All Work And No Play Makes Jack…A Sort Of Charming Guy
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.
All Work And No Play Makes Jack…Kind Of Creepy
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.
All Work And No Play Makes Jack…An All-Out Nutjob
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.