Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one of the cornerstones of the horror genre. An unfaithful adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling novel, Kubrick’s film is one of the most affecting explorations of isolation, psychosis and violence in existence. A total classic, but it wasn’t always regarded as such.
Upon release, the movie was met with a disappointing level of commercial and critical response, with Kubrick even nominated for the Golden Raspberry for Worst Director. However, as with many things that are ahead of their time, The Shining would get its due, and gradually attitudes towards it changed, with it now being hailed as one of the definitive films of all time.
Set in the Colorado Rockies, the film’s opening scene is one of the most iconic of all time. It perfectly sets the film’s tone, pairing ominous music with the long tracking shot of the Torrance’s car sliding along the quiet mountain highway. It’s atmospheric and anxious, and it has us on the edge of our seats, wondering just where the film is going.
The plot of The Shining is actually a rather straightforward one. The main character, Jack Torrance, a struggling writer, accepts the job as the caretaker of the secluded Overlook Hotel as it shuts down for five months during the winter, looking “for a change”.
Torrance’s mental state coming into the hotel is questionable, given what has happened to the family prior to the film, and the fact that he doesn’t respond naturally when the manager reveals to him that the previous caretaker, Delbert Grady, gave in to cabin fever before killing his entire family and then himself. He laughs the story off, simply claiming that his wife, Wendy, will love the story, as she is a “ghost story and horror film addict”.
Unsurprisingly, Jack gives in to the same forces that sent Grady into his murderous frenzy, and what ensues is one of the tensest games of cat and mouse that we’ve ever seen, as Jack attempts to kill his wife and son, Danny. As with most Stephen King tales though, Jack meets his end freezing to death in the hotel’s maze as Wendy and Danny manage to escape in a snowcat. Realising he’s lost on his quest for blood, Jack slumps to the ground and accepts his fate.
However, whilst it is clear that Jack died in the maze, it has always been a mystery of what actually happened to him, as this is a Stephen King story, and nothing is finite. Famously, the last shot of the film shows Jack Torrance at the front of a crowd in a photograph dated from the July 4th Ball in 1921, inferring that his spirit lives on in the Overlook Hotel.
So what actually happened to Jack at the end of The Shining? Well, we know that when he arrived at the hotel, he wasn’t in a sound mental state, as he had just lost his job, and the family are still reeling from a mysterious incident that saw him dislocate Danny’s shoulder in a drunken rage. Added to this, there’s a palpable sense that Jack holds a lot of resentment towards Wendy and Danny, leaving the empty Overlook Hotel as the perfect place for a showdown, with cabin fever and nefarious spirits pushing him to the edge.
It is implied that Jack is the perfect candidate for the evil hotel to manipulate. As witnessed in the many disturbing visions that the characters have throughout the film, the hotel has taken the souls of countless victims and held them as permanent residents of the hotel, such as Delbert Grady. He was absorbed by the ghostly advice to kill his entire family and instructs Jack to punish his own, which presumably Jack would now do for the next caretaker.
If Jack had succeeded in killing his wife and son, their souls would also have been trapped forever. He becomes an everlasting presence in The Overlook and fulfils the prophecy that Grady’s ghost tells him earlier in the film, “You are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker. I should know, sir; I’ve always been here.”
The more you think about it, the more confusing the end of The Shining becomes, as does the question of Jack Torrance’s fate. However, it is clear that Jack’s soul is now trapped in The Overlook Hotel, and if anything, this is where it always belonged.
Watch Grady give jack his prophecy below.