it'll sure tell you where to find it.

Book or TV Adaptations

Stephen King's Original Novel
So Kubrick loved King's original novel version of The Shining, but he also considered King too "weak" as a writer to let him write the screenplay for the movie version. It seems like there's a contradiction in there somewhere, but the only guy who could have explained it is now dead.

TV Miniseries (1997)
So maybe Kubrick had a point when he decided to take King's story into his own hands, because King's TV adaptation of his own novel never got anywhere near the same praise.

Articles and Interviews

The Shining: 10 Best Conspiracy Theories
This movie is designed to mess with your head, which means that it's bound to create an entire group of fans that are obsessed with finding an explanation for everything that happens in it.

Kubrick on The Shining
It's the moment we've all been waiting for: Stanley Kubrick himself sits down with interviewer Michel Climent to talk about what was going through his head when he made The Shining.

There Was A Different Original Ending(!)
Of course there's a lost ending to The Shining. What kind of cult film would it be without an alternate ending? And if you're feeling curious, you'll have to check out this article to see exactly what that ending is.

Video

The Infamous Staircase Scene
According to some people, this scene took more than 120 takes to get right. Others say it was only 40 or so takes. But either way, it's a great scene.

Original Trailer
So how's this for a slow burn?

The Official 1980 Trailer
So some people might have thought that other trailer was a little too weird, so they threw this one at the original audiences too.

Audio

The Entire Original Score
Want to creep out your guests next time you have a party? Well then make sure to throw on this nice background music.

The Dog Man
Who in the world is that dude wearing the dog costume that Wendy sees down the hallway? Well for more info, be sure to check out this audio reading of the same scene in

Indie Critic's Audio Commentary on The Shining
Here's your chance to check out the entire movie and have a film critic break down all of the cool things Stanley Kubrick did to make it. But it's up to you to play your own version of the movie with the sound off if you want the commentary to sync up right.

Images

Heeere's Johnny!
The line was improvised by Jack Nicholson, but this image was carefully created by Kubrick and it's become the most famous still shot of this movie.

Shelley Duvall Holding A Knife
We're going to go out on a limb and say that fear was the emotion Kubrick was going for in this scene.

Frozen Jack
With all the stories about Kubrick's insane work ethic, you have to wonder how long he made Jack Nicholson hold this pose.