Movie: The Shining
A great movie like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is made of practically nothing but memorable scenes, but The Shining in particular has moments instantly called to mind just by hearing the title. Many viewers immediately think of the elevator full of blood, or the terrifying twins beckoning young Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) to play with them “forever and ever and ever,” or the ghastly woman in the bathroom of Room 237. The one that really sticks like a thorn in my mind, though, is a much more quietly frightening scene shortly after Danny’s second encounter with the Grady twins outside Room 237.
It is a Monday, we are told by the intertitle, and tensions have been mounting between Jack (Jack Nicholson) and Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall). Jack is supposedly napping upstairs, so Danny is careful not to make noise as he enters the upstairs room, a common and relatable childhood fear accentuated by the eerie, ominous score, then the unsettling quick pan over to Jack sitting silently, staring blankly but fully awake, presumably listening to the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel as they speak inside his head.
Stephen King famously disliked the changes Kubrick made to his novel, complaining for one thing that Kubrick had downplayed the important theme of Jack’s struggle with alcoholism, but despite the absence of any booze (ghostly or otherwise) up to this point in the narrative, this scene perfectly captures the childhood fear of approaching the alcoholic father figure. You can practically smell the rum-sweat and feel the stubble of Jack’s cheek as he holds the hesitant, dead-eyed Danny on his lap and asks him if he’s having a good time at the Overlook.
“Dad, do you feel bad?” Danny asks with childlike innocence, unable to express the depths of his growing fears. “Do you like this hotel?” he asks after Jack assures him he’s “just tired.” Danny clearly wants to broach the subject of leaving this place he knows to be evil, but is afraid of disappointing his father, so when Jack says he loves the hotel and asks if Danny does, too, Danny reluctantly replies in the affirmative. “I want you to like it here,” Jack says, reinforcing the already considerable fear of paternal disappointment. “I wish we could stay here forever, and ever, and ever,” he continues, disturbingly echoing what the murdered Grady twins have so recently said to Danny, and foreshadowing Jack’s own ultimate fate.
The final of Danny’s three questions, “You would never hurt Mommy or me, would ya?” is answered with Jack’s growing mistrust of Wendy: “Did your mother ever say that to you? That I’d hurt you?” Of course, he has already hurt Danny in the past, breaking the child’s arm in a drunken rage that led to his current grudging sobriety. “I love you, Danny,” he insists, “and I would never do anything to hurt you,” pointedly leaving “Mommy” out of this vow. Of all the memorable and frightening scenes in this masterpiece of horror, it is the quiet menace and ominous portent in this one that scares me the most.