“The Shining” by Stanley Kubrick is a mind trip and a half. As its main character, Jack Torrance, grows crazier and crazier over the course of a winter stay as a hotel concierge, the film ramps up its surrealism and horror, turning the hotel into an almost Lovecraftian, unknowable horror.
The film doubles down on that troubling trajectory until the very last frames, where the audience sees today’s Torrance (Jack Nicholson) posing with a large group of hotel patrons for a lavish Fourth of July ball in the year 1921. Obviously. , is an impossible moment that defies true explanation, and not knowing is what makes it all the more unsettling. To achieve this, the filmmaker revealed in an interview with Michel Ciment that he took a completely unconventional path and did not end up using extras. He said:
“No, they were in a photograph taken in 1921 that we found in a picture library. I originally planned to use extras, but it turned out that they couldn’t look as good as the people in the photograph. So I photographed Jack very carefully, matching the angle and lighting of the 1921 photograph, and also shooting him from different distances, so that his face was larger and smaller in the negative.This made it possible to choose an image size that, when enlarged, matched the grain structure in the original photography. The photograph of Jack’s face was airbrushed into the principal photography, and I think the result looked perfect. Every face around Jack is an archetype of the time.”
Kubrick’s method and its effectiveness
The authenticity of the photograph isn’t necessarily a deciding detail when you’re immersed in the film, but knowing the legitimacy of the faces surrounding Jack makes his inclusion all the more unsettling. It elevates an already creepy and uncomfortable moment and turns it into a deeply unsettling realization, the kind that makes Lovecraftian creatures so terrifying. The understanding here is that there is some unknown reason why Jack could have been present in the now and also front and center in this image, and we may never understand why, just that it’s an unshakable truth.
We’ve prepared for this moment throughout the film, specifically when Grady, the hotel’s former caretaker, appears to Torrance when he’s exploring the hotel, but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling when we realize that Torrance is like Grady. even if we don’t know how he got to be like that. Was he always destined for this fate, long before he met anyone associated with the Overlook Hotel? Again, the not knowing is what brings the terror to this scenario, and the incredible 4th of July image is a testament to how long that horror lingers after the final frame.
The Shining Approval Rating
Despite its enduring place in the horror canon and the zeitgeist as a whole, King had very little love for Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel. In a previous interview with Deadline, the author explained his issues with the characters, especially Jack and Wendy, and the film’s emotional core, or lack thereof.
He said, “The character of Jack Torrance has no arc in that movie…absolutely no arc. When we first see Jack Nicholson, he’s in the office of Mr. Ullman, the hotel manager, and you know, so, he’s crazy as a house rat. All he does is get crazier. In the book, he’s a guy who struggles with his sanity and eventually loses it. To me, that’s a tragedy. In the movie, there’s no tragedy because there’s no there is real change.”
He also noted that he felt that Shelly Duvall’s version of Torrance’s wife was “one of the most misogynistic characters ever filmed” because she is “basically there to yell and be stupid”. King added, “That’s not the woman I wrote about.”
Books versus movies
Part of the problem here lies in the fact that the books are always going to be longer than the movies. Much of Jack and Wendy’s character development has to be simplified from the maze that is present in the book to fit it into a two-hour experience. Was Wendy’s story and extensive emotional life cut short to highlight Jack and his downfall? Yes, but that’s where Kubrick found the film’s deepest horror.
After all, Wendy is a victim of him, and I would even say that her cry of “stupidity”, which usually comes in the form of hysterical tears in response to her husband’s change in front of her eyes, is crucial for us to see. Jack in the way we need for Kubrick’s movie to work. Duvall’s portrayal is in service of Jack’s greatest downfall in the way Kubrick wanted to frame it. King’s disgust at his performance merely duplicates his disgust at Kubrick’s performance, nothing more. To be completely fair, saying his performance was nuanced also lessens the impact Kubrick had on Duvall while shooting the movie, and that deserves an entirely separate conversation in and of itself.
King went on to say in 2016, “I think ‘The Shining’ is a beautiful movie and it looks great and like I said before, it’s like a big beautiful Cadillac with no engine in it.” But there’s no denying that the abject terror the film has injected into us for decades is the result of the complete opposite kind of film. Yes, it’s beautiful and it drips with Kubrick’s pleasing aesthetic, but there’s a lot more under the surface in both the production and the performances.
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The post The Shining’s famous 4th of July photo wasn’t exactly easy to take first appeared on /Film.