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Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Everything seems pretty sweet for Jack Torrance and his family at the start of this movie. Sure, a former caretaker of the Overlook Hotel killed his family with an axe, but Jack is confident that this sort of thing will never happen with his family.
In fact, he's pumped about the thought of having five months of peace and quiet to work on his new writing project. His wife Wendy seems excited about the adventure too, although their son Danny and his imaginary friend Tony aren't so sure.
So Jack gets the job as winter caretaker at the Overlook, and he sets off with his family to go live in the place. But we can already see him getting testy whenever his wife Wendy asks him questions that he doesn't want to answer. When they arrive at the hotel, Danny runs off to play in the games room while Jack looks around the hotel with Mr. Ullman. It still looks as if everything is going to be cool for Jack and his fam.
Of the entire Torrance family, there is one member who definitely doesn't want to go to the Overlook, and that's Danny's imaginary friend Tony. When Danny asks Tony why he doesn't want to go, Tony shows him horrifying images of blood pouring out of an elevator and Danny has some sort of seizure-like episode. The doctor says he's just fine, but we can tell that there's something not quite right about the Overlook Hotel.
While Jack and Wendy check out the Overlook Hotel, Danny sits alone eating ice cream with old Mr. Hallorann, the hotel's head cook. Hallorann quickly recognizes that Danny has a special ability to communicate without opening his mouth, and this turns out to be a power that Hallorann has, too.
Hallorann tells Danny that he's very special and that he can use his powers whenever he needs to. But when Danny asks him about a particular room in the hotel (Room 237), Hallorann freaks out and tells Danny to stay away from this room. As we find out later, this is some good advice from Danny's newfound mentor.
Jack spins his wheels while trying to get started with his writing, while Wendy and Danny head outdoors to explore the hotel's hedge maze. Eventually, Jack gets so frustrated that he starts talking violently to Wendy.
Meanwhile, Danny drives his big wheel bike around the hotel and sees horrifying visions of two twin girls who have been murdered with an axe. Oh yeah, and there's that blood that keeps coming out of the elevator.
Jack seems to gain a new friend when he meets Lloyd the ghost bartender in the hotel's Golden Ballroom. The weird thing is that Jack and Lloyd seem to have a relationship that goes way back, even though we can't imagine how Jack would have a pre-existing relationship with a ghost.
Meanwhile, Danny wanders into Room 237 and shows up later on with bruises on his neck. It's clear now that the ghosts in the hotel might be friends with Jack, but they're definitely not friends with Danny and Wendy.
If there's an inmost cave in this movie, it's the part of Jack's mind that's slowly but surely slipping into homicidal madness. And the approach to this cave is the physical approach that Wendy makes to Jack's typewriter when she thinks Jack isn't around.
When she arrives at the machine, she finds that Jack has just written, "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" thousands upon thousands of times. At this moment, we all realize that Jack has totally snapped.
Jack finds Wendy looking over his manuscripts and approaches her with enough menace to tell us that he plans on hurting her. He goes ahead and confirms this suspicion when he tells Wendy that he plans on bashing her brains in.
Despite her efforts to fight him off with a baseball bat, he keeps coming after her and threatening her. Wendy manages to knock him out with the bat and lock him in the storage closet. But the ghost of Delbert Grady lets Jack loose with a fire axe in his hands. Jack comes after Wendy and Danny and even kills Mr. Hallorann who has come to help the Torrances.
After he's killed Hallorann, Jack goes after his son Danny. But Danny leads him into the hotel's hedge maze and escapes by covering his tracks. Jack gets lost in the maze while Danny sneaks back out and runs into his mother's arms.
Wendy and Danny run to the snowcat machine that Mr. Hallorann has brought to the hotel and they take off in it. (After all, it's not like Hallorann will be needing it anymore.) As they head back to the rest of civilization, they leave Jack howling like a wild animal in the middle of the hotel's hedge maze.
There's no resurrection for Jack Torrance—we find him frozen to death in the hedge maze where his son Danny left him. But there's a resurrection for Wendy and Danny insofar as they escape the brutal death that Jack clearly had planned for them.
In the final shot of the movie, we see the camera pan in on a photograph that's hanging on one of the walls of the Overlook Hotel. The photo portrays a large party happening in the hotel's Golden Ballroom back in 1921.
And who should we see in this photo but Jack Torrance, grinning with a drink in hand? So this photo totally changes our reading of the entire movie and forces us to asks whether Jack's been a ghost all along or if he's some weird reincarnation of a dude who used to work in the hotel.
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