A concise intro to this essay is the commentary track I recorded for Room 237's Blu-Ray and DVD.
Your language is dying. It's not in the ground yet, but the warning signs of old age are here and here to stay. If your language uses an alphabet, it's ready for retirement. The signs are everywhere. Signs like declining literacy, ebbing grammar skills, shrinking comprehension levels and slowing book sales. All during the rise of the personal computer. Everyone of a certain class has an electronic keyboard, but the population is losing interest in the finer points of text-use. It's even straining the storage capabilities of our species, with endless text data, and search variables that make it a mess to sift through. But don't worry, another one is coming. A language that will be global in nature, one that reverses the occidental Tower of Babel prophecy-myth from many languages to one. How do I know this? I watch movies, where anyone can spot an ascendant language at its beginnings, made from visuals in motion. It's coming right out of the celluloid (and now pixel). And I can already see that a visual language compresses much more data much more simply and reaches across far more borders than any alphabetical system ever could. Think about all the innovations in information the computer age has brought to us, language is merely the next stage of technology's reach. Want to take a peek at the coming language revolution? All you have to do is peer closely inside game-changing blockbuster films, where gestures begun in silent film have developed into a universal system. A system designed to reach as many eyes as possible, generating repeated viewings for as long as possible. At its beginning, filmmakers like D.W. Griffith knew it, so did Soviet directors Eisenstein and Pudovkin. All three wrote about the potential for film to revolutionize language by creating one all its own. They knew, and now, so do you. [Eisenstein Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram 1929]
To raise the curtain further: Film and soon videogame are emerging, next-generation, structural, motion-based languages that access the human brain, if only rudimentarily at this stage. It operates unlike any spoken or written alphabetical-text-language. Consider the amount of tears shed collectively in the dark for Gone With The Wind, as an emotional experience it compresses days of reading into a few hours. Storytelling primarily through images not words. Obviously using eyes and ears differently than reading or hearing text, film forces the brain to develop distinctly different memories than text since its data is received in flowing, ideally uninterrupted motion. Film also has an advantage in how it is shared collectively. The medium entrances audiences to remain rapt as it directly employs, accesses and mutates visual forms guided by voice and gesture, augmented by music. Archetypes, symbols, metaphors, all in their expressively visual forms, advancing inter-culturally through a manner purely oral or textual media encrypted onto pages or into voice by alphabets cannot. Film's advantages over oral-performance and written, text-based storytelling are perhaps elemental, affecting memories no alphabetical encryption can achieve. We may soon discover corollaries with brain structures, maybe even biogenetic structural guidance inherently coded to archetypes and their relations in symbols and visual metaphors. Some pretty basic examples: lightning to neuron firing, the glint of gold referring to the abstract concept of knowledge. Your brain on movies. Few directors are conscious of the vast potential lurking in the dark, yet the film-narrative as an art form unmistakably, knowingly employs these metaphors and symbols. They're arrayed somewhat unconsciously, somewhat collectively, sometimes hierarchically. The 20th century convergence of the hero's epic-narrative from printed or oral-text to motion-visual is a revolution only a century old and is the beginning of a global narrative language that has only just begun.
- from the introduction of Physical Cosmologies of the Blockbuster, a forthcoming book from Duke University Press's Experimental Futures series.
"There's something inherently wrong with the human personality," he says. "There's an evil side to it. One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious: we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly. Also, ghost stories appeal to our craving for immortality. If you can be afraid of a ghost, then you have to believe that a ghost may exist. And if a ghost exists, then oblivion might not be the end."
Stanley Kubrick, Newsweek 1980
A few years ago I had pieced these notes together for research for a game we built for CBS and in the aftermath, placed them online in pretty rough shape. My good friend, a Mayan archeologist-anthropologist, provocatively sent me an email regarding The Shining's end date, July 4, 1921. In his note, he detailed a reference he found in a book of folklore. A chance bolt of lightning had struck on that date a monument to Chief Cornstalk of the Shawnee. It, being the second time the monument was struck by lightning, had become the date of the infamous Curse of Chief Cornstalk, and from then had entered the folklore of the Ohio Valley (a considerable feat of Kubrick's is the mirroring of this lightning flash with the ending image's flash; for the full story, read this essay to its end). I was skeptical but inquisitive: "How could-would have Kubrick knowingly plucked this dated factoid to end his grandest film?" His answer was sharp: "I'm an archeologist, do you know the chance an exact date referencing a supernatural occurence associated with a dead Amerindian chief is a coincidence in a film littered with Native references? It's nil. Didn't you tell me the film is filled with doubles and mirrors?" And so I immediately sent him screen-shots from the film of what I thought looked like Mesoamerican logographs and he replied: "Yes, these are IK and K'AN symbols. Good work! No one has ever found these before! Now, don't you see? This is all reference material. Kubrick was like a master professor in something that you're going to dislodge and unearth. I'll cite the proof." And so the organization of these notes began...
The Shining might be the most complex film ever made. The Shining isn't a film about any one theme. It's composed of many. Isolating any of them dilutes Kubrick's intent. Seeing how they thread and overlap is key to understanding its complexities. All themes merge. Native American vs. Manifest Destiny, mirroring vs. doubling, linear vs. continuum, supernatural vs. natural, text vs. visual, text vs. spoken word, fable vs. myth, cartoon vs. realism. All focused through film's effect on the brain, neurophenomenology (or to be explicit, cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett's definition of heterophenomenology). But this is confusing. On one hand film is structural, which simply means there is an order to the storytelling: gesture, movement, word, reaction. On the other hand, there is the audience's perception of these structures, which is phenomena. A door is opened, a room is entered. While very meticulous, many of Kubrick's structures are illusions. Not just illusions of time, which are necessary for an audience to experience any movie, but illusions of space and meaning. Look deeper at his canon. Poole appears to jog towards himself as the wheel switches direction in 2001. Sideways lighting switches from stage lighting in the derelict casino battle in Clockwork. Kubrick is playing with a specific phenomena of threshold. It emerges in full blast in The Shining, as 'things' like doors or windows seem correct but aren't possible. Space distorts around key locations, with corresponding, meaningful mirrors of each arrayed throughout. Kubrick directs rigorously to ensure we never see these illusions and mirrors (or doubles) easily. He keeps his frames carefully aligned. He adheres to both subliminal and liminal horizons and focuses attention to light qualities. He even carefully navigates colors, shades and patterns. Why? Well if you keep the view very stable, you lull an audience into thinking they're looking at a pure reality. If you manage color hue unlike almost every other color film ever made (auto-settings on cameras shift this with white balance, light outdoors is bluer, incandescent bulbs are more yellow) then the film seems even more 'real.' All of these elements are perceived somewhat unconsciously by the audience, and Kubrick knowingly may have paid attention to as many details as possible to create films that are the deepest penetrations of the brain, the sharpest, subliminal cortex impulses. This apparently stable method allows Kubrick to then play endless games with your unconscious. Not obviously. Very, very subtly. By playing a kind of cognitive game out of spatial distortion, contrasted imagery, wordplay and mirroring, while breaking certain rules of time, Kubrick jumpstarts the medium and its goals. He invents perhaps another genre and strengthens the potential for film to become a language all its own. Along the way paradoxes emerge. Our accepted, basic grammar of time in storytelling becomes in Kubrick's hands a tool or syntax that's applied in unexpected ways. You know how time works typically in film, a character says "I'll meet you at three" and then we cut to see him waiting at a train station and the clock already says "3:23." The audience is immediately anxious. Kubrick avoids these conventions and instead shows time overlapping, interweaving, both linearly and non-linearly. A simple example is the ending, which inversely ends in the past with its date: July 4, 1921. When rules like time are distorted subtly, subliminally, the audience has many more opportunities to explore the story. The film even seems to operate backwards, which means the film is a mirror of itself through time. The Shining is a film meant to be seen both forwards and backwards.
In reverse, The Shining is the most visually unifying motion-art ever conceived. Backwards it operates beyond the scale of any built, ideal, or imagined form existing inside fantasy, philosophy or reality. And yet forwards the film is a horror that shows us the hotel slowly, unceasingly absorbing a human being. Jack Torrance is pulled into the hotel's mirrors until he's finally frozen as a ghost into a black and white still. The film's poster hints at this - it's a perfect object to serve as an introduction to the film. The duo-color poster condenses the entire film into a near end-state. There's a boy in the poster and we assume it's Danny though it doesn't exactly look like him. Compare it to another Kubrick film. The boy bears more than a passing resemblance to the Starchild of 2001. Looking at both posters below, can you decide which he more looks like? Kubrick wants us to see both Danny and the Starchild inside The Shining's poster. As you'll slowly discover below, he mirrors every gesture in 2001 within The Shining. Now use it as a mirror. The Starchild ends its film in the space above the Earth at a grand scale and this yellowed child ends its film small and flattened, opposite states. An even subtler meaning emerges. Danny/Starchild appears to be behind the wall of wherever the poster is hung. He's on the verge of being flattened into a photograph, which is the key horror of the film. A ghost inside a wall. Now to give you an idea how complex the film is, there's another meaning built into the poster.
Above: The ik windows of Palenque, a lost city set, like The Overlook, in the mountains. Ik, a Maya T-shaped logograph, means 'breath, wind'; coupled here with sunlight it advances symbolic meanings. The film's poster slyly references both sunlight and breath (color and open mouth). Both poster and Palenque T-shaped openings are proportionally equal. Openings are in House E, Palenque's Throne Room named in Mayan "White House." Palenque's seat of power was an an entirely white building, the only one of its kind in the city (everything else was ornately colored). House E was covered in highly polished white stucco which effectively reflected all light. Poster hints the view is from this Mesoamerican throne room, bathed in sunlight. Below: Another Mesoamerican logograph that appears in the film is K'an. It means "yellow" and subtly references the color of the poster without using any pure yellow in its design. Its use in the room is explained a little below and in more detail in part two.
While the poster's ghostly being operates as a double, or a mirror depending on how we perceive it, so does the very text that announces the film. Here Kubrick's maddeningly dense storytelling abilities come into view, he orchestrates another double meaning, instead now through the text. Though hard to believe, this T-form, while ably fulfilling its role as the first letter of "THE," also unmistakably references a Mayan logograph. The poster's T, as a logogram is the day sign IK equal to our Monday in Maya, the first day of the Maya's calendar and "MONDAY" (which comes from 'moon-day') will later be spelled for us as an intertitle. Specifically it's also a window shape that can only be found at the Mayan city of Palenque. Kubrick borrows the window's exact dimensions, and shows precisely how it would be used to frame a face. The window is both small to fit eyes and mouth and is placed at medium height, precisely how it appears in the poster. In contrast to The Shining's endlessly false windows, this is a real window in a real place. Statistically, the coincidence of its framing ratio is impossible. While it may be impossible for you to believe, let alone comprehend a reason for the integration, in a footnote written for the forthcoming book, a Mayan anthropologist will verify Kubrick's use of these Mayan forms. Now you may ask, why is proving Kubrick's use important? Because Kubrick is exploring uncharted waters both in language and film storytelling. He's playing with tools of language, previously used in other much more stable contexts, and overlapping their properties and meanings. While we live in an increasingly "meta" age where movies seem to be merging, blending into one mediocrity after another (singularity), these tools indicate Kubrick was venturing in an opposite direction. Deeper into the shroud of film reality. Kubrick's films may even be an all together separate medium from films.
Normally, a symbol so cleverly buried would go unnoticed, but as the film unravels, another Mayan symbol appears that Kubrick reuses much like the IK. The K'AN symbol, seen repeating in the Gold Ballroom's carpeting, is a logograph of the word for the color yellow. Clearly this is a sly reference to the name of the room; gold=yellow. Both symbols add layers of meaning to the film, even indirectly explain each other's presence, as well as reference supernatural occurrences later in the film. Both symbols are only to be found in the Americas. Likewise, Kubrick, who designed his films' release campaigns adroitly, used this poster only for the American release. For all other territories he used Jack's face menacing Wendy. Of course the poster is only the beginning. If we can extrapolate all of these relatable meanings from merely the film's poster, then what awaits you in the film is a deluge of buried treasures.
Within what seems to be a streamlined, dulled version of Stephen King's masterly pulp novel, Kubrick has built for us a massive and alive mysterium. A ghost story without vaporous, glowing undead or sliding chairs. Far ahead of his time, he carefully planned an unusually intricate series of continuity and orientation brain-teasers in plain sight. To conjure the supernatural, the teasers go by so quickly the audience rarely notices even one of them. And even more importantly, the teasers both have meaning and create meaning connecting to other occurrences. In his arsenal of tools, Kubrick uses symbols, signs, archetypes, gestures, rituals and metaphors. Collapsing historically dizzying human moralities and cosmologies developed over thousands of years through visual forms (examples: border control through maps, order control through mazes), Kubrick scatters them, then contrasts and flows them with well planned, abnormal spatiodynamics. "Special effects" through intentional continuity errors, shifting props or false windows. The audience plays its role through memory and perception. What do you remember about The Shining? Kubrick is pushing all of these hidden meanings into your head without letting you become too aware of them. Framings, colors and patterns merge and blend as animations within viewers' unconscious. He shows us two similar forms and our mind merges them. There are even two distinct hotels in the film. The simulacrum where the film is set has two sides bridged by many mirrors, not all of which are the reflective kind.
How do we decrypt The Shining? By reverse engineering it. By peering into its structure. Pulling apart aspects of its tools and forms that refer to one another, one can see roughly what Kubrick was aiming for. It's actually a pretty simple formula. The structure is largely false and it fools the audience, manufacturing a type of subliminal phenomena. And why would he do this? Again, it's simple. By making you think something is real while showing you it's fake, he gets to play with the idea of meaning in your unconscious. Where language begins, or is stored. Once neurophenomenologically decrypted, The Shining can be seen as a beginning to a new form of post-Western visual guidance. Perhaps even a new facet of language. One day these 'simple' teasers may be magnified inside blockbuster films and videogames that access the brain even more directly. Kubrick, a thinker's magician, is trying to teach the audience without any of us becoming aware of either lesson or method. If it is a primer for an entirely next-stage visual language, then it's accessed through a complex key in brain science: paradox. Once we start to take apart how the dialogue is used, you'll come to realize the film is a careful satire, and in darker ways a refutation of how we share and store knowledge through Indo-European text. The spoken English in the film is loaded with unusually nuanced visual and verbal paradoxes that escalate scene by scene. There is terror in the dialogue. The spoken horror of The Shining is, like the visuals, revealed in confabulation, nursery simplification, deception, broadcast in a variety of technologies (phone and radio) and qualities (like sarcasm and pure rage) - critical components to the dread laced in the flickering visuals that drive the film to its end. The only clear communication of the entire film is wordless - the shining Danny sends to Halloran that calls for his help. It's an essentially silent film within the film. As an alternate to its spoken plot, Kubrick laces visual forms throughout from indigenous American cultures (some that employed complex spoken languages without written form/alphabets, like the Navajo). From a nearly decimated past, it effectively augments even bypasses western systems of description by very subtly alerting us to their alternate visuals, motifs and even parts of their narratives and rituals. Perhaps an evolutionary tweak that doesn't or won't go away, The Shining, cooly and mildly reviewed upon release ("when I first saw The Shining I didn't love it but it has since become one of my favorites..." - Steven Spielberg) has evolved into a kind of cult film to adherents, could be the initialization of a movement to shift our tools en masse.
Do we as a species undervalue entertainment while it is unwittingly evolutionary? Obvious to some, film and videogame represent a giant leap into the next stage of our languages (and into consciousness); perplexingly they remain ghettoized in market exploitation. And then there's our collective understanding of motion-media. Why is it explored merely as an aspect of psychology or sociology by academia when motion-media is revolutionary beyond systems of study now in place? Why is visual culture only a fraction of what is offered to children in education? Children must attain a strong connection to motion-based experiences on their own accord, richly stylized now in multiple dimensions, in mostly commercial atmospheres? Crucially The Shining is about a boy's journey. Its most powerful thematic message is that adults cannot 'read' the hotel. They cannot comprehend its danger, thus are at its mercy while Danny fluidly navigates it, guided by its visuals, flirting with death until he traps his father in its other side. He plays the hotel.
"You can start with a game plan but depending on where the ball bounces and where the other side happens to be, opportunities and problems arise which can only be effectively dealt with at that very moment." Stanley Kubrick 1987
A landscape of mountains is mirrored into a nearly still lake. What appears for a split second as still is actually in motion. We are traveling at high speed, flying. An island first shown centered passes to camera left. The Navajo, one of two tribes mentioned in the film, identify our earthly plane as the Fifth Realm. Kubrick seems to comply by opening his film with an image from the beginning of the Navajo's origin myth, as it crosses onto Earth: "He had gotten through to the upper world, and came out on a little island in the center of a lake." [Navaho Legends Matthews 1897]. The island proves what plane of existence we inhabit and viewed in reverse, we see this plane we are leaving behind to enter perfection, symmetry. An image focuses right as the camera looks towards the sedimentary mountain, it forms an arrowhead-shape in the mirroring lake. In a film littered with both Native American and European derived visual forms (rugs, wall hangings, furniture, chevrons, diamonds) Kubrick immediately hints at a geologic/natural source for native cosmological shape-forms and their colors that appear throughout. These colors and forms duplicate in the Lobby's floor then the Colorado Lounge walls and onward. He is suggesting if a religion/myth/spirituality engages forms and colors from the land - the arrows that are seen here become the patterns of Navajo art - then it may be suffused with powers beyond our view. Does this form-transform have an endpoint?
Chosen not for its proximity to Colorado where the film is set, this opening image of St. Mary Lake (Glacier National Park, Montana) showcases two essential native cosmological structures seen from right angles to one another. Link shows how easy this was to scout: St. Mary Lake is where spirits of the Blackfoot underworld are said to sleep and is bordered in the opening shot by 'Gunsight' Mountain seen directly ahead arrayed with four mythic mountains left of center frame. The west's conquerors call this mountain range Rockies, but the tribes that surrounded these monumental peaks had another name they shared: "The Shining Mountains" [Journals of Lewis and Clark 1906]. The island that passes to our left, mirrored, appears floating and behaves visually like the spaceships of 2001. Likewise it appears to be moving by itself, magically enacting a passage between upper and lower worlds. In effect, you are watching the first motion-image of Navajo and Blackfoot cosmology, a stunning evolvement of the landscape traveling in 2001 grafted into a mythical viewpoint. The lower half is where Jack will be trapped eventually. Presently he inhabits both upper and lower. Tracking right (and as a movement it is meant to be instructive, teaching the audience the film is made of right-angles). The right-pan is revealing as well, it exhibits an arrowhead shape in the mirror pointing left aimed directly under the upwardly aimed Gunsight Mountain. Cut and we are now looking down, upon a road. This parallel path to the lake is a real road: ‘Going-to-the-Sun’ Road, another central cosmological pathway in Blackfoot tribal mythology. Located directly at the continental divide in Glacier National Park, the road’s construction/destruction was begun in 1921, the year the film ends, so in a subtle manipulation, the road begins in 1921 as well as the photograph that ends the film in a flash: a buried nod to continuum.
Looking down: The view is an overlook, giving the audience the idea of an overlook before they enter a place named it. The film ends with an overlook, the ending still is taken from a balcony or a ladder down at an audience. The single arrowhead form we just panned to is now multiplied out of trees pointing upwards. A Yellow VW Beetle travels this road, followed by our view, an unseen spirit. Beetle is symmetric, both front and back are the same, from afar it looks as if it could be traveling forward or backwards, following a double yellow line. Color and form hide the unusually apt name: Beetle. Metaphorically, at this height, we are inhumanly scaled in awareness. The Beetle is bug-sized in our optics as if we are giants, mimicing a scale we think is offered to Jack as he gazes at his family within the maze later, or the scale at which Danny plays with his cars. Kubrick offers us the most ambitious POV of the film here, Tony’s/Danny’s, a double/mirror like the Danny/Starchild double whose image appears in the film's poster. The reborn Starchild's source is Dave Bowman in 2001.
Mountain is the destination of this road: a physical dead end. A metaphysical doorway.
The road and car repeatedly near the center of the frame. Upon passing across the timberline momentarily (into an unreal, lunar-like landscape), titles begin to rise. Reverse of standard end credits – an assertion the film is being shown backwards. We swoop over driving VW Beetle to conform to the prey's horizon. The Beetle, framed right, passes camera precisely mirroring the island passing left earlier, offering a split-second of equal scales. This sweeping shot equalizes to the Beetle's horizon for a split second, something the film remains at inside the hotel, on the floor's plane, for most of the film. The audio is an electronic blending between Church/Horror tonal organ and native battle cry chants. The battle cries synch and merge with the organ's repeating notes. The hue of the title's blue is not the same as the sky's tone, it's turquoise, referencing turquoise-sky relation in Native American mythology. The dominance of blue in North American Native cosmologies cannot be underestimated "...he failed to buy enough blue beads and blue blankets [for the expedition], blue as any French or British trader knew, was the favorite color with Indians" [Those Tremendous Mountains 1980]. Kubrick merges film convention (rising titles to mimic an end) and cosmology (the turquoise-blue being sent skyward) a visual simplification of east-west phenomenon contrast (a visual incantation scored to the similarly dual, warfare-laced music). As a geological form, the turquoise's color is an element of an "earth/lake-merging-sky glyph" [at times the word shot is inappropriate since it indicates a still frame] that began the film and continues, through color exchanges evolving transitionally into color movement seen later in the film. Here blues of the underworld meet the upperworld, repeatedly, from sky's reflection to titles. Titles amplify color oppositions: Blue-yellow. Sky-Car, Divider Line-Credits. If the road is painted with yellow, an unconscious pattern the west signals the sun with, then titles follow suit in opposition, consciously contrasting the film with turquoise.
Another right-angle, the Beetle seems to overlaid with sunflares visually embodying the name of the road and the name of the film, an intentional optical conjuring. These sunflare's yellow hues later transition into the underworld portals of The Overlook's purified blood-red (both flow from left sides). Kubrick uses flares and reflections intentionally, they are not random. By employing uncoated lenses (coated lenses reduce flare effects dramatically) he keeps us more than aware of the sun in a film about a supernatural force named after the sun's power. Kubrick never films the sun directly, instead he carefully showcases the sun as a refracted image, broken into two projections, optical ghosts of the sun. In the lower right capture, double suns are seen directly above the "J". Though the surrounding flares are distortions of the sun, these two clearer objects are more akin to camera obscura effects: they are direct prisms of the sun's image onto film. Below these two frames is a coated lens-flare showing two clearly defined sun refracted images of a solar eclipse. The flares and the road's lines share similar angles:
Two key overlooks: Kubrick's most subdued pairing has a yellow sun aiming for the hexagonal aperture refraction over the road (lower right; a function of all lens flares) and cars (one is even parked), restaged later with yellow ball, toy cars and a hexagonal carpet pattern, just outside of Room 237.
Beetle arrives at The Overlook: We, and the mountain's peak, overlook this Overlook. The roof of the hotel does not reach the sky, it remains dwarfed by the mountain's ascent. The earth claims the hotel naturally, the builders intentionally camouflage it - the view appears untouched. The hotel makes little distinction in landscape - in effect it is ghosting. Disappearing, the first ‘ghost’ of The Shining is the hotel itself. (And the last in reverse.) The Bug's yellow continues in the film (visibly doubled in the lot: as if the yellowness is absorbed into the hotel like an organism swallowing a pill) with the tennis ball that visibly rolls to Danny and off screen to Jack. A final deleted scene was Ullman handing a tennis ball to Danny, closing this experimental loop even tighter. Yellow lines paint the two-lane road and these same doubles will appear again in the hotel during a key scene. Yellow’s value is symbolic and it extends to gold, where the fusion of sun worship and mythical valuation creates confusion. A bloodlust that leads humans to worship this rare radiant metal and not its property's mythic origin: knowledge. The center of the hotel is its Gold Ballroom.
"THE INTERVIEW," employed forwards and backwards, the title refers to both the dialogue pairings that follow and to the film itself, literally: “a view between” two worlds: the mirror shot of the lake’s reflection etc. Titles break time within the film, convincing us each sequence between them is continual. They are as colorless as the photos on the walls. They are crucial elements to the horror in a film that deals with writing and names; Kubrick even reserves his biggest shock-cut of the film for theses titles ("TUESDAY"). The use of this key phrase (it could be mistaken as a subtitle of what shining accomplishes, it shows you where the other side is, the inter-view) has the same double meaning Kubrick withdraws from his use of "INTERMISSION" in 2001. Besides giving the audience a chance to use the bathroom, it also functions as a break in the Jupiter Mission. English separates these motion images. The chapter titles appear centered horizontally like the first moment of the first image of the film, the island. Camera follows Jack, like the reading of text, left to right. The interview develops structure: Jack crosses through English origin design (the windows, the chandelier), upon Native American patterns, to an English transaction counter where paper notes behind the counter are angled right. The implied horizon (wood versus painted wall) splits these two realms. In the far distance, through the far doorway, is the final location of the film, the 1921 photograph. Framed Gold Ballroom details (sign, curtains that frame his final appearance photo) Jack crosses in front of are counterpoints and extensions of the sun's earlier flaring. This human synthesis of color forms brings the sun indoors. Kubrick carefully begins the framing of angled forms that reach off frame begun by the road's lines, notice the ceiling edge and table counter. These are forms that suggest continuum. Very few scenes in The Shining lack this quality. They mimic horizon-infinity animations of 2001's stargate sequence. Here we have a reversal of the stargate, these angles are extrusions, solid, subliminal animated forms that lead us to the past. Other Kubrick films employ these framing conventions, here they acquire ulterior significance in mirror to 2001. In a film about qualities of knowledge, description and perception, the entrance shot has Jack (a writer) pass in front of two written notices, in front and behind of a group of seated readers to a counter where messages are written and stored, copiously labeled. Something to remember for later: the inverse of this view is the night Jack enters the party. The Gold Ballroom sign then is left instead of right. A 35mm SLR camera, aimed at the audience, sits on a table next to the seated reader. It's a sly suggestion we are having our picture taken for a wall hanging. We are to be be ghosted into the walls like Jack: the final image of the film is a pictured dead audience facing a living one.
"I got an appointment with Mr. Ullman. My name's Jack Torrance." First word of film is "I." Our first double is the pairing of the actor and the character he plays. Jack Nicholson Jack Torrance. Names matter; Jack will later be defined by who calls him by which part of his name. From now on he is either Dad, Jack or Mr. Torrance. The receptionist is the first ghost we meet, she is dressed to subtly imply she and the hotel are one entity, redheads suffuse these early scenes to continue the hotel's exterior ghosting.
Once told his office is the first door on the left, he crosses the camera's location and we now see Jack's other side, he passes across the first horizon-framed indigenous pattern (the first image below), the distant blanket affixed to the wall, a double-diamond pattern (mirrors of mirrors - from the landscape) at the opposite position to his final resting-place photo. Why diamonds? Diamonds are known in the west for their shine. This shot's 'essence' is complex: his figure is walking past an eternity passage (Navajo blankets are deeply coded with both meaning and story, the diamonds can indicate "eternity"). Two men are framed inside the wall-blanket waiting for an elevator facing left. The guest holds an oar. Termini animate throughout the film, which means they refer to other T-shaped corridors and rooms with similar forms, here the distant blanket share's its framing with Ullman's office's curtains, hinting that they're multi-purpose portals of some kind that derive their mysterious power from color, form and mirror-symmetry. Dead-end termini are literally that, places of slow death: Ullman's office, 237's bathroom, the red men's room, all bathed in the spectrally neutral white light. All are locations where Jack is subtracted from himself. In the first one he hears about Charles Grady and in the last meets Delbert Grady. In between he has a wordless exchange with two separate nude apparitions. This careful management of light hue is a leitmotif-like syntax made from light.
Jack stares at a woman who descends a staircase, the staircase he lastly descends to slaughter Halloran (below, mostly hidden by Jack's head). Later, during the tour of the hotel, he will stare at two women descending. Though there is an animal-desire component to Jack's gesture, she's also a facet of the hotel's time-mirror distortion in play. This is the least (apparently) hallucinatory ghost movie with the most trance-like reality. The arrow-form begun in the lake's reflection of the mountain is now on the lobby's floor, shown incorporated into the diamond-shape, and Jack uses its left point as a directional. Kubrick glosses the floor to show you the arrow-form is now solely inside a reflective surface, blending lake and floor. A subtle, advancing mirror story emerges. The effect of shining, of reflection of light off of glossy surfaces (the lake), continues here and also appears on the column and ceiling. Though the "lake-mirror" is now part of the floor, its mirroring is degraded, noticeable yet invisible to the conscious. Although all light here is generated in a studio, Kubrick carefully contrasts the 'outside' cool slightly blue-white hue (far right, shining that strikes the column) with the slightly yellowed incandescence, a movement from the blue of the sky to the inner yellows and reds of the house, its inner power source, color-wise a reflection of the flares of the unseen sun. Notice the seating: the inset in the wall opposite the elevator is bordered. An alcove to wait for its arrival. Once we get a good look at the elevator's 'mask' later (the trailer has set up the elevator mask as well), unconsciously we know this 'bordering' is the first view the hotel's 'face' has of its guests as they enter. And then the subliminal. In the sliver in front of the two men, the audience gets a fraction of a second image of the elevator, and the poster's T shape (below left). The summary: he is walking over the first shot of the film (arrow-lake-mirror) and crosses the last (the tracking shot that ends in his b&w photo).
Camera follows into an ante-room where on walls that are separated by a doorway appear modern art (below, left) and a snowcapped view of the hotel and mountain summertime and wintertime (below, right) a telegraph to the future inside the film. The left image is an abstraction of an Indian and has no straight lines. As the camera turns, we get a glimpse of an Amerindian on the left side of the modern canvas that appears far more realistic. The lighter green forms seem to animate from a plant that sit to the left of the image. The green shares similar shapes. Jack is associated with the right side of the screen, the outdoors where he came from and the future where it will snow. Contrast the color imagery with the spectral window frames behind Ullman. Ullman is framed just left of center. The left side is the interior of the hotel, dominated by a framed double image of an Amerindian arrayed in map-like forms in angered opposition to the outdoors; he has a single eye, a cyclops like HAL 9000. A trailing black form mimics a collected scalp (lower image, painting); in his hand is a color-banded coup stick for collecting spirits (like the man moments earlier awaiting the elevator, also holding a stick). The two hotel employees, Ullman and Susie, are left-frame oriented, notice their nearly monochromatic appearance compared to the hanging art. Ullman's tie gives him a frozen-blood cutthroat death, surrounded in blue, a red hue linked to the warrior-image outside his door. In parallel this deep red hue pours minutes later from the left side. The doorway entrance is bordered like the photo Jack ends the film inside (and like the inset wall-seating moments earlier), bordered as the color landscapes on the right are. In contrast the chief's frame shines. Even the doorway itself shines. The 'window,' asymmetrically oriented left of the doorway, is false. Viewing the previous corridor's depth renders this window impossible. The office 'window's' ghosted trees and outdoor light are hazy, spectrally monochromatic animations towards Jack's final frozen-still imprisonment. The hotel's arrays of black and white framed images even seem culled from the window's framed ratios. Jack has entered an endless series of bordered mirrors that absorb him inwardly. These spectral redheads appear as guides at the entrance of a colorful series of death-absorptions ending in black & white.
In a single shot, Kubrick has just visually explained how humans are captured and converted into ghosts, while proving the hotel is supernatural.
Follow the two images above for hue: Jack moves daylight (blue, far right lobby)/incandescent (yellow)/fluorescent (green)/spectral (colorless).
The interview with Ullman sequence also introduces the first use of artificial light as a character in the film. Characteristic of a total mechanism (the Hotel), a conscious, supernatural entity, not unlike HAL 9000, but unlike HAL, it has no direct orthographic interface.'It' appears everywhere inside. Sometimes using human faces. Charles Grady is a real, dead person, Delbert is the Overlook inhabiting him. 'His' names are even in alphabetical order. The girls are the Overlook. So is the elevator. The Hotel communicates through distortion, or maybe a better word is conjuring. All of it appears completely real. The constant symphony of natural light, incandescent lamps, and cool fluorescent luminance behaves like guidance. A subtler form of breadcrumbing, or simply warning. Here's a divergence from the cool-blue to yellow we witnessed in the lobby. Here the light of the window is equalized with the two 'fluorescent' fixtures, yet they possess equal white balance. A hint at both sources' falseness and Kubrick makes an effort to show us the office's light is neither blue, yellow nor green hued by the completed shot's color temperature-traveling. He's showing us the light is supernatural by its complete lack of hue. Window placement helps to indicate role each room plays. Since you will discover that some windows are false, each room's relationship with light is critical. He plays with the window's symmetry throughout this scene.
The general manager’s office, and his secretary Susie’s ante room offer the best evidence of modernity in the hotel. If we didn’t first see this room, would we know what year it is? The abstract art depicting an American Indian chief or warrior (let's loosely assume this is Chief Cornstalk whose curse is time referenced at the film's end) and color photographs of mountains and a snow patched Overlook (outside General Manager’s office) also establishes the importance of wall hangings, crucial elements in the storytelling that follows since Jack himself will become part of one. This pairing reveals diverging modern human use of color technology: color photograph and art. This is our stable conscious world fighting with its unconscious conjured by the hotel as a gateway to an interview. Susie’s green-hued ante-room contrasts with Stuart Ullman’s office beyond, a ghostly, bright room littered with the past (emblems, awards, certificates and black and white pictures, a county map left: the animation of the outer room's Chief's image into this inner room's border control) bathed in soft orange colors, a tone central to Mesoamerican imagery - an interzone between earthtones and blood, the hue's effects drain photographic dimension from light skins. This is a monochromatic tomb. Notice plant holding shelves and the light boxes on the ceiling that reach skyward off frame. Inset shelving mimics the storage of urns in burial chambers, the room suggests a reliquary tomb decorated with symbolic objects. The wall hung map left proves the domains he reached as manager (the limited reach of his radio's broadcast-in contrast to Danny's seemingly infinite reach), his gilded awards hang opposite right: materialism and success.
Clothing and hair tone colors are used to subtly imply roles that are defined by imagery. Susie and Ullman are introduced as back-lit redheads with Susie in a neutral outfit, she fades into background of the room, is forced to move around Ullman to fetch their coffee, is the color of coffee. Ullman is red white and blue dressed for maximum contrast despite his hair color exactly matching curtains, a ghost trying to stay dimensional, to appear living. With a gash of blood coming from his neck. Both are framed within the curtain, while Jack is framed in the ghostly window. This shot is subtly asymmetric with the window frame, boldly asymmetric with the desk.
Navajo zig zag/diamond patterns (lightning-mirror-shining references), begun on the wall hanging further back with the elevator-awaiting men in Jack's previous walking shot, re-emerge here as similar patterns on the curtains, opened to light hinting the power of rendering humans as ghosts is an indigenous, supernatural force. This is a subtle animation from blanket to open curtains. The ceiling light fixtures exactly meet the curtain's edges not the window's. This is a portal tomb.
A long dissolve establishes the Torrance’s Boulder apartment complex. The complex is in the near background and continues off-camera right, a forested mountain left, foreground parking lot centered, all elements duplicating The Overlook's establish, but with careful differences. Our view isn't in flight, it's land-locked. The complex doesn't camouflage itself, and it's bathed in sunlight. Asymmetry is the rule here, except for the two cars at right, which are almost symmetrical pairs. This is a mirror of the establishing shot, earthbound. A basketball hoop stands far left and will animate-unconsciously by cutting into the next shot which displays a gold basket on the ironing board. The shelf-like balconies animate into the next shot's shelves. As a film organized with logic tha flows both backwards and forwards, we are aware on some level that this parking lot is the origin of Jack's Beetle, an arrival we have just finished watching earlier.
Inside the asymmetric apartment appear pairings as background information. Art & design. Books make zig zag patterns (angled left, the opposite of the paper messages behind the counter in the hotel) the Navajo and Apache patterns complete here integrally. This is not bought art for control as in the hotel, the spirit is integrated. Some things are not hung, like the child's painting in a later scene. And crucially, the plastic basket behind them is a central, symbolic object (it's yellow, the same shade as the Gold Ballroom's entrance curtains.) The baseball near it is the first sphere in the film, and the tennis ball that arrives later is a combination of sphere and yellow.
Introduction of Wendy and Danny is a sly, sideways introduction to American settler life through minimalist, lower-middle-class set decoration. Danny stares into a TV set, where a Warner Bros. wordless cartoon is cathode-ray projecting a traveling settler's narrative. The roadrunner-coyote conflict (offscreen in audio) was a common sight on westward Death Valley crossings. The coyote is both a trickster and transformer figure in Native American mythology. In Navajo mythology he's the philosopher arguing in favor of death which allows youthful generations access to precious resources [Navajo Mythology Reichard]. Wendy reads near-mirrored cover of Catcher in the Rye. Wendy sees inside text, Danny sees inside motion-visuals. Presumably Danny has not yet learned how to read. The book-text world is also where Jack sees ("I'm a writer."), and is what is arrayed behind her on shelves. The angled, right-turned (so that spines are visible), western version of the dimensions behind/through Ullman's windows. Jack will become trapped in this text world (inside a repeating sentence he types) and then become absorbed into a photograph inscribed with text; this supernatural process is visually bridged by both wall patterns, however discrete. The book she's reading is about a teenager with self-hatred issues set in the 1950's written by an American: Jack is a candidate for the Holden Caulfield act-alike contest, his rants later seem like teen angst fueled insecurity. She is crowned by the first real symmetry (the salt and pepper shakers in the distance) that appear on a shelf with the book's angled forms. Cotton balls are an animation from the clouds in previous shot. As a campfire burns (uninhaled cigarette) Danny stares through this smoke to watch the Television's cartoons, they eat above a picnic gingham, her outfit is composed of a union suit and hop-dress, all articles elements of a perversely mundane early-settler outfit (circa 1850's), Danny is emblazoned with USA iconography, and Bugs Bunny's ears both mirror the Warner Bros' cartoons TV presence and mimic his finger's mirror. A baseball, a cord-wire ball wrapped in leather, halos him and provides the anchor for the second interior we see 'both' sides of, a right-left interview, though the ball is not hidden from us. Prior to discovery of rubber, English racquet ball-court games used leather wrapped balls similar to baseballs. This table-setting is duplicated later in family quarters of Overlook as the monstrous climax approaches. This relationship to ‘outfit’ is crucial since Danny (and each character) morphs emblematically as well as follows a color path, each acquire costume colors in a pathway of tonal narrative. The light catches in his milk and the diamond patterns of both blankets and curtains appear as the decorations of the glass, changes in distances but not scale.
Her reverse angle in the conversation advances doubling within background: two saucepans, two milk cartons (a logic shown in reverse: where the milk in his glass is from), two dishsoap bottles. While not as disturbing as Jack’s pending doubling, it preludes horror with normalcy. In reverse it moves doubling from background (here) to foreground ('interview') to mirror (the lake — dissipation). This doubling is crucially not perfect, uneven, like Danny’s finger, this asymmetry a natural component to humanity and consciousness. Danny reveals his mastery of his interior/self, he makes his case as hero known. I command this.
A person in the measure of one’s thumb
Stands in the midst of one’s self
Lord of what has been
And what is to be
One does not shrink away from him.
Upanishad (Hume translation 1911)
Danny raises his finger and exhibits an interior human version of the doubling first introduced with lake background. His shirt is an animation extending from Ullman's desktop flag. Notice baseball is now on left side of Danny's head in a framing that shows us another orientation to text inside books. Danny's PBJ breaks in half as the scene ends.
Bill Watson joins the interview, his role doubles Jack, initiating his absorption, ensuring Jack and audience are both conscious and unconscious of hotel’s power. The doubling means two parallel timeframes are being drawn together from differing planes. Bill Watson wears a brown outfit with diamond patterned tie: "This ought to be quite a change for you." Look at Kubrick's new, slightly shifted frame below: subtle outer asymmetry of desk's symmetric inner form. This is a "portal-glyph" flooded with meaning: the office is hiding its asymmetry by appearing symmetric, crucially the initial establishing shot of the office has shifted twice to this shot: from outer window centered to inner desk centered. Ullman behaves similarly, he shifts his right-left orientation from within the sequence, he appears framed right in the wide shot including tables and chairs and then framed left when the camera moves tighter, as if there are two Ullmans, disassociated, demonic. Look closer and you can see what Kubrick is accomplishing with these shifts. This discordance between eeirly similar shots is both a nuance of the horror to come and a primer to apply to the logic of the hotel's power (its language).
Notice the room's design is not typical, behind Jack (and his mirror Bill) are corners that defy simplicity, columned shapes that create shaded depth. Coupled with the hidden aspects of asymmetry, Kubrick is further using left and right cortexes to blend and hide information, mostly as innocuous values. These are values weighted laterally that maintain a stable horizon (whether present or not) but exhibit unstable values in vertical shifts, like this room's asymmetry, like the girls that are not twins later. However primitive the result is, this is Kubrick's most experimental pursuit in The Shining, he is using neuroscience, paleoneurology and the cortex to both scare you and develop a new language of storytelling. The Overlook, by way of Ullman, additionally communicates through Plains Indian sign-language, warning Jack visually. The gist of it: "You (or I) will (have) travelled across a mountain to be (have been) buried here." Full decryption will be saved for the book [Sign Talk of the Cheyenne and other Cultures Ernest Thompson Seton Doubleday 1918].
Ullman mentions Winter of 1970. Film playing mid-point is named Summer of 42. His outfit is an extension of the miniature US flag on his desk, something we can label a scale-mirror, a property in neuroscience akin to an isomorph. The overlooks of the road and carpet patterns (far above on this page, large-framed), both with sun-images (tennis ball/sun prism) and cars, are also isomorphic scale-mirrors. The lines of his cuffs, the colors of his tie/jacket, flow from the flag's stripes and colors. His hands form similar animate extensions, and are folded in repeated patterns of asymmetry (he never prays). Kubrick's connects mirror-logic here. In Ullman's single, we see a different side of the 'mirror,' where the other Ullman is. Kubrick begins warping continuity to reveal another world, a shift, a mirror world without a visible mirror. The eagle is a provocative key, consider the opening shots which are in flight. Its placement here creates, quite literally, a mirror with the audience, who 'flew' here collectively as one, though purely as a POV. The audience is only remotely aware of this relationship, but it's repeatedly implied in other mirrors later in the film. Here, behind Ullman it shifts left, another mirroring, after a few shots to reveal a side of the mirror, a mirror-world inside a portal, a SHiNiNG. Special effects in this film are primitive in design but advanced in terms of meaning. Their visual logic suggest vast possibilities in terms of game gestures, newer languages and even physics. And by terms I mean that literally: these are visual definitions of complex ideas. Ideas like paradox, linearity, continuum. Quantum mechanics rather than quantum dynamics - a physics without time.* The past accessible through many parallel 'nows' while the true future remains unexplorable. The Hotel conjures its images as 'nows.' Past or any future 'set' in the past can be broadcast right 'now.' These timeframes can appear as transmissions, or as entirely populated rooms. Although the hotel is visually associated with HAL, gesturally associated with Jack, its true powers are inverse to the also unseen time-conjurers of 2001, the controllers of the stargate. Here 'time' can only be controlled locally. Inwards into psychic death not psychic rebirth. Compression that ends in a still. Dave Bowman is rendered planetary in size: 2001. Jack Torrance is rendered postage stamp size inside a photograph. Though both are physically shown, the processes are obviously supernatural. Below right is an enlargement of the eagle's establishing frame. Kubrick reveals the left-oriented eagle from behind Ullman's head as the scene ends. Bill Watson's outfit shifts mid-scene as well. He even flips the order of Ullman's hand overlaps when he cuts, another 'mirror' though this one is based in time, not image. Kubrick forces two distinctly different realms on us but doesn't explain them. We inhabit these orientations unconsciously. The film tightens each shot until we single on Jack's eye, he's being warned subtly by the optics and not so subtly by Ullman not to participate. In a sense the audience is Jack, since both remain unaware of The Overlook's mirrored realms (while Danny gains awareness and Wendy simply avoids it). Although we carefully follow Danny on his path to trap his father, Kubrick refrains from showing us what Danny is aware of (the benefits of silent-film storytelling), leaving us to fear what he does not. Kubrick continues storytelling even in Ullman's hand patterns as eagle-forms that animate into his cuffs, wings that flap; he even overlaps only his thumbs to show the full bird-form as a bridging gesture to the tale of Grady's axe-murder/suicide. Although the mysterious outer/inner facets of these symmetries are key, some details are omitted here.
Below, left: Notice both curtain sides have buried "faces", two distinct eyes beneath an M-shape with W-shapes for a mouth.
Eye contact with audience: Jack makes the first of his glances audience-ward throughout this scene (predicting his pending frozen stare at us from inside the photograph - the hotel's hell is this never returned glance). When asked how his wife and kids are going to react to the hotel, he glances at us in the audience before declaring “they’ll love it.” By glancing lensward at the audience, he activates the last shot, a frozen audience that he's a part of, a mirror to us in the dark. Once Ullman's description of cabin fever (early American discordance) and previous caretaker's slaughter-suicide are delivered (here he's known as Charles Grady, spectrally later as Delbert Grady), the conversation shifts to the Torrances. Jack's second interview sequence includes a photograph behind him that also appears in film's final shot, next to the image of the 1921 party, an aggressive yet subliminal link between corporeal Jack and incorporeal Mr. Torrance. The shadowed inset wall behind him possesses two vertical edges that hint at the frame of the photo he ends the film inside. Jack is miniaturized and blended into this form, framed in this exact distance from below's left photograph at film's end. He is animated into a shadowed wall. Jack is even oriented in the same direction of the final photo, which sits only a few meters across the lobby outside, through the office's walls. Jack mentions teaching was a way to "make ends meet," which is what's occurring visually in the scene. Notice in previous shot Jack's head straddles the shadow wall left (above), and in final eye-contact framing below he is now inside it, shifting right from his previous orientation. Notice the shine on the doorway's frame. Compare the below image's photo and the above left image's ghostly exterior 'window' framing nearest Ullman: the still and the window are transmutational towards one another: they are separate images-objects that bear passing resemblance, and relate to states Jack will travel through (freezing in the maze and freezing inside the photo). All three vertical edges of Jack's framing cut back and forth to precise verticals in the window. By tightly relating them, Kubrick is provoking the audience to make an unconscious 'tween' for them. Tween is an animator's word, it refers to the frames created between target points in a character's motion. This is only one example of many complex visual transitions in the film that defy most (all of the west's) spoken language's descriptive abilities. When Ullman shifts to the horror of the Overlook, he calls it a "thing" that should be mentioned. This is why Kubrick's films retain their hold after repeated viewings. The mundane is spoken, the complex is illustrated. Western films reverse this. Or simply equate them.
* Pauline Kael deserves credit for initiating this research. Her 12 partial-page review in The New Yorker a week after the film's release, though essentially a pan, took note of two key features of the film that are key to this essay. She spotted the core of the time syntax: "I think the central character of this movie is time itself, or timelessness." And labeled the film an inverted 2001, with wounded Jack Nicholson hunched ape-like at film's end. The name of the review gave that core theme away: "Devolution"