A Deeper Look into Kubrick’s “The Shining”

A Deeper Look into Kubrick's

Eva Dennis, Staff Writer

A majority (80%) of Clear Springs High School students have heard of or seen Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” which hit theatres in 1980, based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel. The movie often leaves viewers with a confused feeling, as if they missed something important. “I’ve watched [The Shining] a few times but I never really understood its significance,” stated Violet Horton (11). She is one of many who have missed the subliminal messages Kubrick meticulously placed through this cult-classic. 

The Shining follows a family that moves to a desolate area of Colorado to stay in a huge, eerie hotel full of supernatural entities, but the director intended the film to hold much more weight than viewers realize. 

Kubrick was raised in Chicago near Calumet harbor and spent many youthful summers searching for Indian artifacts. He used the production of “The Shining,” as an intentional metaphor about American history. 

“The Shining,” is not really about the Overlook Hotel murders; it’s about the murder of a race — the race of Native Americans — and the consequences of that murder. 

If you are skeptical about this, consider the Calumet baking powder cans with their Indian chief logo that Kubrick placed carefully in the two food locker scenes. (A calumet is a peace pipe.) Consider the Indian motifs that decorate the hotel, and the way they serve as background in many of the key scenes. “The Shining,” is also explicitly about America’s general inability to admit the gravity of the genocide of the Indians. Its ability to “overlook” that genocide. Not only is the site of the movie called the Overlook hotel, but one of the key scenes takes place at the July 4th ball, a day significant to American history.

This is why Kubrick made a movie in which the American audience sees the Indian artifacts in every frame yet never fully grasps what the movie is truly about, to mimic American ignorance. 

The Indian culture has a mute presence in the movie, as it does in America today. At the beginning of the movie, Wendy is told, “The site is supposed to be locate on an Indian burial ground and I believe they actually had to repel a few Indian attacks as they were building it,” which does not appear in Stephen King’s novel, “The Shining.”

The first and most frequently seen of the film’s very real American ‘ghosts’ is the flooding river of blood that wells out of the elevator shaft, which presumably sinks into the Indian burial ground itself. The blood squeezes out in spite of the fact the red doors are kept firmly shut within their surrounding Indian artwork-embellished frames. We never hear this rushing blood. It is a mute nightmare. It is the blood upon which this nation, like most nations, was built, as was the Overlook Hotel.

Kubrick carefully controlled every aspect of his films’ releases, including the publicity.

The posters for “The Shining” that were used in Europe read across the top, “The wave of terror which swept across America” and, centered below that, the two words “is here.” At first glance this seemed to be a poster bragging about the film’s effect on America. But the film wasn’t out yet when the posters first appeared.

The wave of terror that swept across America was the white man.

As manager Ullman says in the opening interview, after telling Jack of the horrible murders that took place earlier in the Overlook, “It’s still hard for me to believe it actually happened here, but … it did.” The type of people who partied in the Overlook included, as Ullman tells Jack and Wendy, “four presidents, movie stars.” And when the impressed Wendy asks, “Royalty?” Ullman replies simply, “All the best people.” 

At the end of the movie, in the climactic chase in the Overlook Maze, the moral maze of America and of all mankind in which we are chased by the sins of our fathers (“Danny, I’m coming. You can’t get away. I’m right behind you”), the little boy Danny escapes by retracing his own steps (an old Indian trick) and letting the father blunder past.

The final scene, as with some of his other movies, Kubrick ends “The Shining” with a powerful visual puzzle that forces the audience to leave the theater asking, “What was that all about?” “The Shining” ends with an extremely long camera shot moving down a hallway in the Overlook, reaching eventually the central photo of 21 photos on the wall, each capturing previous good times in the hotel. At the head of the party is none other than the Jack we’ve just seen in 1980. The caption reads: “Overlook Hotel/July 4th Ball/1921.” The answer to this puzzle, which is a master key to unlocking the whole movie, is that most Americans overlook the fact that July Fourth was no ball, nor any kind of Independence Day, for native Americans; that the weak American villain of the film is the embodiment of the American men who massacred the Indians in earlier years; that Kubrick is examining and reflecting on a problem that cuts through the decades and centuries.

Kubrick is not a moralist. He’s an artist, a great one, and along with the greatest artists he is holding the mirror up to nature, not judging it. He is exploring most specifically an old question — why do humans constantly perpetrate such “inhumanity” against humans. When asked what “The Shining” is about, Kubrick has only answered, “It’s about a man who tries to kill his family.”

That family is the family of man.