In 1966 Stanley Kubrick had confessed to a friend once that he would like to make the world’s scariest movie, involving a series of episodes that would play upon the nightmare fears of the audience.
source: 'Love and Death in Kubrick' by Patrick Webster
There is no doubt Stanley Kubrick is one of the - if not THE - greatest filmmakers of all time. His vision and style is incomparable to any other, and will never be duplicated.
The Shining, one of his most well known films, is quite possibly his greatest. The level of detail and sub-structure to the story that is involved in the film is inconceivable. Ever the perfectionist, he labored over every minute detail imaginable, as he did on all of his films. But The Shining is different...
Anyone who knows me is aware of how much this film influences me, my work and my own films. So, I'll start off with the one fact that initially piqued my interest in The Shining's intricacies and started this whirlwind of obsession I have for this film many years ago.
1. No Electricity
To increase the feeling of the supernatural, and add to the sub-conscious eeriness of the film, Kubrick went out of the way in building the sets. So far in fact, that if you pay attention, you'll notice that nothing is plugged in throughout the entire film. He had holes drilled in some of the tables, and hollowed out the legs so any power cords could be run through them, and plugged in under the floor, below the set. Same goes for all the lamps and chandeliers. Kubrick wanted to subliminally create the feeling that the Overlook powers itself.
Well no, that's not completely true. There is one scene where you will find a plug coming out of a lamp, but I think that was just an accident. Sometimes you have to throw continuity out the window, and use the best take. Although, considering how many takes were done of the scene, and where in the film it occurs, it's possible it had some significance and was done purposely. That scene also has numerous items that move, or disappear throughout, lending to the probable purposeful nature of the plug. I won't tell you where it is though, you'll have to find it yourself!
2. Kubrick's "Method" Actors
Part of the reason Kubrick did so many takes, was his method for getting actors to open up, and become real. It's a phenomenon called Semantic Satiation which can, in turn, cause Dichotic Verbal Transformation. WTF does that mean? Basically, by repeating a word, or a phrase over and over again, it changes in your head, and becomes a simple string of sounds, losing its meaning.
Try it. Pick a word, any word, and say it 30 times in a row. Eventually, you forget you are saying the word, and you just continue phonetically. This would allow the actors to stop focusing on what they were actually saying, and deliver the lines naturally.
Here is an example of Semantic Satiation leading into DVT. Is it just me, or does it start to sound like "Wane" or "Left Lane?" Although, once I heard it shift to Left Lane, I could focus on "Flame" again on the left side.
In the case of Jack Nicholson, Kubrick would keep him going until he started hamming up the scenes, integrating crazy eyebrow movements and weird faces, getting more animated and manic as he went on. Kubrick ended up using most of those takes. I've heard the average take used of Nicholson on the film was between 13 and 15.
Kubrick decided to create real terror and anguish in Shelley Duvall, because apparently acting scared just isn't enough for him. He was rude to her many times, ignoring many of her complaints, and going out of his way to make her feel separated and isolated on set. His demeanor with Jack was very relaxed and friendly, while he would be stern and dismissive towards Duvall. It's said that he even had the hot water turned off in her room at one point, causing her to always be cold and shivering on set. How true that is, I don't know, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.
Which brings us to Danny Lloyd, who had no idea they were making aHorror film until much later in life; they told him it was a drama. He saw a heavily edited cut of the film a few years after shooting, but never saw the entire film until he was 17 years old. Kubrick wanted him to retain his innocence throughout the film, and not ham up being afraid.
In the scene where Wendy accuses Jack of hurting Danny, she picks Danny up and walks out of the room with him in her arms. It was actually a dummy in his clothing for that scene, so Danny wouldn't have to hear most of it. After his premonitions in the beginning, there's a certain level of understanding that the character has, in subconsciously knowing that all of this was supposed to occur. So while he may be afraid of his father, he kinda knew it was coming, and Kubrick didn't want him to act like a child, who would probably start running scared and screaming through the hallways.
They also didn't want to spook him too badly.
3. Do It Again
Speaking of his propensity for multiple takes, the main actors aren't the only ones who had to do things multiple times. Think about it, you always hear what the actors had to say about doing the scenes over and over again, and their complaints of how laborious it was. Well what about the steadicam operator who had to follow them around for every single take? The makeup artist who had to continue touching up their makeup for hours on end, so that take 47 matches up with take 1? The boom operator, holding the mic over their heads, for what must have felt like days? Well it doesn't end there either!
The opening sequence is one of the most well known shots in the history of film. The 2nd unit crew filmed it in Montana's Glacier Park. The crew was allowed to film, but not allowed to land, unless it was an emergency. The lens of the camera was constantly being covered by dead bugs smashing into it, so they would have to hover the helicopter a few feet off the ground in order for the cameraman to clean it. They spent a month shooting scenes of the car driving up the road, as well as various other shots which were never actually used.
There's a lot of speculation though as to how many takes it actually took to do scenes, cementing the thought that Kubrick successfully created that eerie feeling of being lost in a maze on set. It's said that they did 127 takes of Wendy walking up the stairs, swinging the bat at Jack, which supposedly holds a Guinness World Record. Although, the steadicam operator for the scene claims it was only about 30. Scatman Crothers also claims they did 160 takes of his scene with Danny in the kitchen, and 60+ takes of him lying in bed, watching TV. Apparently during one of those two scenes (also, I have heard stories for both) Scatman broke down in tears, begging Kubrick to stop the scene, and causing Nicholson to vow to never work with Kubrick again.
Shelley Duvall says Jack's scene chopping down the door to the bathroom took 3 days. Turns out, Jack Nicholson was a volunteer fireman, and actually knew how to chop down a door efficiently, so the prop door they had was too easy for him. The props department had to go out and find new doors, made with different types of wood, just so it would look as though it was difficult for him to get through. Having to clean up the set, remove the old, and re-install the new door for each take, all in all Jack chopped through over 60 doors for the scene.
There is also a story about the miniature set that was built for the scenes of the elevators bleeding. The miniature was built on a 12 foot plank of wood, about three feet wide, with the camera mounted at the end, so they could see-saw the entire mini set, without the camera moving from the shot. Kubrick supposedly changed the liquids consistency and thickness constantly, and had the moving base the miniature sat upon changed numerous times in order to get the blood to move where he wanted it to. From certain accounts, that blood was filmed for hours a day, the crew having to clean it out entirely between each take, for almost 6 months, just to get the blood to flow out properly.
Kubrick apparently had a thing for mirrors, and used them a lot in The Shining. First things first, the lake in the opening shot is called Mirror Lake, so there's that.
There are a lot of spots in the movie where he uses mirrors for a purpose. Specifically, while Shining.
I have a theory that everyone can Shine, except for Wendy. Jack shines, and sees the past, Danny shines and sees the future, Halloran shines and sees the present. Halloran even says some people can shine, and they don't even know it. Danny has his first premonition of the future when he's looking in a mirror, near the beginning of the film. Then in the end, he uses the mirror to warn his mother about the future (Redrum).
Next comes my favorite bit of the movie: whenever Jack is confronted with a ghost from the past, he is standing in front of a mirror, usually talking to the mirror. In other words, the ghosts don't actually exist. They're all in Jack's head, and he's really just talking to himself.
Kubrick uses specific camera angles to create a 2-dimensional space between the characters, hiding the separation between them. Here we see Jack looking over Gradys shoulder, into the mirror, and he continues to look into the mirror throughout the entire conversation.
Here is the reverse angle. Look at Jacks eye-line. Staring right into the mirror.
Jack sits slightly to Lloyd's right side, obviously looking into the mirror behind Lloyd. It also seems that Lloyd isn't looking at Jack either.
And of course, we all know this infamous mirror shot.
He even created the well known mirror image of the daughters. They are not supposed to be twins, as they are said to be 8 and 10 years old. But Kubrick used the imagery of the twins to continue the mirror-image theme.
So, with this theory, Danny is actually seeing the physical manifestation of Jack's Shine of the Overlook's past, whenever he sees the ghosts appearing in the hotel around him. When Jack Shines, he is bringing the past to life, which explains why he is in the photo in the final shot, because he actually was at that party, as a result of his powers.
Wendy is then caught in the middle of, essentially, a Shine War (for lack of a better term) between Danny and Jack. So she is seeing the present manifestations of everything Jack and Danny have conjured, in the hotel, as she runs around. Danny protecting his mother, and Jack driving her insane.
How does Grady let Jack out of the locked pantry though? Kubrick's answer to that was that things don't always have to make sense in a movie about ghosts.
More of the things that have been flipped from the novel to the film are:
- Jack mentions the Donner Party and cannibalism / Wendy mentions the Donner Party and cannibalism.
- Danny and the viewers see the Grady girls / Danny and the readers never see the Grady girls.
- Danny doesn’t see Tony in the movie / he does in the novel.
- Tony is inside of Danny’s body in the movie / Tony is outside of Danny in the novel.
- Dick Hallorann “Shines” and asks Danny if he wants something cold, “How'd you like some ice cream, Doc?” / Dick Hallorann “Shines” and asks Danny if he wants to go somewhere warm, “Sure you don't want to go to Florida, doc?”
For a longer, MUCH more extensive list of what was flipped from the novel to the movie, check out this link.
There are more metaphorical mirrors as well, as Kubrick literally flipped things from King's novel. The VW and Snowcat were switched from red to yellow, and yellow to red (more on that in a minute). In the novel, The Fire Hose, The Elevators and The Hedges (which have been turned from animals into a maze) come to life. In the film we have the exact opposite. They never move at all. The Elevators only open in Shine visions and we have a few quick shots of the fire hose sitting idly.
As for the hedge animals, the only time the hedges move is when Danny needs to escape, and he seemingly shifts the exit of the labyrinth, to trap Jack in there.
You never noticed that, did you? The Hedge Maze does, in fact, move.
5. Moving Set Pieces
While many people just pass these off as a continuity error, Kubrick was well known for his meticulous nature. And for someone who did as many takes as he did, you would think he could avoid continuity errors easily.
But, nonetheless, some of these can still be passed off as continuity, such as Ullman's disappearing/reappearing cigarette. Chances are, someone on set had a cigarette between takes, put it out in the ashtray, and no one noticed. But some of these can't be explained away as easily. These are the types of things that would have taken the crew lots of time and effort to accomplish, such as the moving hedge maze. It probably would have taken at least a day to move the entire entrance of the maze, to now face the entrance of the hotel. There's no way it was a mistake, and it would be an extremely tedious job, for just one single shot, that wouldn't actually make any sense if you wanted it to.
Here Wendy and Danny leave the Entrance of the hotel, and enter the maze:
Then in the end, Wendy leaves the entrance of the hotel, as Danny escapes from the maze.
Unless we're considering that Danny was capable of moving the maze, in order to escape, this exit of the maze doesn't match up. This could be the reason why Jack never finds him and freezes to death inside. As you can see, the Gift Shop Shack is no longer next to the Maze entrance, and the exit Danny has seems more like a curved hole in the wall, rather than the stylish entrance we've seen in other shots, but that could just be the snow making it seem different.
That's not all that moved around in the film...
Kubrick would move things around during production to freak out cast and crew members, and many of these moving objects ended up on camera. They're very subtle, and barely noticed. Things like coffee cups spinning around, chairs disappearing, the shower head in the Room 237 Bathtub scene disappears, and the typewriter even re-loads itself in one scene..
Another level to the moving furniture thing too, is that it always seems to occur when a character has their back turned. Almost as if the Overlook itself is moving things around when no one is looking.
6. King vs. Kubrick
Many people know that Stephen King was no fan of Kubrick's version of the story. What you probably don't know though is exactly how deep the animosity went.
It began with Kubrick refusing to read King's script treatment. Kubrick was quoted as saying he thought King's writing was "weak" and instead spent 11 weeks writing a script with screenwriter Diane Johnson.
Kubrick's version of the story flipped many aspects of King's book (more of which we'll get into later) including the automobiles. In the book, the Snowcat is Yellow, and the Torrances' VW Bug is Red. King owned a Red VW Bug, which is where it comes from. In the film, the Snowcat is Red, and the VW Bug is Yellow. While that may not seem like a big deal, near the end of the film when Halloran is driving up to the Overlook, he comes across an accident in the road, where an 18-wheeler has crushed a Red VW Bug. The scene serves no purpose whatsoever, doesn't slow down Hallorans travels, or add to the story at all. It seems to be just a jab at King by Kubrick.
King went on to call Kubrick's Shining
"A big beautiful Cadillac, with no engine."
...more car metaphors.
King hated The Shining so much, he eventually decided he was going to remake it himself. He had to go through a lengthy process to re-acquire the rights to make a film out of his own novel. Part of the agreement was that King could no longer publicly bash Kubrick's version of The Shining, and we all know how well he stuck to that promise...
7. Alternate Languages
While we have hashed out Kubrick's attention to detail already, why not one more example of just how far he'd go to make it perfect?
I'm sure you've heard that he actually had people type out all of the pages of "All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy" because he didn't want photocopies. He wanted it to look as though Jack had been sitting there for weeks, typing it out. On top of the dozens of pages that had to be typed out for this select breed of insanity, Kubrick filmed the typewriter scene numerous times, in FOUR languages. He felt the scene wouldn't be as effective in other countries if the audience was forced to rely on subtitles for something that is already written on the screen. To compound the lunacy even further, each language actually said something completely different!
Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca
(The morning has gold in its mouth)
Was du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf morgen
(Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today)
No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano
(No matter how early you get up, you can’t make the sun rise any sooner)
Un Tiens vaut mieux que deux Tu l’auras
(What you have is worth much more than what you will have)
8. The Shining: The Game
Yeah, there is actually a Shining board game! Sure, it's based on the book and not the movie, and yeah its a DIY game, but the fact that someone took the time to create this and offer it to the world is just too damn cool.
One player controls the Overlook, the other player controls the Torrances in a fight to protect Danny from the evil in the hotel! You can read up on it, and download everything you need to make your own (along with a couple of other games) here.
Adam Savage built a replica of the hedge maze in the Overlook Hotel's Lobby. I could go into detail, but I'll let Savage tell you himself:
There are many theories as to what Kubrick was trying to say with this film (as well as many of his others) and whether or not he was leaving hidden or coded messages. I think it may be true, but that’s not what interests me. I am awe-struck by his attention to detail, and I think in that lies the answer; Kubrick was bored.
Now I don’t mean he was bored, as in he had nothing better to do with his time, but I think Kubrick truly felt that traditional film-making was boring him. Kubrick once said:
“The danger connected with any multi-faceted problem is that you might pay too much attention to some of the problems to the detriment of others, but I am very conscious of this and I make sure I don't do that.”
He also felt the visual element of the film was part of the story, creating another layer to what the audience is experiencing. After Barry Lyndon, which many feel is his greatest technical achievement, he felt he had conquered traditional film making, and wanted a new challenge. He wanted to make a new kind of film that no one had seen before, and in turn, give the audiences something wholly different to experience. Kubrick created a haunting film like no other and The Shining can be watched as-is and enjoyed, as well as deconstructed and analyzed. While many film scholars and Kubrick fanatics (like myself) have been rambling for years about his genius, 35 years after the film was released, it’s becoming well known to the masses how deep the film actually goes. The documentary, Room 237, explores the possibility that he was hiding something in the film, a message of some sort, but I don’t feel that is the case.. not entirely anyway.
What makes horror different from other genres is in once specific detail: in most dramatic narratives, the characters drive the story. They make decisions, and the course of their futures change.
Take Kubricks "A Clockwork Orange" for example. (Spoiler alert, for those unlucky few who have not seen this beautiful work of cinema) Alex and his Droogs spend their time vandalizing and terrorizing the world around them. As a result, Alex finds himself in a penitentiary, eventually rehabilitated through torture, and then given his comeuppance via his previous victims. In the end, he is reverted back to his old self, seemingly to continue as he always has. Alex’s actions affected the world around him, and the world responded. In the end, the world goes on, and Alex continues to be the agent of violence and terror that he always was, with the world as his prey.
In The Shining, we have a family who is looking to get away while Jack works on his book, taking a job as caretakers of a lodge for the winter. Arriving, they realize the hotel is haunted, and are essentially fighting for their lives as it takes control of Jack, driving him to murder.
That’s what makes a horror film. The characters are placed into a situation that occurs around them, and must react to it. Their world changes, rather than them changing it. They have no control over their environment, and simply must survive. But, that’s where Kubricks’ ability as a master storyteller comes in.
The theory I agree with is that yes, he was trying to make two films; one in the narrative, and one in the visuals. The Torrances are inside this seemingly haunted hotel, Danny is psychic and the ghosts are driving Jack mad, while Wendy is torn between the need to care for her family, and her overwhelming feelings that something is wrong. Within this construct, within the visuals of the film, he told the story of a man who loses his family due to his own personal demons. They manifest themselves in the form of a haunted hotel, making them a family torn apart by unseen forces, which unbeknownst to them, they are actually in control of. Flipping the genre defining aspect of a horror film, through the ability of the “Shining.” Kubrick gave the characters control over their environment, they just don’t realize they have it.
He created a horror film, within a horror film; the horror of isolation, the horror of losing your loved ones, the horror of losing control, the horror of a family being torn apart, the horror of the past haunting you (physically and emotionally) and driving you to do unspeakable things. Their subconscious was their own tormentor. Jack and Danny dictated exactly how haunted the hotel was, they don't realize it was them doing it all along, and the audience doesn’t realize it either. It’s hidden, deep within the little details of the visual story Kubrick told. Your subconscious reacts to the images on the screen, making the film unsettling and haunting, but you don’t know why.
And that’s the new type of film that Kubrick was trying to create; A true art film that affects you on levels you are not aware of, bringing the horror into the real world around you. It’s affecting you, you don’t know it, and you don’t know how to control it.
Check out my other "Things You Didn't Know" Articles on MoviePilot.
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I am the co-owner of Mass Grave Pictures, our first feature length film Blood Slaughter Massacre is available on DVD now, and we are currently in production on our newest feature film, Theta States. On top of that I also host a bi-weekly podcast, What Lurks On Channel X.