Near the intro of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (read our retro review here), we already get the sense that Danny (Danny Lloyd) and Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) have a strained father/son relationship. In addition, the two, along with mother and wife Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall), eventually meet a series of resident ghosts at the Overlook Hotel, where Jack is hired as winter caretaker. (The Overlook’s average review must read like this: “Bloody good time? Not for me, thanks!”)
Yes, the ghosts of the Overlook further fracture an already semi-dysfunctional family, and it partly starts by the warped design of the hotel itself. The Shining‘s executive producer, Jan Harlan, even explained in an interview with Kate Abbot of The Guardian:
“Stephen King gave him the go-ahead to change his book, so Stanley agreed – and wrote a much more ambiguous script. It’s clear instantly there’s something foul going on. At the little hotel, everything is like Disney, all kitsch wood on the outside – but the interiors don’t make sense. Those huge corridors and ballrooms couldn’t fit inside. In fact, nothing makes sense.”
Family Life Doesn’t Make Sense in The Shining
Some malignant force seems to haunt the hotel, and the hotel seems to notice Jack Torrance’s susceptibility to its influences. Meanwhile, Danny spends a little quality time with the hotel’s chef, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), who coaches young Danny about their shared psychic abilities and warns him about the dangers lurking in the hotel. Perfectly normal? Nope.
When the family has been left alone, the lingering evil in the hotel is just biding its time, maybe gathering whatever evil intel it can. Danny watches “Road Runner” cartoons, Dad writes the great American novel and Mom prepares everyone a nice bowl of chili as the family relaxes for the rest of the film’s run-time…Not! Reality itself runs a stop sign in The Shining and pretty much never looks back. At one point, Danny is slightly injured by a ghost (Lia Beldam) in room 232 but survives. He never fully recuperates, sensing the evil with him at the hotel.
A Mind Warpin’, Family-Slaughterin’ Old Time!
Meanwhile, father Jack has mind-bending meetings with former hotel caretaker Delbert Grady (Philip Stone) who, in his own little way, hints that Jack should attack his own wife and son, as he did with his own children. He also implies that The Overlook’s residents have always been there. So why does Jack go through with it? Well, it seems Jack was already having some hostile feelings toward his family; like perhaps a part of him resented what having a child did to his marriage. Maybe it was initially a psychological sliver, but one that cut deep enough to unleash bloody torrents for the Torrances.
The ghosts essentially “debunk” family life for Jack, and he blames them for his own shortcomings. The incident that injured Danny’s arm may very well have been an accident in Jack’s mind, and he resents Wendy for (apparently) regarding him as a monster. Then again, it may be himself who thinks it was monstrous, but he may be projecting those feelings onto Wendy. Meanwhile, he gets a sense that the family is going to ruin his writing career, which he is plainly struggling to get off the ground, and he’s so frustrated and alienated from his family by his failures that the Overlook ghosts have plenty to tap into.
Now, even if your Jack Torrance isn’t your favorite Stephen King nutcase (Annie Wilkes is mine) and The Shining doesn’t quite float your boat, it’s still impressive how Jack Nicholson depicts a father on the brink of insanity, and that point when he finally goes over the edge. He helps transform a hotel from a tourist attraction into a hell on earth and puts plenty of fear into poor little Danny’s heart. Torrance’s behavior frightens horror fans to this day.
What are your thoughts on The Shining, Jack’s madness, and his fractured relationship with Danny? Hey, we’re only axing you a simple question! If you’d like to know what our writers think, check out our 40th anniversary tribute here!