Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Shine Like an Arclight
This summer I've been unable to get the Stanley Kubrick monsterpiece The Shining out of my head. Like all his works, the movie doesn't sit still: it keeps moving, twisting, roiling, morphing, fucking back in on itself no matter how many times you watch it. And like my good friend Freddy Riedenschneider says, "The more you look, the less you know."
Most people see the film strictly as it was presented to them: a writer (Jack) and his family get a gig as winter caretakers for an empty and spooky old resort hotel high in the Colorado mountains. The writer gets blocked and has trouble working on his novel, then slowly goes insane. Gradually we find that ghosts from an old murder on the premises seem to be manipulating Jack's mind. Finally, the child Danny, who has psychic abilities and an imaginary friend, saves the day by alerting the mother to escape, then by leading Jack into an enormous outdoor maze in which he (Jack) gets lost and freezes to death. The End.
But for our purposes here, there's something far more interesting going on here than mere ghosts.
Kubrick ignored Stephen King's novel almost entirely, to the extent that King wondered aloud why the heck Kubrick even bothered securing the rights to a story that he intended to change completely. The answer is, of course, that Kubrick needed the Stephen King name to help sell the film (especially after his last film Barry Lyndon tanked) and used the book as an excuse to tell some other entirely different story altogether.
From discussions with Kubrick and his staff, we know that he deliberately took great pains to avoid the "ghost" idea, if you define a ghost as the living soul of a dead person back from the grave to haunt people.
Kubrick wanted it left open-ended what sort of phenomena was really going on here, and he used Scatman Crothers' character Halloran to explain that "The Shining" (Halloran's term for Danny's extra-sensory perception) can pick up on the residue left behind of things that happened at any given point on the spacetime continuum.
This concept could mean that these 'ghosts' are like old recordings or holograms rather than living manifestations, but we know from Jack's direct interaction with the 'ghosts' that they are as real as anyone else. They talk, they spill wine on you, they even let you out of a locked pantry.
No, clearly the hotel is acting as an open channel for simultaneous co-existence of multiple times, spaces, and points on the time track. When we see Jack enter an empty bar and suddenly find it full of people, he isn't hallucinating (as many have suggested) nor are the people ghosts (that would imply that the liquor bottles are ghosts too!)... no, he's literally re-entering the past, at least in a fragmentary, temporary, and open-endedly interactive way. For lack of a better term, the Overlook Hotel is like William S. Burroughs' Interzone, a place where anything can happen - and does.
I also approve of interpretations that the resonance of the Native American burial ground beneath the Hotel has something to do with the spacetime anomaly, and that Danny's imaginary friend "Tony" is some sort of manitou that has come to help Danny survive through previous and ongoing abuse from his father.
And that's another key point of the movie that's right there in plain sight - Jack was clearly abusive to Danny before he went insane, and before the incident spoken of early on where Danny's arm was pulled out of the socket by Jack.
Danny's mom says it happened 5 months ago, but Jack later makes a reference to some sort of atrocity he did to the child three years ago. Casual watchers forget the timeframe in which the incident is first mentioned, and assume this is what Jack is referring to when he brings this up later while sitting at the bar. But Jack is clearly referring to some other, even more heinous incident that took place when Danny was younger. Some have speculated Kubrick intended us to deduce that Jack actually sexually molested Danny, and there's certainly plenty of clues to suggest this.
It isn't often that a 70's horror flick gets so roundly recast in a new light upon repeated viewing, and one finds deeper matters like Remote Viewing, quantum bilocation, and Satanism.
Wait, Satanism? Yep. It's oft-speculated that Kubrick was a practicing Satanist of some sort, or at least obsessed with the subject. Sly little references to Satanism and/or old-school Ceremonial Magick pervade most of his films. Some have noted the similarity to Baphomet in Jack's pose in the enigmatic final shot of the unexplained photograph that seems to suggest that Jack was either at the Hotel in a past life, or that the two realities merged as a result of whatever the heck happened.