In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for The Shining, we look at the key shots that help us understand the film.
- Jack Nicholson – Jack Torrance
- Shelley Duvall – Wendy Torrance
- Danny Lloyd – Danny “Doc” Torrance
- Scatman Crothers – Dick Hallorann
- Barry Nelson – Stuart Ullman
- Philip Stone – Delbert Grady
- Joe Turkel – Lloyd
- Anne Jackson – Doctor
- Tony Burton – Larry Durkin
- Diane Johnson – Writer
- Stanley Kubrick – Writer and director
Key shots of The Shining
The Opening Aerial Shots
The opening sequence of The Shining features striking aerial shots of Jack’s car journeying through the vast, mountainous landscape towards the Overlook Hotel. These shots underline the hotel’s isolation and foreshadow the confinement and desolation the Torrance family will experience. The car seems minuscule against the vast wilderness, signaling the insignificance of the family compared to the enormous forces they will soon confront. This disconnect between humans and their environment emphasizes the forthcoming struggle and sets a disquieting tone for the movie.
Danny’s Encounter with the Twins
Several tracking shots follow Danny as he rides his Big Wheel through the corridors of the Overlook Hotel. These shots not only convey a sense of the hotel’s maze-like architecture, but also create a stark contrast between the innocence of childhood and the eerie, silent grandeur of the hotel. The rhythmic pattern of the wheel on the wooden floor and the carpet, alternating between silence and noise, creates a sense of anticipation and dread, hinting at the underlying chaos beneath the hotel’s surface.
Danny’s Big Wheel rides through the hotel corridors serve as a sensory journey into the heart of the Overlook Hotel’s haunting past. The most significant of these is when he rounds a corner and encounters the apparitions of the Grady twins. This is a sudden, unsettling manifestation of the hotel’s violent history, intruding upon the innocence of his childhood play. The juxtaposition of Danny’s innocent, horrified reaction with the unnerving calmness of the twins reinforces the destructive influence of the past on the present and the potential for the cycle of violence to be perpetuated in future generations (an important theme discussed in the Themes and Meaning section).
The Elevator Blood Scene
In a repeating vision, an elevator door opens to unleash a torrent of blood that floods the hotel lobby. This visually arresting shot is a haunting representation of the Overlook Hotel’s violent past. The blood symbolizes the countless unseen tragedies that have transpired within the hotel walls, its silent scream echoing the suppressed stories of horror. It’s a potent representation of the cycle of violence that permeates the hotel and encapsulates the lurking malevolence that will eventually ensnare Jack.
The gory elevator blood scene, initially perceived through Danny’s visions, acquires a profound significance when Wendy witnesses it towards the movie’s end. Her encounter with the blood flood underscores the reality of the hotel’s violent past, no longer confined to Danny’s “shine” but invading the conscious reality of other characters. It symbolizes the inevitable eruption of suppressed violence, making it clear that the hotel’s haunting legacy is not merely a figment of Danny’s imagination but a palpable threat that must be reckoned with.
One of the film’s most iconic shots is when Jack hacks through the bathroom door with an axe and sticks his face through the opening, announcing, “Here’s Johnny!” This chilling moment marks the full manifestation of Jack’s descent into madness. His use of a popular television catchphrase in such a horrifying context underscores the dichotomy between his past normalcy and his current deranged state. It also symbolically represents the complete erasure of the loving father and husband persona, replaced by the monstrous figure the hotel has manipulated him to become.
“All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy”
The shot where Wendy discovers Jack’s manuscript is a pivotal moment in The Shining. Until this point, she has been largely oblivious to Jack’s descent into madness, despite the mounting signs of his deterioration. The typewriter—an initially mundane object associated with Jack’s writing aspirations—becomes a symbol of his slipping sanity. The repeated phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” not only reflects his mental state but also the terrifying monotony of their isolation.
Thematically, this shot underlines the destructive impact of isolation and the pressure of unrealistic expectations, aka Jack’s aspiration to write a successful play. It also captures the idea of repetitive, cyclical violence, echoed in the typed pages’ monotonous repetition, suggesting Jack’s entrapment in a loop of despair and rage, induced by the haunting influence of the Overlook Hotel.
The Maze and Jack’s Frozen End
Near the climax of the film, shots capture Jack pursuing Danny through the snow-covered hedge maze. This is a chilling representation of the literal and figurative descent into madness, both Jack’s and the hotel’s. These shots mirror the labyrinthine mental and physical journey that Jack has undergone, culminating in his complete surrender to violence. It also contrasts Danny’s resourcefulness with Jack’s chaotic fury, emphasizing the child’s successful navigation through the inherited cycle of violence.
The maze, both as a physical structure and a psychological symbol, plays a pivotal role in The Shining. The climax within the maze is a literal and metaphorical hunt, with Jack, lost in his insanity, attempting to kill Danny. But it’s Danny who successfully navigates the maze, using his footsteps to mislead Jack, thereby escaping the cycle of violence. Jack’s final frozen image in the snow, lost and defeated within the labyrinth, underscores the destructive consequence of succumbing to the inherited cycle of violence.
The Final Photo
The closing shot of The Shining features a black and white photograph from a 1921 Overlook Hotel party, with Jack prominently in the center (the significance of this is further discussed in the Ending Explained section). This enigmatic image captures the cyclical nature of the hotel’s violence and suggests that Jack has become a part of its grim history. The photo signifies that Jack is now trapped in the hotel’s past, his descent into madness and ultimate demise a repetition of the hotel’s violent legacy.
The decision to end here serves as a haunting reflection of the hotel’s power to ensnare and destroy, suggesting that the violent past will always find a way to repeat itself. It also leaves us questioning the fate of Wendy and Danny, hinting at the enduring struggle they might face, thereby extending the theme of confronting historical violence beyond the film’s immediate narrative. It’s a potent reminder that breaking free from a violent past requires more than just physical escape; it demands a constant, conscious effort to prevent the repetition of inherited patterns of harm.
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