“Women make babies, men make bombs”. My friend was in a feminism course that included this joyous little tidbit in one of her texts. Reductionist and laughable, it elicited much laughs and a little antagonism. It’s an extremely problematic statement, and outright sexist towards both men and women… and yet… I do think there is a small portion of the male population, especially white who feel a loss of entitlement. Jack Torrance seems to be one of these men, who yearns for the past, a time when men like him were the leaders, rich and in charge. Jack has strong conflict and resentment in the film against his wife, his son, and the black caretaker. The film also makes sure to highlight (however briefly) that the hotel was built on an Indian burial ground, bringing back the past and further highlighting Jack as an oppressor. Though clearly a fantastic element has a play, as I see it, the catalyst for Jack’s madness is his inability to write… or “create”. Coming back to the original statement, this spurs his desire to destruct. His resentment and anger to a world that neither acknowledges what he should have, but also spurns his efforts, boils into violence, and he sets out to destroy his family. He wants to destroy them, because he sees it as his birthright to control his wife and son.
The film’s horror emerges through Jack’s frustration, and his family attempting to cope and escape from his controlled destruction. The setting encloses them in a hotel, cutting them off from the world. A terrible tragedy happened in this hotel, and somehow the boundaries between time and space bend, and they bleed into the present. Danny, Jack’s son, has the “shining” which allows him to have “special powers” that allow him to communicate with others with the gift, as well as having the ability to peer into the past and into the future. At first, it’s only through him that we are able to feel the unease in the hotel. Flashes of the past, in graphic and disturbing detail. During these sequences, Kubrick uses extensive wide angle lenses… slightly distorting the image. If you look closely at the edges of the screen, you’ll notice that the lines bend slightly outward. Without really paying attention, it’s difficult to miss, but this variation on what we perceive as reality adds to the unsettling atmosphere.
Much of what makes the film’s horror so effective, are touches like this, and the overall dream-like atmosphere. It’s very much like a waking nightmare, channelling that sort of distorted perception of the world. The flashes of violence and blood, the repetition of images, and constant reinforcement of mazes. One of the most common motifs in surrealist art, which borrows greatly on dreams (Dali reportedly ate cheese that lied in the sun all day to make his dreams more interesting), was long corridors filled with doors. There was this idea that anything could lie behind each door, and they were never-ending. It was a labyrinth in the mind, and it created a complete sense of unease. It’s actually quite interesting, as one idea that was explored thoroughly in the surrealist movement was “masculine anxiety”. It’s ripe with phallic symbolism, and sexual discomfort. Yes, tangent, but it plays into Jack’s frustration with his lack of control as a white male.
I’ve run out of steam.