THE SHINING: A Question in Contradiction

The 1980 horror classic “The Shining” is among the additions to the National Film Registry this year. (AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo)

We all have that one movie that we know backwards and forwards. For me, there are many, but everybody has at least one. One of those movies I know like the back of my hand is The Shining, a masterpiece of horror by Stanley Kubrick, adapted from Stephen King’s chilling novel. I first watched it when I was fifteen, as part of a SpikeTV horror marathon, and had read the first few chapters of the book as a twelve-year-old. At that time, I was unfamiliar with film criticism, and had came to the conclusion of what I was familiar with at the time: the book is usually better than the movie, especially since King hated Kubrick’s adaptation. What better reason should I have to not be impressed if the original author was not impressed?

Not long after that, a classmate who knew far more about cinema than I did (and probably still does), asked me if I was familiar with Stanley Kubrick, and basically filled me in on how he was a genius, and also shared that he directed The Shining. During my freshman year of college in the fall of 2009, when I knew I wanted to devote myself to cinema, I found a copy of the movie in the school library, and watched it again, and this time I was enthralled by it. I began to familiarize myself with Kubrick and his movies, having already watched Dr. Strangelove that summer and gradually began to like it, as I did not pick up much from it upon first screening. The next semester in the spring of 2010, I returned with a DVD collection of Kubrick films that I received for Christmas, which included The Shining. Even before obtaining my own copy, I repeatedly rented it from the library and watched it in the company of my roommate, Matt (shoutout to Woodland Hall, 302!). Believe it or not, we would actually fall asleep with the movie on.

Image result for stanley kubrick the shining

I eventually reached the point where I am now with this movie: I know it like the back of my hand. A few years ago, I found a screening in a local movie theater and was comfortable enough stepping out to take a phone call because I knew what I would be missing and would not be at all lost when I returned to my seat. When you reach this point, you start to notice the little things you did not pick up on the first few times you watched it. Not only do you notice what prompts the debate on whether or not the family was really encountering ghosts or just experiencing cabin fever (my slam dunk answer to conclude they are seeing ghosts is Danny and Hallorann communicating via their ability to “shine”, how else could you explain why Hallorann travels across the country to save the family?), but I noticed another issue: CONTRADICTIONS. At so many points in the movie, there are contradictions in major details that I just did not pick up on.

The first contradiction I can mention regards the previous caretaker of the Overlook Hotel who massacred his family: Grady. It comes down to his first name. When Stuart Ullman, the general manager, tells Jack the story in the beginning, he refers to him as CHARLES Grady. When Jack meets his ghost later in the bathroom, he refers to himself as DELBERT Grady. Not only that, Ullman told Jack the story for the first time, but Jack coyly tells Grady’s ghost that he saw his picture in the newspaper. Grady casually tells him that he has no recollection of that, but then in the next three minutes admits to Jack that he did indeed massacre his family as he suggests Jack should do the same to Wendy and Danny.

There is something about this conversation. At first Grady is the charming and affable butler who appears oblivious to Jack’s accusation, but instantly turns sinister when Grady asserts that Jack is the caretaker. It is after this moment that Grady reveals his terrifying truths. I could say that this was Grady “grooming” Jack in a way that sexual predators choose their victims in order that he could lure him into evil.

Then there is the amount of time that has passed since the incident in which Jack harmed Danny while he was inebriated. In the beginning of the movie, Wendy recounts that Jack accidentally dislocated Danny’s shoulder while he was drunk, and in his contrition he promises to never drink again, and she shares that it has been five months since he last drank. When he is served a drink of bourbon by the phantom bartender, Lloyd, he toasts to “five miserable months on the wagon”, but we do not know specifically how long they have been at the hotel since the only indication that time has passed is titlecards that simply say “Monday”, “Thursday”, “Tuesday”, etc. This detail has made me think that this was a way for us to think similar to someone in isolation for so long in that they lose track of time and can only vaguely guess what day of the week it is. And during his drunken rant to Lloyd he asserts that the incident in which he harmed Danny was THREE YEARS prior. OR it could be that Jack was breaking his promises of sobriety after he harmed Danny?

Somebody once theorized that Jack had lived a previous life in the hotel, due to two major moments. Jack has “ALWAYS been the caretaker”, and Grady knows this because he himself admits “I’ve always been here”. And at the end, Jack is seen in a photograph from a Fourth of July party held at the Overlook back in 1924. Along with the fact that over breakfast when they arrive, Jack says that he feels as though he has been there before.

But I would think that the Overlook is another form of reality, perhaps an alternate universe, so to speak, where Jack knows all of the ghosts (that was what made everything eerie, being that he casually said hello to Lloyd the bartender, whom he was “always” fond of, and is discussing with the other ghosts how he intends to change his attire for a soiree scheduled for later) and has a different account of the past. Could it be that the Overlook is absorbing him, or turning him into somebody else? But also, why is he not afraid or shocked by any of the ghosts on certain occasions, but suddenly terrified when he when the beautiful woman he has been embracing turns into the rotting old lady?

Image result for stanley kubrick the shining

There are contradictions throughout this film’s runtime. It is very much a possibility that there is no answer to these questions I have raised, and that Kubrick was just messing with us. He may have been creating his own version of “I am the Walrus”, teasing the critics who may have been searching for meaning and depth when there was nothing to more to share. It could very well be a form of nihilism, as a way to use the movie to say “there are no answers to the questions”. In fact, that proposition I just made may very well be what Kubrick was intending for me to do: keep asking questions when there is no need to ask anything. Maybe Kubrick was saying “Just watch the damn movie!” But the genius of Kubrick is that he has us on the line while we are watching, and we go along with everything, and we do not notice until later.

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