May 9, 2014

Queer Review: The Shining (1980)

The Shining
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson. Based on the novel by The Shining by Stephen King.
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel

Analysis of Stanley Kubrick films are typically awash in obtuse interpretations and The Shining is certainly no exception. An entire documentary, Room 237, was made with commentators offering up a variety of bizarre explanations, including the possibility that The Shining contains proof that Kubrick was part of the vast government conspiracy that faked the moon landing.

All of this gives The Shining an air of being an high end, elite work of art by one of the great auteurs of the 20th century. However, all of this analysis simply causes people to miss the obvious, namely that The Shining is little more then a typical Hollywood horror film, many of which feature characters wrestling with same sex desires or gender identity issues before turning into deranged killers.

Jack (Jack Nicholson) is the newest caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, an isolated resort which lies abandoned every winter thanks to the difficult to ploy road leading up to it. Thus Jack and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and child Danny (Danny Lloyd) are stuck in isolation for the entire winter. Since this is a ghostly horror story, it's only natural that the location was once the site of diabolical murders, whereby the previous caretaker went mad and killed the rest of his family. Over time of course, ghostly apparitions start to intrude on their solitude and Jack gradually loses any semblance of sanity, causing him to represent an increasing danger to his family.

The Queering
Evidence of what is actually going on appear early and often. During an interview with the managers of The Overlook, Jack can be seen reading a Playgirl magazine. Furthermore, we never see Jack and Wendy in bed together or otherwise engaging in physical intimacy. In fact, Jack makes it perfectly clear to her that he does not want her around when he's working. In a scene ripe with Freudian overtones, Jack finds himself embracing a naked woman, only to have her turn into a rotting corpse. However, Jack has no problems getting along with the male apparitions he encounters. He converses with ease with a mysterious bartender named Lloyd and there is even a strange scene where a ghostly attendant spends a lot of time cleaning a mess off of Jack's jacket in a brightly lit red bathroom.

This is before we get delve into all the hints that Jack sexually molested Danny, either in the past or as an ongoing issue. For starters, Danny's condition more closely resembles a kid suffering from PTSD, than one experiencing a psychic condition. In the book, the fact that Danny had psychic abilities was less ambiguous and more relevant to the overall story. Here, the ambiguity only makes Danny come across as a tortured victim. When Danny talks about his imaginary friend Tony, he says that Tony lives in his mouth.

In one creepy scene, Danny and Wendy start out watching television in a room of the hotel, when Danny asks if he can go and get a toy from the shared bedroom. Wendy allows him on the condition that he make no noise. What we are supposed to think is that Jack will wake up angry and lash out at Danny, given that it was earlier revealed that Jack had explicitly physically abused Danny. When Danny arrives at the room however, Jack only asks that Danny sit on his lap. The possibility that Wendy was actually worried about Jack molesting Danny is illuminated in a scene late in the movie, once all hell has broken lose, Wendy comes upon a man in a bear suit clearly performing oral sex on another man. Clearly this bit indicates that she saw something in the past and buried it in her memory.

There are subtler elements as well, that also point towards Jack having issues with masculinity. For one, he is an alcoholic, and this would not be the first time that alcoholism has been used as a stand in for queerness. See the film version of The Lost Weekend for an example of this. Also, Jack is a man who is clearly unable to provide for his family. Not only is Wendy the one who is shown performing his care-taking duties (on top of the housework that she also performs) but when we see the manuscript for the book Jack is working on, it ironically only consists of the lines "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy"

So where does this all leave us? For all the analysis dedicated to it, for all the symbols that Kubrick allegedly left behind, there can be no doubt that this is a story of a man destroying his family by succumbing to queer desires. It is an age old tale, one that existed well before The Shining made it's way to the big screen. Because queer peeps are evulz.

Artistically speaking, The Shining is very well made and there is no reason to question Kubricks' status as an auteur. The heavily stylized cinematography where his trademark meticulousness is showcased in every frame only helps to cement it. The finale, with Jack desperately pursuing Danny through the hotel's outdoor maze, is particularly eery and evocative thanks to the long tracking shots Kubrick utilizes. And what would a review of The Shining be without mentioning Jack Nicholsons' "Here's Johnny!" performance? Now that I have mentioned it, I can now end this review.

Only the most devoted horror buffs who don't mind a side dish of homophobia should take a shining to this film.

The Rating
2 stars out of 4 stars.


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