Archive for August, 2011

‘The Shining’ at Coolidge Corner

It’s a film all about time and space. With that opening line, you’d think I would be talking about “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “The Fountain” or even “Back to the Future.” But in fact, I’m writing about another Stanley Kubrick classic, “The Shining.”

I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times and each screening gives me a new perspective on it. This time out, I had the pleasure of  viewing it at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. Taking in any vintage movie at this iconic theater just outside Boston is always an experience that’s tough to beat. They take care in showing films audiences can appreciate and often give people a unique way to see those movies. I mean where else are you going to sit in a gothic designed theater watching a 31-year-old film with a sold-out and cheering crowd? It’s a cinephile’s playground and I applaud the Coolidge for everything they bring to the community.

But back to business at the Overlook Hotel. At first blush, “The Shining” is simply an adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling novel about a recovering alcoholic that takes a job as the winter caretaker of a potentially haunted hotel in the mountains of Colorado. It’s a well-orchestrated horror film that has several scares and creative camera shots. Certainly enough ammo to make it a cult classic. But look below the surface and you may find there’s much more here than King’s book about a man’s familial struggle.

The film is filled with inconsistencies. Many could be chalked up to careless movie making. And for the first few viewings, I believed that to be true. However, this is Stanley Kubrick. One of the most meticulous directors of all-time. The apparent “mistakes” are so many, that I find it hard to believe that such a heralded filmmaker could succumb to these obvious errors. Instead, I now believe they are all there on purpose.

Let’s start with the physical hotel itself. Looking at the exterior, many have complained there is no way what is shown as the interior could possibly exist. Especially the main room, prominently featured in the movie. From the inside, it has giant windows, but outside no such windows are visible. For whatever reason, this was definitely done on purpose. Kubrick has been quoted as saying he wanted the entire hotel to look different, like a mish-mash of hotels around the country. And what about the hedge maze? It’s nearly a character in the film, yet it’s absent from several exterior shots of the Overlook. Obviously, this could be explained away with an easy argument. A real hotel (the Timberline Lodge in Oregon) was used for those outdoor shots and that did not have a hedge maze. But would it have been so hard to shoot a maze miniature and composite it in to those sparse frames? I’m guessing not.

And the confusing hypocrisy does not end there. At the beginning of the movie, Jack meets with Mr. Ullman in the office area of the hotel. Mr. Ullman tells Jack the story of “Charles Grady” a former caretaker who kills his wife, two girls and himself. However, as Jack descends into madness, he meets up with Grady during a ballroom party at an unknown time or date. It’s seemingly the hotel showing off its “Shine”, but could Jack have actually crossed into a different time? At any rate, Grady dumps drinks on Jack and is forced to clean him up in the men’s room. During this conversation, Grady calls himself “Delbert Grady” not “Charles Grady.” Mistake? I don’t think so.

The timeline blurs further when you consider the “Rashomon” storytelling of the day Jack injured Danny’s arm while he was drunk. When the doctor visits their home at the beginning of the film, Wendy tells the doctor Jack did not have a drink since he hurt Danny five months ago. But later, Jack tells the bartender Lloyd, he has not had a drink in five months. A month after he’d been taking care of the hotel. Minutes later, Jack tells Lloyd he injured Danny three years ago, which would mean he’d been without alcohol for three years, not five months. Again, a horrible error, Jack making his situation seem worse than it was or time inconsistencies that show the hotel shifting through the decades?

Still not buying what I’m selling? How about this? At the very end, where we see Jack’s smiling face in the Fourth of July ballroom photo from 1921. We hear “Midnight, the Stars, and You.” The same song played during the ballroom scene earlier. But that song was not recorded until 1932, eleven years after that scene apparently takes place.

And can we discuss a deleted scene that ended up on the cutting room floor a week after the film was initially released? It took place at the hospital just after the shot of Jack’s frozen face next to the hedge maze. Wendy is in a bed talking with Mr. Ullman. He explains that her husband’s body could not be found and then gives Danny a yellow tennis ball, the same one that lured Danny into room 237. If his body was never found, where was it? Absorbed by the hotel? Sure, that’s the conventional view. Or did the hotel time shift again? Reverting back to a time when Jack was the good caretaker and not embodied as the wife/son killing man frozen in the snow.

So, my hypothesis is simple. The hotel is not only a place of evil, but a place that is constantly shifting throughout its history. Ghosts aren’t really ghosts, but beings popping up in a different time. And not reacting kindly to seeing others infiltrate their territory. Perhaps Jack gets stuck in the wrong year and his family is not really his family at all. After all, he’s always been the caretaker at The Overlook hotel, just like Grady (Delbert or Charles) has always been a butler. Maybe, that’s why Jack never really seems to remember when he hurt Danny, or concentrate on what he’s supposed to be doing. It’s certainly not to write a novel. But he does know one thing, he’s the caretaker.

This is just one theory. And certainly, there are cracks. But all the others have similar gaps in logic. Jack’s soul is absorbed by the hotel, much like Grady. This is the most popular and most sensible. But, was he always there? That just brings us back to time paradox and the notion of time-shifts.

One wild theory that goes along with the deleted scene I mentioned earlier. The possibility that Wendy was the insane one. She imagined all of Jack’s madness and she was the actual winter caretaker. Hence, his body never being found.

Or, Jack’s lack of alcohol, cabin fever and temper just cause him to lose it. You may notice, any time Jack talks to the ghosts, he’s looking in some sort of mirror. The real ghost lies within? A theme this past year’s “Black Swan” used very well.

And all this discussion, this excessive analysis is precisely why “The Shining” is such a great movie. Intentional or not, the contradictions, bizarre moments and head-scratchers give the audience something to argue about long after its director is gone. Was it all done with a grand blueprint in mind or just a filmmaker throwing out several questions without any real answer? Something that could leave moviegoers just as mad as Jack trapped in the mountains of Colorado with only space and time to keep them company.

posted by Seth Szilagyi in Local Cinema and have No Comments