When writer Jack Torrence and his family move into the Overlook Hotel as winter caretakers, what begins as an ideal job quickly descends into madness when an unknown entity compels Jack to repeat the violent events of the hotel’s dark past.
There is a powerful battle between the forces of darkness and light that is carried out over time; a battle that is ignited by the hotel’s dark past and explodes into a firestorm when the family comes to the hotel. The battle is personified by Danny, who represents the light and his father, Jack, who represents darkness.
One theory that I have about Jack Torrence is that he and the entity are one and the same. There is a moment in the film when Wendy wakens Jack after she hears him screaming in his sleep. When he wakes up, Jack tells Wendy that he had a terrible nightmare; a nightmare that reflects the tragic demise of the former caretaker’s family through Jack murdering his own wife and child. When Jack goes to room 237 to investigate his wife’s allegations that a woman had attacked their son, Danny, he encounters a woman. I believe this woman represents the entity itself because although she appears beautiful at first, when she touches Jack, her appearance transforms into a decaying corpse. When Jack is deep in his psychotic spiral, he encounters a man at the hotel named Charles Grady; the former caretaker who murdered his wife and children while he was at the Overlook Hotel. When he confronts Grady, Jack is told that he – Jack – is the caretaker of the hotel and that he always has been the caretaker. This meeting with the supposed former caretaker is the catalyst which ignites Jack’s desire to see his own family murdered. When Danny and his mother escape the hotel, leaving Jack to perish in the labyrinth outside the hotel, the audience sees a photograph of Jack dining at the Overlook Hotel. The photograph is dated July 1921, but Jack’s appearance is identical to how he looked when he was at the Overlook Hotel with his family.
Danny’s power stems from a different source altogether. When the story begins, it is established that Danny had suffered an injury at the hands of his father, and that his accident coincided with the manifestation of his imaginary friend, Tony. When Danny first comes to the Overlook Hotel, he is warned to stay away from room 237. The first time he encounters room 237, Danny has a brief flashback of two young girls, but he is reassured by Tony that the vision isn’t real. When both Danny and Jack went in they were each affected in their own way. Jack’s psyche was taken over by the entity and Danny had the opposite effect because Tony wrapped Danny up in a protective cocoon and so that Danny would be safe from the entity. When Danny and his mother are reunited, Danny calls her Mommy rather than Mrs. Torrence. This subtle shift in how Danny addresses his mother demonstrates that Tony’s personality has been suppressed and Danny’s psyche has once again been restored.
Wendy Torrence, Danny’s mother, possesses an altogether different kind of power; that of a mother’s love for her child. When we first meet Wendy, her demeanor is fragile, almost to the point of being apologetic. Although she is very much devoted to caring for her son, her courage languishes in the presence of her more powerful husband. Wendy’s power stems from her desire to protect her child. When Danny’s life is endangered by both his father and an unknown entity, Wendy’s concern for him is what compels her to vanquish her fear and fight to protect Danny from the darkness that is closing in around them; even if doing so means protecting Danny from his own father.
“The Shining” is Stanley Kubrick’s greatest masterpiece. Unlike most horror films, which rely on gore and cheap scares to elicit fear from the audience, Kubrick uses a subtle and almost elegant marriage of atmosphere, music, and a distorted interpretation of reality to draw the audience into the story and allow them to experience, in a very intimate way, everything that the family is going through. The casting for this film is stellar, but Jack Nicholson shines as Jack Torrence, making the character’s descent into insanity truly believable. I would highly recommend “The Shining” to anyone who loves horror films.