Film Analysis

The Shining 


Director: Stanley Kubrick

Story by: Stephen King

 Screenplay by: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson


Jack Nicholson……………… Jack Torrance

Shelley Duvall……………….Wendy Torrance

Danny Lloyd…………………Danny Torrance

Scatman Crothers…………….Dick Hallorann

Barry Nelson…………………Stuart Ullman

Philip Stone………………….Delbert Grady

Joe Turkel……………………Lloyd (the Bartender)

Release Date: June 13th, 1980

Plot overview:

The Shining, written by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson (paranormal specialist) is a much more chilling adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel. Kubrick moved from the conventions of traditional horror film thrillers, displacing them with his own much more subtle rich, symbolic, motifs ( From The Shining DVD cover—In a signature role Jack Nicholson (“Heeeeere’s Johnny!”) plays Jack Torrance, who’s come to the elegant, isolated Overlook Hotel as off-season caretaker with his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd). Jack has never been there before—or has he? The answer lies in a ghostly time warp of madness and murder (5). From Internet Movie Database—Jack is a former teacher and recovering alcoholic who interviews for a caretaker job at the Overlook Hotel in an effort to rebuild his life after his volatile temper lost him a teaching position. While interviewing, the manager himself tells Jack that the previous caretaker – Delbert Grady, murdered his family and later killed himself with a shotgun. Given his own desperation and the opportunity to pursue his writing, Jack acknowledges the warning, but accepts the job. During their stay strange things occur when Jack's son Danny sees gruesome images of room 237 and the Overlook’s past powered by a force called "The Shining" (4). The winter’s isolation along with Jack’s sudden inability to write causes his mental health to deteriorate rapidly. Embraced by the warmth of ghosts, Jack is convinced by Delbert Grady to murder his wife and child in the same fashion as he once did.

Character Analysis:

            Jack Torrance is a tragic character; haunted by not only ghosts, but his own demons as well. On the surface Jack is an apparently normal person seeking peace and quiet, and a place to write his book, but a closer examination reveals a dark past of alcoholism and abuse. In Tim Dirks analysis of The Shining he writes—Kubrick explores the dimensions of the horror genre to create this classic tale of a man going mad due to many factors (3). Jack is a man disenchanted by success and constantly reminded of his failures. He feels deserving of success, and resents his wife (Wendy) and son (Danny) for his shortcomings.  Unable to find work as a writer Jack takes the position as caretaker of the Overlook, and it is here that both Jack’s madness, and the Overlook’s past ultimately consume him.  

We first meet Jack upon arriving at the Overlook Hotel for his interview. It’s during this important sequence that we first learn of the preceding caretaker’s gruesome murders. Directly following that scene Wendy confesses to Jack’s abusive past while speaking to Danny’s doctor. Wendy is depicted in the film as the stereotypical passive, tolerant, and weak mother figure. In Frank Manchel’s article he quotes Mr. Kubrick saying, “She seemed to be exactly the kind of woman that would marry Jack and be stuck with him.” (4) Danny, on the other hand is shy, and timid, but incredibly talented. He is quite aware of his abilities, unlike Jack, who either doesn’t know of his power or chooses not to believe it. This illusion of a happy middle class family disintegrates shortly after they begin their stay at the Overlook. What Jack thought would be the ideal setting to start fresh ends up being his own personal hell.

It doesn’t take long for Jack to settle in, even mentioning to Wendy that it was like he had been there before, but as the weather grows colder, so does Jack’s attitude toward his family. In the bleak isolation of winter even a place as big as the Overlook can turn claustrophobic. Jack grows distant, overcome with writer’s block and unable to concentrate. The pressure to fulfill his responsibilities as caretaker along with his family’s constant need for attention cause his frustrations to increase. His inability to escape the life he resents causes his sanity to deteriorate rapidly. In the article “What About Jack? Another Perspective on Family Relationships in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining,” Manchel writes—no one alleviates Jack’s guilt for his abusive past. Neither his wife nor his child appears ready to forgive him for his mistakes (4). Feelings of alienation, inadequacy, and discontentment are ultimately what drive Jack to embrace the warmth of ghosts.

            Jacks disillusionment and escalating detachment from reality is evident in his writing. Now, suddenly it seems as though Jack’s inability to write has been lifted. He is seen typing furiously at his desk with a strange focus; the typewriter’s keys slam violently against the page.  It isn’t until Wendy’s chilling discovery of Jack’s manuscript that we see what he has been keeping secret. The entire accumulation of his writing contains one disturbing sentence repeated over and over, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Tim Dirks writes in his Analysis of The Shining—To her horror as she realizes her husband is truly insane, his endlessly repeating typographical configurations, all permutations and variations of the same sentence, are found on reams and reams of paper. They reveal the self-deception of Jack's bankrupt, chauvinistic mind and spirit in his insipid script. Jack's mental vulnerabilities and failings (as a writer and breadwinner for the family, due to alcohol abuse) have been uncovered and he reacts with a mixture of disgrace, embarrassment, possession, and projected rage (3).

            There has been continuous debate regarding the Overlook Hotel, the infamous room 237, and whether these ghosts are real or simply violent manifestations of Jack’s madness. Much of the answers have been left to audience speculation. Greg Smith makes the insertion in his article that ghosts are very real—capable of driving men mad, and that the most dangerous ghosts of all are the myths of success (7). Perhaps, these apparitions saw Jack as an easy candidate to manipulate because of his violent past; another interpretation could be that Jack is simply a victim of his own insanity. Jack comes into contact with three ghosts during his time at the hotel: Lloyd the bartender, Delbert Grady the previous caretaker, and the woman in room 237—all of whom could have been considered representations of his own psyche. Each time Jack is present with a ghost, a mirror is positioned directly across from him; this may be suggesting that Jack is in fact looking into his own violent self.

A nightmarish musical score and dreamlike camera sequences accompany Jack’s descent into madness. The musical score can be considered the element that gives each scene its own personality. From the opening sequence to the most chilling final moments, we are kept very aware of the impending horror. Ominous horn music and sounds of animals cue us to the inhuman danger that lie ahead ( The melodic picking of string instruments and rapid scale changes express Jack’s detachment from reality. Graceful tracking shots and lush photographic images clash with the disturbing synthesized track. A slow dissolve is used between shots to convey Jack’s inability to distinguish his hallucinations from reality. In addition, the camera represents a voyeuristic entity that watches over the Torrance family. The seamless mix of characterization, cinematography, and sound are what make this film truly horrifying.


Jack Torrance is a sad figure dominated by powers greater than his self, a character more deserving of our pity than our contempt. His role as suffering writer, overworked husband and father, and recovering alcoholic ultimately took its toll on Jack. Unfortunately, Jack was doomed before he even stepped inside the Overlook Hotel. His tenure as an off-season caretaker of an isolated luxurious hotel not only destroys his self-esteem, but also turns him into a primal beast.  Jack is a victim of his own anger brought on by a dream of success. Unable to cope with life’s harsh realities Jack finds comfort in the desolate isolation of the Overlook Hotel. The Shining is considered by many critics to be as epic and thought provoking, as it is terrifying. Although, this film is thought to be a classic work of fiction the various themes explored throughout are very real.  One could argue that ghosts do exist, but not as they're depicted in this film. When people like Jack Torrance become discontent with life or disollusioned by their perceived lack of success, it's not the embodiment of ghosts that eventually drives them insane. In reality, their haunted by the manifestion of their own failed achievements and the inability to accept responsiblity for themselves.


1) Ager, Rob. “An In-Depth Analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.” Collative Learning. N.p., 7 Jan. 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <‌index.html>.

2) Dialga. “The Shining 1980 (Stanley Kubrick) Analysis.” Cinemarolling. Triond, 19 Nov. 2008. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <>.

3) Dirks, Tim. “The Shining Synopsis.” AMC Filmsite. AMC, 10 Feb. 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <‌shin.html>.

4) Internet Movie Database ( entry at


5) Manchel, Frank. “What About Jack? Another Perspective On Family Relationships in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.” Literature Film Quarterly 23.1 (1995): 68-78. The Film and Television Literature Index. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <‌login?URL=‌login.aspx?direct=true&db=fah&AN=9505094204&site=ehost-live>.

6) The Shining. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. 1980. Warner Brothers, 2007. DVD.

7) “The Shining (1980).” Wikipedia. N.p., 11 Feb. 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <‌wiki/‌The_Shining_(film)>.

8) Smith, Greg. “’Real Horrorshow’: The Juxtaposition of Subtext, Satire, and Audience Implication in Stanley Kubirck’s, The Shining.” Literature Film Quarterly 25.4 (1997): 300-306. The Film & Television Literature Index. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <‌login?URL=‌login.aspx?direct=true&db=fah&AN=121839&site=ehost-live>.

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