The Shining: Isolation and the Cycle of Violence | Teen Ink

The Shining: Isolation and the Cycle of Violence

May 25, 2022
By OrionTrips SILVER, Bristow, Virginia
OrionTrips SILVER, Bristow, Virginia
6 articles 0 photos 2 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking."

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film, The Shining, is one of cinema’s most hauntingly bone-chilling works. It rises above the transient, low-brow thrills offered by slashers such as Friday the 13th, instead opting to deliver a deep-seated, lingering fear that emanates from every frame and lasts long after the film’s runtime. Although the film is thematically loaded, it still remains a relatively ambiguous film, with messages that elude any lackadaisically superficial viewing and can only be excavated after attentively scrupulous viewings. It remains one of the most celebrated horror films of all time, and it is arguably Kubrick’s magnum opus directorially. But just what about this insidious work of art makes it so beloved and horrifying?

The film opens on a high-angle shot of a car ascending a heavily-forested mountain. We are then introduced to our protagonist (?), Jack Torrance, as he arranges for his wife, Wendy, and their son, Danny, to serve as the care-takers of the illustrious Overlook Hotel during the Winter while it is out of commission. Right from the get-go, there is a prominent theme of isolation, as the Torrance family is completely alone amidst a sizable, totally vacated abode – residing in the mountains no less. Clearly being a film centered around the idea of “cabin fever,” its camera-work does an excellent job in portraying this point, as the majority of shots in the film display character movement throughout a seemingly endless corridor or hallway. The feeling of entrapment is exacerbated in the later scenes including Wendy and/or Danny, as they eventually find themselves trying to keep distance from a rancorous Jack, thus forcing them into corners of the hotel despite the ample space (ex. when Wendy and Danny are watching T.V. in the lobby with the snow seen through the windows).

            Not only is the Overlook Hotel utilized to conjure an ineluctable feeling of entrapment in many portions of the film, but the innumerable rooms afforded by its immense stature are masterfully incorporated into a plethora of iconic scenes. Each section of the hotel seems to be painted a different color, with each ostensibly meant to illicit certain emotional responses. For example, the bathroom at the back side of the Golden Room is covered in red and is the location in which Jack is given the idea to murder his family by the waiter (Mr. Grady); this connects the color red with the intrinsic and dialogue-supported theme of violence/murder. The use of red is also present from the first 5 minutes; the bright red columns supporting the bottom level indicate that the hotel’s being is perpetuated by a cycle of violence (more on that later). A similar use of color can be found with the bathroom in room 237, in which the walls are painted green to accentuate the feeling of disgust with the rotting body of the elderly lady.

            The specters of the Overlook Hotel are not the only horrors tormenting Jack. No, if anything, it is his own self-loathing and remorse for prior domestic wrongdoings that Jack is most affected by. In his irate stupor after an argument with his rightfully worried wife, Jack saunters down to the exotic hotel bar – known as The Golden Room. The Golden Room is Jack’s escape from his troubles, so it makes sense that this ballroom also contains a bar. In easing his temper, Jack purchases a drink from the bartender – an apparition he somehow recognizes as “Lloyd.” Jack is mentioned to have been 5 months sober due to an outburst during a drunk tangent, so it’s no surprise that his continual use of alcohol at the hotel parallels his further descent into madness. The Golden Room is in fact colored gold, inciting an instinctual feeling of success and high-class living. This implies a lifestyle of indulgence, and so this room is also where Jack breaks his sobriety. On his second visit to the ballroom, Jack finds himself in its bathroom, which contrasts the Golden Room’s glow with a ubiquitous, blood-red hue, showing that at the core of indulgence, is suffering – violence, even. It is here that an apparition of a waiter suggests that Jack “correct” his family.

But it is also here that we reach an aspect of the film’s lore that is crucial to approaching a summation. As was mentioned, Jack innately calls the Golden Room bartender by name, and the waiter (Mr. Grady) whom pushes Jack to try killing his kin remarks to Jack: “You’ve always been the caretaker, I should know sir, I’ve always been here.” These tidbits, coupled with the film’s ending scene in which Jack is in full-view within a picture taken at the hotel in 1921, indicates that there is some kind of cycle in which Jack has committed all of these acts and experienced all of these things before. His son’s, Danny’s, ability to “shine” appears to be a gateway to the tumultuous and macabre past of the Overlook Hotel, as he sees the apparitions of twin sisters who were said to have been murdered by the previous caretaker. To tie back to the film’s camera-work and use of colors, the scenes that show Danny riding his tricycle throughout the labyrinth-like hallways with the carpet designed by endless pattern repetition are a way of subtly hinting at the repetitive nature of the hotel’s horrors, as Danny’s “shines” are not only a gateway to the past, but a past that is doomed to repeat itself with the inevitable reincarnation of Jack – as is implied by the film’s concluding scene.

There are many ways to arrive at a deeper understanding of The Shining. In one sense, I can see how Kubrick highlights a cycle of violence, and that it is perhaps doomed to repeat itself. In another, I understand that the Overlook Hotel is a symbol of quiet self-reflection – a pastime that shatters the psyche of unstable men like Jack Torrance. Perhaps it can then be postulated that Jack is a larger allegory for unstable individuals – maybe men in particular. In this way, perhaps this connotes that isolation is what ultimately reveals a person’s true, intrinsic, unmitigated demeanor. Whatever the case may be, The Shining is a film that continues to ask questions long past the death of its director – Stanley Kubrick –, and it stands tall as a widely revered piece of art that shall certainly be dissected by others like me long after I’m gone. Now, that’s a cycle I’m alright with.

The author's comments:

The Shining is a film that continues to linger on in my mind like nearly nothing else. For those who have seen it, I hope this article will provide unique insight into the film's themes and methods. 

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