Jack Torrance has been labeled as one of the most terrifying characters ever portrayed on film. What seems like a normal father with relatively small issues turns out to be a psychologically unhinged villain who with each passing minute unravels a little more. His spiral toward insanity in The Shining is quite notably one of the best performances of all time. His stay at the Overlook Hotel turns out to be more than a chance happening, it was destiny. In this paper, I will discuss one prompt that includes thematic criticisms and explore imagery and themes portrayed in The Shining directed by Stanley Kubrick.
This film has not always been the shining jewel most people see it as today. It was quite atypical of its genre when it debuted in 1980. Halloween directed by John Carpenter and The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin promoted evil from a singular source while ghosts and Torrance’s psychosis seemed to have come from different entities, or did they? As the plot develops, the viewer is left guessing as to where the actual threat will come from, not like a typical horror film of the time. Kubrick’s supernatural horror is highlighted with decomposition of the human psyche, offering viewers a thrilling brain teaser, rather than portraying a villain armed with a large steak knife. A common theme throughout the film poses the question of what is real and what isn’t? A prime example of this is when Wendy brings Jack breakfast on a trolley, you don’t realize it is being shot from the reflection in the bedroom mirror. For typical horror films of that time, audience members were told that fear came in the shape of shadowy figures and gloomy corridors, however, Kubrick creates a constant uncertainty underlined with fear and anger that proves to be atypical of its genre.Thematic Critique
Kubrick has a unique way of presenting strong thematic elements in his work that others do not. His imagery in The Shining is indeed very iconic, including the elevator scene in which blood flows out of it in an incredible amount. This represents the total carnage of the Overlook Hotel. The hotel houses unsettled spirits not only from the axe murders, but from the time it was built: “The site is supposed to be located on an Indian burial ground, and I believe they actually had to repel a few Indian attacks as they were building it”. Kubrick also intended the geometrical designs found throughout the film to be repeating image of visual madness, like Jack Torrance who was slowly spiraling into madness. You can see these images in the hotel’s decoration: geometric carpets, Native American tapestries, and overall maze-like layout, as well as the hedge maze located outside. I believe this was done to emphasize the disorientation of the senses as if in Jack Torrance’s shoes. Kubrick’s use of bold statements through imagery is unmatched in my opinion by other horror films, however his theme of personal identity and isolation border with American Psycho directed by Mary Harron. They obviously share an overarching villainous theme of axe-wielding homicidal maniac, but Harron’s main character, Bateman, shares an isolating identity crises much like Torrance. Bateman has an active social circle surrounding him but is obsessed with materialistic things giving him superficial relationships which in turn, ironically makes him extremely isolated. Torrance also starts to feel extremely isolated and his personal identity deteriorates although being surrounded by his loving wife and son.
While watching The Shining, one can’t help but appreciate the symbolic meaning of each and every scene. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance is also one that stays with you forever, much like the spirits of the Overlook Hotel. Psychological horror is an incredibly unique genre, one that really makes you think. While showing the iconic picture at the end, the film still has you questioning if everything that happened actually transpired, a lot like Harron’s ending when Bateman seemingly realizes that all of the people he killed are still alive.