It’s one of the most excruciatingly analyzed films from one of the most celebrated filmmakers of all time, adapted from a story by one of our most prolific creative minds. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining features several career-defining scenes starring the most nominated male actor in the history of the Academy Awards. Here we’ll take a look at 10 things you never knew about The Shining.
Stephen King and Kubrick had just one conversation.
The Shining author says he had but one preproduction discussion with the famous director. Kubrick called him at 7 in the morning one day, asking, “I think stories of the supernatural are fundamentally optimistic, don’t you? If there are ghosts then that means we survive death.” King asked how hell would fit in with that notion. After a long pause, the filmmaker said, “I don’t believe in hell.” While King disavowed the film due to Kubrick’s numerous departures from the source material, and reactions were mixed when the film was released, history has tended to judge both the movie and King’s original novel as absolute, if distinct, masterpieces.
The Jack besides Jack.
Before Jack Nicholson was cast, Kubrick did consider other actors, including Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. (Shelly Duvall costarred with Williams in Popeye, released the same year.) King has said Kubrick also considered Harrison Ford.
The crushed red Volkswagen.
Stephen King’s novel is partly autobiographical and intended to be a sympathetic take on a writer’s descent into madness via alcoholism, which he suffered with, and the paranormal. Kubrick tossed out King’s screenplay and co-wrote a new one, instead, a version that made Jack Torrance unlikable from the start. King felt that casting Jack Nicholson, fresh from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, tipped the character’s eventual mental breakdown to the audience from the start. He’s also said the Wendy Torrance in the movies is “one of the most misogynistic characters ever put to film. She’s basically just there to scream and be stupid. And that’s not the woman I wrote about it.” For his part, Kubrick referred to King’s writing as “weak.” In the novel, Jack drives a red Volkswagen Beetle, just like King in real life when he wrote it. Kubrick changed the color to yellow in the movie and inserted what feels like a throwaway scene where a red VW bug is seen crushed beneath an 18-wheeler. Given the filmmaker’s mythic attention to detail, most fans see this as a shot at King.
It wasn’t all cold blood between Stephen and Stanley.
As part of the deal to reacquire the rights to The Shining, Stephen King agreed to stop disparaging the film (although once the director passed in 1999, King resumed complaining occasionally). But in an interview with Michel Ciment, Stanley Kubrick praised King’s original story, noting the book “seemed to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural in such a way as to lead you to think that the supernatural would eventually be explained by the psychological: ‘Jack must be imagining these things because he’s crazy.’ This allowed you to suspend your doubt of the supernatural until you were so thoroughly into the story, you could accept it almost without noticing.” And despite everything he’s said about it, King does cameo in The Shining, as the conductor at the ballroom party.
A really haunted hotel.
The coincidentally named Stanley Hotel in Colorado inspired the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s 1977 bestseller, after he and his wife stayed in there in 1973. Paranormal enthusiasts consider it to be one of the most haunted places in America. Both Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters launched investigations into its history. Kubrick famously changed a number of things for his 1980 film adaptation, but the Stanley Hotel was used as a filming location for the more faithful 1997 miniseries.
Jack is great with an ax.
Jack Nicholson had experience as a volunteer fireman. So when it came time for Jack Torrance to chop down a door with an ax, the actor tore through the prop door too quickly. Set designers had to replace it with a real door for him to chop at instead. Thanks to both his prowess with an ax and the director’s famous penchant for multiple takes, that one scene in The Shining managed to demolish some 60 doors.
The fake news “confession.”
The excellent documentary Room 237 closely examines The Shining, taking a deep dive into various theories that have developed about the wonderfully ambiguous and hauntingly disturbing film’s possible meanings. One of these theories contends that Stanley Kubrick helped the U.S. government fake the moon landing and that The Shining works as a thinly veiled confession. The supposed evidence includes the Apollo 11 sweater worn by Danny Torrance, the prominent placement of astronaut space drink Tang in the hotel pantry, and the switch form the novel’s Room 217 to 237. What’s that got to do with it? Well, the moon is 237,000 miles from Earth. Stanely’s daughter Vivian, who made a behind-the-scenes documentary while on the set of The Shining, took to Twitter in 2016 to squash this rumor once and for all, dismissing the idea that her father would help manufacture fake news as, well, fake.
American Indian genocide.
Bill Blakemore’s article “Kubrick’s ‘Shining’ Secret: Film’s Hidden Horror Is The Murder of the Indian” was published on the Washington Post’s front page in 1987. The ABC News TV correspondent contended that “every frame, word and sound” of The Shining was about the genocide of the American Indian. The evidence for his theory includes the presence of the Calumet Baking Powder cans, the Indian motifs that decorate the hotel, and the bit about how the Overlook was built on an Indian burial ground. He went on to say that the Fourth of July party and the very name of the hotel, Overlook, were meant to symbolize how America “overlooks” the crimes committed against native people, just as audiences would overlook all of these clues.
Professor Geoffrey Cocks, who features prominently in Room 237, wrote a book called “The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History, and the Holocaust.” His reasoning is dense, delving into various color and music choices in various scenes. Danny wears a shirt with the number 42 on it; Wendy takes 42 swings at Jack with a baseball bat; Wendy and Danny watch the movie Summer of ’42; the Nazi’s grotesque Final Solution began in 1942. Whether or not Cocks is correct, Kubrick definitely tried to get a film about the holocaust made, as detailed in the documentary Unfolding the Aryan Papers. A report in the Guardian published in 2000 said Kubrick abandoned the project due to the release of Schindler’s List, having already put out Full Metal Jacket just a year after the release of Platoon. He’d long labored over The Aryan Papers and A.I., eventually made by Steven Spielberg.
There’s a sequel to The Shining.
Stephen King’s 2013 book “Doctor Sleep” follows a grownup Danny Torrance. Both of King’s real life sons became authors. His daughter, Tabitha, is a Unitarian minister.