Jack Torrance might come across as a charming dude—at first. After all, he's played by Jack Nicholson, who made a career out of being the most charismatic wolf-looking man on the planet.
When Mr. Ullman from the hotel mentions that playing the caretaker might be tough, Jack is quick to jump to the challenge and say,
"I'm outlining a new writing project, and five months of peace is just what I want."
A writer, eh? Well that's pretty interesting. And even though his smile can look a little crazy at times, we probably like Jack well enough at this point in the movie. If it weren't for the ominous music trailing him around, we'd dismiss him as a kind of shabby artistic sort.
And Mr. Ullman seems to like Jack from the start. But he's also careful to warn Jack about the challenging isolation he'll feel as the caretaker of the Overlook. After all, one of Jack's predecessors did go nuts and kill his family. But Jack is still right on the ball in saying,
"Well, you can rest assured Mr. Ullman, that's not going to happen with me, and as far as my wife is concerned, I am sure she'll be absolutely fascinated when I tell her about it."
At this point in the film, Jack seems like a good family man. He's even nice enough to call Wendy when his hotel meeting runs long, saying,
"Look, I'm at the hotel and I still have an awful lot to go through. I don't think I can get home before nine or ten."
So yeah: when all is said and done, Jack seems like a cool enough guy. A young father, handsome, and a writer to boot. Looks like everything will be totally fine at the Overlook Hotel during the winter… or not.
While our first impression of Jack might be good, it doesn't take long for cracks to appear in his apparent coolness. We get a real jolt when his wife Wendy tells the story about how Jack came home one night and "accidentally" dislocated his son's shoulder. And, as Jack says later on,
"[It] was three goddam years ago. The little f***er had thrown all my papers all over the floor. All I tried to do was to pull him up. A momentary loss of muscular coordination."
Wendy agrees that the whole thing was an accident, but as an audience we are probably pretty skeptical. From this moment on, we're on the lookout for anything else suggesting that Jack is not such a great guy.
Later on in the movie, we can tell by the insane looks on his face that Jack is having a tough time keeping himself together. This suspicion turns to outright dread when Wendy wakes Jack from a nightmare and he shudders,
"I dreamed that I... that I killed you and Danny. But I didn't just kill you, I cut you up into little pieces."
Whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Shmoop PSA: if you ever hear someone say that (especially if you're locked up in a remote mountain cabin), run—don't walk—to the nearest Snow Cat.
There are some things in this movie you can blame on spooky Overlook black magic. But early in the going, there is no one to blame but Jack for his moody dirtbaggery. When Wendy comes into his workroom to ask him how things are going, he angrily answers,
"[When] I am in here that means that I am working – that means don't come in. Now do you think you can handle that?"
Sure, the poor guy is under a lot of stress. But at the end of the day, he needs to suck it up and be a better husband and father… at least until the ghosts show up.
He's cool, he's not so cool…. and then he's a total maniac.
It's not completely clear when his snap happens, but by the time Jack grabs an axe and tries to murder his wife and son, we're willing to go out on a limb and say he's the villain of this movie. When his wife Wendy pleads with him not to hurt her, he casually answers,
"I said I'm not going to hurt you... I'm just going to bash your brains in!"
It's a good thing Wendy is able to bash him before he can bash her. Her only warning that Jack had lost his mind (apart from his increasing moodiness) was the fact that he had typed the same phrase into his typewriter hundreds of thousands of times: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
If Jack's previous actions weren't villainous enough, he starts saying typical bad-guy stuff when chasing his wife and son with an axe. For example, he cackles into the night sky and yells, "You can't get away. I'm right behind you" when he's chasing his son Danny.
And when he revels in telling Wendy he's disabled the radio and the Snow Cat, he adds,
"You've got a big surprise coming to you. You're not going anywhere."
It's a shame that the hotel has turned Jack into a total murdering maniac. But when we look back over the movie, we can see signs that Jack was giving the hotel something to work with. It's not like the guy was an angel before arriving at the hotel. He always had violence in him, and it was up to the hotel to harness it.
Wendy Torrance: the terrified face that launched a thousand memes, dorm room posters and nightmares. With her lank dark hair and her weird 1970's turtleneck, Wendy is the icon of terrified woman-on-the-run.
When we first meet Wendy, she seems like kind of a doormat. It seems like Wendy is a meek wife who will do everything her husband Jack says. Even when Jack's not around, Wendy defends some of his more questionable behavior. When she recounts the story of how Jack dislocated their son's shoulder by yanking on him too hard, she says,
"It's... it's just the sort of thing you do a hundred times with a child—you know, in a park or on the streets—but on this particular occasion my husband just... used too much strength and he injured Danny's arm."
You can tell from Wendy's body language and the way she keeps dropping her eyes that some part of her knows that what she's saying isn't right.
Even when she sort of admits that her husband Jack has done bad things in the past, Wendy tends to downplay them by saying things like,
"Anyway, something good did come out of it all."
And in a way this is true. It's good that Jack hasn't had anything to drink in five months.
But at the same time, Wendy never does anything to directly judge Jack's actions, which suggests that she's a little bit afraid of him even as she feels totally loyal to him.
As the movie unfolds, we can tell that Jack isn't the best husband to Wendy. Actually, that might be the understatement of the 1970's—Jack has a really short fuse when it comes to anything she says, especially when he's feeling self-conscious about his failure as a writer.
But Wendy will only take so much, and she has no trouble blaming Jack when she finds bruises around their son Danny's neck. Fearing that Jack has become abusive again, she shouts,
"You did this to him, didn't you? […] How could you?"
She still wishes that her family could live happily together, but it's becoming pretty clear that this just might not be in the cards.
By the time Jack starts menacing her, Wendy knows that she'll have to do something to protect herself. It's clear that she's out of her element by the way she keeps crying, but that doesn't mean she's a helpless victim.
Even as she yells,
"Don't hurt me! Don't hurt me!"
She's able to whomp Jack over the head with a bat and lock him in the food storage closet. Even in these moments, though, she's still concerned about whether Jack is hurt. When she says,
"I'll bring back a doctor,"
we can see that her concern for Jack will probably never go away… even after he tries to kill her.
As we've seen, Wendy is ready to stand up and fight when she has to. But she also knows when to turn tail and run away from danger. And the first chance she gets, she locks her husband Jack in a room and says,
"I'm going to try and get Danny down to the Sidewinder in the Snowcat today."
There's zero point in staying at the Overlook Hotel and taking on Jack after she's locked him up. Now it's time to get out of Dodge.
When Jack escapes from the food closet, he comes after Wendy with an axe and Wendy does her best to sneak her son Danny through a window. Even in these moments, Wendy thinks of her son before herself, saying,
"Danny, I can't get out. Run, run and hide. Run quick!"
Eventually, Wendy is also able to escape. But we know by now that she was willing to die to help her son get away. In the end, Wendy still thinks of herself last, and it's likely that Jack's death will continue to fill her with sadness long after the tragedy at the Overlook Hotel.
On the surface, Danny is your typical cute bowl-cut haired little boy. As his mother Wendy tells us though, Danny has had trouble socializing ever since he missed some of his early time at nursery school due to an injury.
So as she puts it, this is when Danny first started talking to an imaginary friend instead of making real friends:
"I guess that's about the time when I first noticed that he was talking to Tony."
And as we can see from Danny himself, he doesn't have a lot of real friends, as he says to his mom,
"Anyway, there's hardly anybody to play with around here."
So now it looks like it's Danny and his friend Tony versus the world, especially now that they're going to move to a completely isolated hotel for the entire winter. Worse yet, Danny can get a bit defensive when people ask him to talk about Tony, saying,
"I don't want to talk about Tony anymore."
Danny's relationship with Tony might seem really sweet (if a little sad), but we can tell pretty early on that there's something a little sinister about this imaginary friend.
So you can't really talk about Danny without also talking about Tony, since Tony spends just as much time talking through Danny's mouth as Danny does. (Also, Tony bizarrely lives in Danny's mouth.) When Danny's asked to explain how Tony communicates with him, Danny says,
"It's like I go to sleep, and he shows me things but when I wake up, I can't remember everything."
So Danny and Tony's relationship sounds eerily like some sort of demonic possession. It's like Tony can take over Danny's thoughts and actions whenever he wants.
The more insane Danny's situation becomes at the Overlook Hotel, the more Tony seems to take over. At one point, Danny seems to disappear entirely, as his mom Wendy asks him what's wrong and Tony freakily replies
"Danny's not here, Mrs. Torrance."
At this point, Wendy becomes truly concerned and tries to get Danny to a doctor. But little does she know that Tony is trying to warn her about her husband's coming murder spree. After all, Tony apparently knows how to foretell the future.
So yeah, Danny's imaginary friend Tony might not be so imaginary after all. In fact, he might be some sort of supernatural being who can take possession of Danny's body whenever he wants. The first hint we get of this comes when Danny asks Tony if he thinks his dad Jack will get the job at the Overlook Hotel. Tony answers,
"Yeah, he already did. He's gonna phone Wendy up in a few minutes to tell her."
And sure enough, the phone rings and it's Jack saying he's got the job. Now this could just be a lucky guess on Danny's part, but it's more likely (this being a Kubrick movie and all) that something else is going on.
Toward the end of the movie, Tony pretty much takes over Danny entirely and starts shouting "Redrum! Redrum!" which is just the word "murder" backwards. Once again, Tony has seen the danger of the Torrances' situation long before any of the Torrances have.
Actually, "tricky" doesn't really encapsulate Dick's personality, but "Clairvoyant Dick" or "Shining Dick" or even "Hero Dick" doesn't really have the same ring to it.
Dick Halloran is a perfect mentor character—he's the only other person in this movie who understands just how special little Danny is. From the moment he meets Danny, we realize that Halloran has the power to communicate without opening his mouth. When he finally gets a chance to be alone with Danny, Hallorann says,
"I can remember when I was a little boy, my grandmother and I could hold conversations entirely without ever opening our mouths. She called it shining."
Whatever this power is, Hallorann thinks it's positive, and that Danny needs to know that he's a unique boy. But unlike Hallorann, Danny doesn't celebrate his powers. In fact, he's actually pretty scared of them. And who can blame him?
But it's not like Dick Hallorann thinks everything about his "shining" is hunky dory. The moment Danny asks him about Room 237 in the hotel, Hallorann gets upset and says,
"Nothing. There ain't nothing in Room 237, but you ain't got no business going in there anyway, so stay out! You understand, stay out!"
Well if there's nothing wrong with 237, then why is Hallorann so obviously freaked out by it? It's clear that even though he's old and wise, Hallorann is just as scared of his own powers as Danny. And he has good reason to be, since it's these same powers that lead him to return to the Overlook Hotel—having received some sort of shining distress signal from Danny—and get himself killed by Jack with an axe.
As far as we know, Lloyd is some king of ghost haunting the ballroom of the Overlook Hotel. But Jack Torrance talks to the guy as if they've known each other for quite a while. The moment Jack wants a drink and can't pay for it, Lloyd casually answers, "Your credit's fine, Mr. Torrance." Now this is already creepy, but what is even creepier is when Jack answers,
"That's swell. I like you, Lloyd. I always liked you. You were always the best of them."
So it seems like Jack and Lloyd are old friends, but it's hard to see how this is possible.
The explanation for Jack's relationship with Lloyd doesn't actually come until the end of the movie, where we see Jack in a photograph of the Golden Ballroom from 1921. This ending suggests that Jack is somehow in a time loop where he has returned to the Overlook Hotel after working there in another life.
So when he runs into Lloyd, Jack is actually remembering someone he might have known in a previous life. This helps explain why he wants to kill his family at the Overlook, because he wants them to live there forever as ghosts. After all, it'll give him much more time to shoot the breeze with Lloyd… and booze away to his heart's content with his infinite bar credit.
We first hear about Delbert Grady as the crazed former caretaker who butchered his family and killed himself while looking after the Overlook Hotel. He just seems like a (super) creepy dude from the past until he actually shows up dressed as a Butler in front of Jack.
Jack recognizes him the moment Grady tells him his name, but Grady insists that Jack is the only caretaker of the hotel… and always has been. That said, Grady also has some advice to give Jack about how to deal with his family at the Overlook. When his own daughters tried to burn down the hotel, Grady says,
"But I corrected them, sir. And when my wife tried to prevent me from doing my duty I corrected her."
By "correct," Grady means "kill," and he wants Jack to do the same thing to his family. Yikes.
On top of his ghostly ability to appear and disappear, Grady is also able to detect when little Danny Torrance is using his special powers to call Mr. Hallorann to the hotel. As he tells Jack,
"Your son has a very great talent. I don't think you are aware how great it is, but he is attempting to use that very talent against your will."
We also find out that Grady is in agreement with a bunch of other spirits in the hotel that Jack should kill his family. Hey, whatever happened to friendly ghosts? Why can't this hotel have at least one Casper?
When he expresses his doubts about Jack's abilities, Grady says,
"I and others have come to believe... that your heart is not in this, that you haven't the belly for it."
We're not exactly sure why Grady wants Jack and his family dead, but it might have something to do with wanting their spirits to live inside the Overlook forever, and the only way this can be accomplished is if they die in the hotel. Or they might just be psychotic. You be the judge.
Stuart Ullman is kind of a means to an end: this guy's main job in this movie is to deliver important information that Jack Torrance (and we as an audience) will need to know to set up the premise of this movie. For starters, Ullman foreshadows the mental problems Jack will have in this movie by talking about the horrible effects that being isolated in the hotel can have on a person, saying,
"Physically, it's not a very demanding job. The only thing that can get a bit trying up here during the winter is eh... the tremendous sense of isolation."
Jack doesn't seem so concerned, but Ullman emphasizes the point a couple of times, almost as if he knows what's going to happen.
When Jack shakes off the idea that isolation will be hard on him, Ullman decides to up the ante by telling Jack all about one of the Overlook Hotel's previous caretakers. As Ullman puts it,
"But at some point during the winter, he must have suffered some kind of a complete mental breakdown. He ran amok and eh... killed his family with an axe."
Ullman doesn't like bringing up this story and it's not going to get him a lot of applications for the role of caretaker. But he feels it's his responsibility to tell Jack about the incident so that Jack has an idea of what he's getting into. Ullman turns out to be quite the foreshadower too, because nearly everything he warns against comes true.