Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Crazy 'Shining' Theory

Last week, on my guest post at, I wrote about why people might see the classic Kubrick film 'The Shining' and see all sorts of crazy things. It's been viewed through a lot of different lenses and has been seen as a Holocaust analogy, a polemic on the gold standard, and a symbolic allegory for the genocide of native Americans. But in the end, I rejected the notions that tiny clues in the film could point the direction to Kubrick's "true" intent.

Then I went and rewatched the movie. And true to form, I noticed a tiny clue that I think points to what Kubrick was intending. And like everyone else over the years, I think I'm right here, based on what I know about Kubrick and his film-making style and his personality.

I think the key is in the TV show Danny is watching, just before Jack completely loses it and threatens to kill Wendy for the first time. (The classic "give me the bat" scene.) Danny and Wendy are sitting together, eating lunch and watching cartoons...and the theme song is the old "Road Runner" theme. ("Road Runner! The coyote's after you! Road Runner! If he catches you, you're through!") Now, this was something Kubrick would have had to obtain permission to use. He could have used any cartoon, any kid's show, really anything at all. But he wanted people to be subconsciously thinking about the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and he wanted them to be thinking about it right as the action ramped up and Jack's dementia turned lethal. Why?

Because that's what he wanted people to be viewing the last act of 'The Shining' as--as a gigantic, dark, twisted version of the Coyote/Road Runner cartoon, with Jack as Wile E. Coyote and Danny as the Road Runner. Jack is relentless, pursuing Danny with a single-minded obsession (but simultaneously narrating events with an otherwise inexplicable good cheer), while Danny is fleeing with no particular goal or aim. And just like in the classic cartoons, Jack receives injury after injury, getting whacked on the head and falling down a flight of stairs and getting locked in the pantry and finally getting lost in the hedge maze. While Danny runs out and away with a "meep meep!"

It makes sense. Kubrick was known to have a mischievous sense of humor. He was known to make movies that started serious and turned into black comedies as it slowly became clear to him that he couldn't keep a straight face behind the camera. It explains why Jack's madness slowly ramps up to "cartoonish" levels as the film goes on. Kubrick meant for you to laugh at Jack even as the situation creeped you out--the whole thing is one big live-action cartoon.

A cartoon about the Kennedy assassination being a CIA operation, of course. See, the references to July 4th in the final scene...


Anonymous said...

Have you read the Shining section on the Kubrick Corner website? It's mind bending.

ralphdibny said...

Your take here reminds me of another film--The Night of the Hunter--where the killer stalking the young boy is portrayed as both terrifying and comic (Mitchum's falling on the stairs, his "meep" when running to the barn, etc.).