Below are two films linked through theme, The Shining and Beauty And The Beast. Though their forms and messages are antithetical, these two posts speak well to each other. Despite there being no explicit link explored wherein, I believe their juxtaposition is very interesting and so the source of some food for thought for you, the reader. I'm not sure which should come first, but both films discuss the titled themes; Beauty And The Beast overcoming them, The Shining succumbing to them. Links to further content will be provided near the end, so stick around for that.
Escaping The Throes Of Abuse, Destruction And Dysfunction
I know I always try to write about a wide range of films, constantly jumping genres and periods, and that I've been focusing on Disney quite a bit recently, but this is a film I've got to write about. We'll find and look into something disgusting, violent or stupid next, I promise. That said, Beauty And The Beast is a film that is, in large part, about child abuse. Ludicrous, I know, but we'll get into it soon. Before we start, it must be said that this is one of the greatest Disney films ever made. I'm so close to saying it's the best, but I'll save those thoughts for a later date. What makes this film great is obvious. The plot is simple, yet effective with the music splashed throughout with astounding dexterity and pace. Moreover, the sound design. This film is so stunning because of how intricately each and every piece of audio has been weaved into the narrative. We see this in voice acting, in the way speech will be distorted in accordance to rooms, but also the use of sound as a means of really selling the weight of this story. With the guttural undertones belying The Beast's dialogue, we're always made to feel his presence, the gravity of his personage. Also, the Foley merges so well with score - a great example of this being the action sequences. And this is a truly revolutionary aspect of this film. With sound design Beauty And The Beast achieves what no other Disney feature has before. The sonic sound-scape not only emphasises the emotion, tone, atmosphere and feeling of the film, but locks you into the world, bringing you from song to song with such fluid expertise. For the sound, both musical and otherwise, this film is masterful and so has a definite foot up on every single Disney film in this respect. But, make no mistake, this film doesn't just have a great audio track. The story is, of course, brilliant. In fact, I have nothing negative to say about this movie; it's perfect. Whilst I don't need to outline the plot and throw more adjectives at you, what I do want is to delve deeper into this narrative. This is a rare film, one imbued with so much subtext. And, yes, this is what brings us back to the theme of child abuse, but don't worry, things brighten up.
Ok, the crux of this theory is outlined in its entirety by the film's opening...
The Beast's backstory, whilst easily over looked, is something that can entirely change your perspective of this film. We initially find out that the young prince is arrogant and vapid. This is before The Enchantress shows up - we'll get to her in a minute. One thing you always find yourself asking with Disney films though is... where the hell are the parents? I don't think there's more than a handful of Disney films where parents either don't die or aren't a complete mystery. Beauty And The Beast certainly doesn't fit into that handful. Not only do we have no idea who Belle's mother is, but, we know nothing of The Beast's parents. We're simply left to assume that he was raised by his servants. Whilst this is no excuse for growing up to be arrogant, it does explain why The Beast, pre-transformation, isn't a great guy. That said, one late night, an old woman turns up at his door and offers him a flower. The prince turns her away. She warns him not to do so, but, he sends her away nonetheless. For this he's turned into a Beast. Now, please, say it with me: WHAT THE FUCK!? How is this in any way justifiable? He didn't take a flower from an ugly old woman who's shown up in the middle of the night, and so he deserves to have his life ruined? That's bullshit. However, things go deeper. This lady is called The Enchantress and she offers a young prince a flower. When you realise that this exchange is really all about love, beauty and the old lady essentially cock-blocking the prince in the most evil-genius kind of way, you see a sexual element added to things. With this theme at hand, and despite it being hidden below layers of subtext, this flower seems to be symbolic of something a little more sinister that just a rose. Though this cannot be confirmed, only inferred, it seems that, at the least, some kind of nasty and malicious trick with sexual undertones was put upon the beast. At worst, something much more destructive and damaging may have occurred at this point. It is here that some level of child abuse is hinted at in the narrative. And because The Beast tried to disengage or stop this, he was punished.
Whilst that seems to be the pinnacle of the messed up nature of this film, it gets worst. When we're told 'young prince' and then shown this ambiguously aged young man's portrait...
... we're being fed a fabrication. Though it is understandable, the makers of this film have buried the true age of this young prince. However, it is easily figured out. We're told that the flower will wilt and the curse be made eternal when The Beast turns 21. This means he's 20 throughout the film up until the very end where the final petal falls. Knowing this and that The Beast was left in the castle for 'years' it becomes clear that the young prince was at the least a teenager when The Enchantress showed up. It's now that the opening becomes more creepier, right? Hold on though. How long exactly has the curse been upon The Beast, his servants and castle? As Lumiere says: 10 years. This means that the boy answering the door to the old woman who tricked him then unfairly punished him was 10 going on 11. Firstly, for a 10-year-old to open a door at night and turn away the stranger that wants to come in, well, that's a responsible kid, right? Secondly, a kid called an old woman ugly? What a travesty. I remember hating girls near this young age because 'ew... girls'. To try and put oneself in the princes' shoes with the implication of something very sinister happening and, again, this Enchantress becomes all the more evil. Consider this as further evidence though:
Belle and The Beast obviously understand one another's plight. In the same respect that she is pursued for her beauty by Gaston, would it not make sense that the orphaned young prince may be pursued by someone equally deplorable, maybe someone tantamount to an Ursula or Queen from Snow White? This means, as a young boy, The Beast was probably pursued and harassed by the archetypal imposer who means to steal everything from an unsuspecting and young prince/princess.
This all, whilst very reliant on inference, seems to be transparent. Something dark went awry in The Beast's past to make him who he is. We will find greater evidence for this that deepens his character as we push into the film.
After the rather chilling opening, we're introduced to Belle and her provincial little town. It's here where the film lays down it's other major themes: isolation and community. Belle's core internal conflict is that she wants to escape, and like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, wants more from life. It's here where a quick comparison must be made to show how great this film is. Essentially, Belle is everything...
... Ariel wasn't. We discussed her character in the previous posts, and whilst she serves her story and narrative's message well, there isn't much depth to her. The crux of this is that Ariel faced no real conflict. Belle is very much like Ariel in almost all aspects of her character--her will to escape, to find love and adventure beyond her small town--but, Belle is so much more mature. She suppresses everything that Ariel acts on when she knows it's what's best for those she loves. Because of this, we see a move away from a film focused on a mindless yearning for a sense of freedom (as seen in The Little Mermaid) to one focused on personal responsibility and integrity. This allows Belle to be our archetypal Disney princess, but arguably the one with the best design. We understand her actions, we see no hubris in her. And this helps the narrative along so well. It doesn't need a ditsy blond, horror movie archetype, it needs a concentrated and rational person. For this, Belle is certainly one of the greatest characters produced by Disney.
However, coming back to themes of isolation and community, what drives this narrative forward is both a metaphorical and literal mob mentality present in this little town. It obviously intensifies to fruition over the course of the narrative, but with the introduction we see the seeds of conflict that this town represents. They want Belle to fit into a paradigm and they don't understand why she isn't 'normal'. In such, they are obsessed with facade...
... Gaston being the face of this ugly mob. We'll come back to the town later on, but this idea of facade makes a call back to The Enchantress. Her issue with The Beast was essentially that he didn't accept her as an ugly person. Whilst this doesn't feel good, to be rejected for things you can't change, this is the stark reality of life. For The Enchantress to mean to reverse this aspect of human nature in the young prince, in a literally Pavlovian sense, must imbue the 10-year-old boy with an overwhelming dissonance. This seems to be why the curse is so hard to break. He can't just learn to love people, look beyond facade, but, must be loved back. This part of the curse is the most evil as it forces The Beast to assume that no one will ever love him, and can never do such a thing. Whist this may almost sound vapid, I think that, with a little empathy, it's not. Moreover, for the Enchantress to try and teach The Beast to become a better person through acceptance, why would she approach this in a such a base and impersonal way? Whereas The Beast must become a better person to earn Belle's trust and acceptance, The Enchantress does nothing like this. She just punishes him. Nonetheless, this imposition of ideals put upon The Beast are also put on Belle. Instead of being told that she must accept people less attractive that herself, she is told she must accept personalities worse than her, people who aren't worthy of her. (Such seems to have been the case with The Enchantress too, but, this can only be mere speculation).
What the town do to Belle is trap her in a rigid ideology of accepting the norm, of taking another's word and structure as rule - this is why provincial is an adjective repeated so much in her opening song. This dogmatism and rigidity is exactly what she fights to escape - a formalised sense of community. This is where isolation seeps its way into the narrative. Belle and The Beast are forced out of community, forced to recede away from people, because they won't oblige their standards. This is what the film thematically sets up, and allows us to transition away from the great opening song to meeting Belle's Father...
... again, not the most normal person. However, it's with Belle's father that we must pick up on Disney and parent's again. We can assume that Maurice's wife/girlfriend, Belle's mother, is out of the picture. This leaves him entirely responsible for Belle. It also leaves him with a troubled past concerning women. This thematically links him to The Beast. But, whilst The Beast's troubles with women are much more serious, Maurice's must have left him, at the least, rattled. This is something we have to hold onto after we learn that he's an inventor (further link to responsibility; caring for his daughter) and is going to present his wood chipper at a fair. This is all in the hope of changing his and Belle's life. The subtextual implication is that the invention will get them out of the town. This is crucial as this event leads onto...
... the first wolf attack. Whilst the wolves could be dismissed as mere conflict meant to energise the narrative, they can, when looked at in an alternative light, fill a huge plot hole of this narrative. This has been pointed out by many, but, The Beast is prince of what and where? If the king, queen and royal family suddenly just receded into darkness, wouldn't the town be aware of this? Would they not have knowledge of The Beast; knowledge at least tantamount to the Whovillian's idea of The Grinch?
I don't know what to think when faced with this question. Is it just a huge oversight? Maybe. But, I'm not sure. This film certainly seems to be much more metaphorical and symbolic than it presents itself as. In such, I don't think that The Beast is really this:
I think this facade is a projection of his character; and that it to say that it's an impressionist representation of the broken prince within - which explains an awful lot about Belle's attraction to him; she sees him as an ugly personality, maybe not directly a wolf/bear thing. This will become all the more clearer as we move into the narrative though. But, I think the town itself is also somewhat metaphorical. They are a rather simple group that will easily be turned vitriolic given the chance. Their core purpose seems to be to sustain a tight community. Whilst there are a few outliers in this group, Belle, Maurice, maybe the book shop owner, everyone is pretty tight. When we push on out of the town and come across these guys...
... I don't think it's just mere coincidence. The wolves seem to be the final layer of projected community and doubt that encircle the town. That is to say that they act in a similar way as the town to those trying to escape or be different; they're a violent deterrent. This becomes all the more clearer when we see Maurice leave. With doubt and weight on his shoulders, intentions to escape the town with his daughter...
... Maurice is a character with a lot of internal conflicts bubbling below the surface. Not only is there self-doubt, but a fear that he fails his daughter, that he's lost in the world, stuck with the townspeople. This leaves the wolves a projection of his doubt somewhat linked to the town and themes of community. They possibly attack as a way of forcing him back home, back to the overbearing town and townspeople. However, the wolves fail, leaving Maurice to find himself in this position...
This is where the thematic link between the three main characters becomes all the more important. The Beast, Maurice and Belle all meet in the enchanted castle under the guise of being in similar situations - pushed away from community, isolated. This leaves the castle as a place tantamount to an Outlook Hotel.
I won't delve too deep into this comparison, but, I think it's evident that characters under this roof share a similar plight, and because of that, we can see it as somewhat metaphorical or symbolic.
Understanding exactly what the metaphor is, is pretty simple. It's not so different from the metaphorical veil put over the prince. Everything in the castle is drenched in an ugly gloom and made to loom. It is a projection of character and so an extrapolation of mood - The Beast's depression and self-loathing. This projection of The Beast is put upon those who inhabit the house also...
The Beast's servants are reduced to caricatures just as he is. This implies they were sucked into his 'curse' - what would be the implications of his 'meeting' with The Enchantress. If something as dark as child abuse occurred at this point, it makes sense that The Beast would be stuck in a childish mindset and so metaphorically transform his carers into caricatures. We find further evidence for The Beast's childish nature in his behaviour. Not only does he eat like no one has ever taught him how...
... but he has an uncontrollable temper...
... does not know to interact with people...
... and cannot read...
These are all hallmarks of a child in a grown person's body - a damaged person. This is the essence of The Beast's character and is projected across the entire narrative, from his castle to his servants. You may say it even stretches out into the forest, the wolves being a violent projection of his psyche, maybe a product of 'the curse' - in short, part of the larger metaphor centred on community and isolation that all characters exist under. This all suspends the film in a rather intangible space of imagination, but through theme and character, this suspended plot and world becomes all the more comprehensible.
So, with Maurice held captive by The Beast, Belle having sung more about how she wants to escape after Gaston proposes...
... she is pushed towards her own captivation...
This juxtaposition mimics Maurice's attempt to leave town via his invention and allows us to see Belle's imprisonment as her being sucked into this curse of isolation. The trap Gaston sets up back in town, is then one that embodies the conflicting conceptions of community and standard this town put upon Belle - a conflict that, again, links to The Beast and The Enchantress. however, this conflict thematically catalyses Belle's movement towards The Beast. The reasoning for this brings us to the turning point of the movie. From here on out, this film isn't so much about being trapped, about having nowhere to go, but trying to figure a way out. For The Beast, Belle sacrificing herself for her father's freedom is a pivotal moment too, one that shocks him, one that demonstrates in front of his very eyes, love. This marks The Beast's slow unwinding. And so, from here the film begins to coast towards an end. But, the purpose of this meeting is one with implications of romantic magnetism; that Belle were meant for each other, that they're meant to help each other in life.
But, before jumping into that, we have to quickly pick up on this sequence...
There are few greater villains than Gaston because when you say "you love to hate him" you aren't just spewing a cliche. The Gaston song is the undeniable example of this. The song is so good, but only because Gaston is such a vain dickhead. In such, all I can do is commend the genius that is this segment of the film.
However, this song is of course interrupted by Maurice, back from The Beast's castle. It's here where we see the mob mentality of the town grow and the general community shift a little. Having heard Maurice's claim, they dismiss him as crazy - all of course led by Gaston. This segment makes next to no sense without recognising Gaston as the leader of those at the bar. This is because, despite the ludicrous claim, Maurice could easily begin to prove that Belle has been taken. All he has to do is show that she's not at home and that his cart and horse are gone. With this said, he would easily be able to convince the town to go to The Beast's castle. However, this doesn't happen for two reasons. The first is that Maurice leading the siege on the castle would not just ruin the final act but seriously convolute the message of the film. It thus has to be remembered at this point that Belle, The Beast and Maurice are thematically connected - they are outsiders. This segues into the second reason a siege on The Beast's castle can't occur right now: Gaston. He controls the town, as his song pretty much outlines, and so he leads them to act as he does. But, this ultimately leaves them to the consequences of his hubris...
Nonetheless, Gaston only really needs to be kind to Maurice to get in with Belle. If he helped her father, if he saved her from The Beast on the first night, well, I'm pretty sure things would have gone his way. But, because this line of thought is antithetical to Gaston's self-centric and malicious thought process, he would never do this. Instead of earning Belle's trust (even if that means lying and being something he's not) he wants to force things his way and be a dick. Such calls back to the core conflict of this entire film: rigid communities run by idiots. All of this means that Gaston would rather exploit those that are different from him, take them under his control and continually use them as he wants - such leaves him an archetypal bully and the town a horrible high school made up of butchers, bakers and candle stick makers. This is exactly why Maurice is left in the cold once again.
However, back to The Beast's castle we go and it's here where we see the ramifications of this moment:
Shocked by the self-sacrifice and love displayed by Belle taking Maurice's place, The Beast is forced to see her as a person, not just an intruder. It's here where we see the film's core romantic attachment to a fatal attraction.
No, not that kind of fatal attraction - an attraction dictated by fate. In such, we see Belle finding herself in the castle as an implied 'meant to be'. However, with the moment that The Beast realises that he has Belle in his castle he also sees the way to breaking his curse - not just romance. And this is an interesting moment as it speaks to this one:
Both The Beast and Gaston essentially want to use Belle for their own gains. Whilst this seems sinister, it must be pointed at that this is kind of what love and attraction simply are. You initially just want the other person to be yours. So, the subtle undertones of 'ownership' are nothing to get to flustered over. Instead, what The Beast and Gaston seem to have in common is really what separates them most. The Beast, while he wants Belle as to break his curse, is willing to change for that, is willing to engage in an social exchange - whereas Gaston is not. This means that The Beast has quite a way to go as to reverse the bullshit he pulled in imprisoning both Belle and her father, but, understandably so.
We thus see The Beast trying to get on with Belle...
... as the start of his character arc. This of course starts out rough and is thinned out by Lumiere and co. with another timeless song...
And in case you're blind - one of the best sequences ever animated. But, it's in welcoming Belle that another key theme is reprised; change. What we see in this sequence is the home coming to life, is the servants reversing the atmosphere of the castle. This theme of change is pivotal to everything that occurs in the castle from this point onwards and is linked, again, to this:
Just as Maurice ran into conflict when trying to change his life, so do Belle and The Beast. This isn't only evident in the action sequence depicted, but the interactions between Belle and The Beast. Each time The Beast tries to be nice, he's shot down, just as each time Belle becomes inquisitive she runs into trouble - which is what brings us to the wolves. This sequence then marks a significant moment in the relationship between The Beast and Belle. Not only does he save her life, she care for his wounds and the pair work through an argument, but, as before, the wolves show up at a dire moment of change. It's when Belle runs away and The Beast runs after her that both characters attempt to reverse who they are. Belle breaks a promise, endangering her father - something she's forced to do. The Beast begins to care for someone, to see them as a person. It's here where we see The Beast confronting all that is fractured inside him, all that was shattered by this moment in his life:
The cut away that interrupts the growth in Belle and The Beast's relationship is the setting up of the Insane Asylum Trap. Again, this is a return to the motif set up by the opening. One person wants something from another, whether it's The Enchantress or Gaston, and they decide to use threats as a means of getting it - when that fails, punishment.
Moving back to the castle, however, we come across the Something That Wasn't There Before segment. This is the crux of the film, the Rocky montage of The Beast reversing all that's broken inside him. The focus of this segment is weakness being revealed in The Beast and a playful exchange occurring between himself and Belle. In such, we see the first major lesson The Beast learns; learning to love someone. This essentially marks him being able to transform the way he sees others and the world around him. It's because of this that he sees something different in Belle and his Outlook Hotel-esque castle is transformed in the 'Human Again' sequence...
What we're seeing here is the first major instance that change is embraced in the environment of the film. However, this, as we know, isn't enough. Not only does The Beast need someone to love him back, but he essentially needs to see himself change; needs to not see himself as The Beast. But, this is all thrown in the air after this sequence...
.... when Belle is given the mirror. When Belle is asked what she truly wants to see, it's her father - and it's here where The Beast has to let her go. What this says about themes of change, isolation and community all brought up throughout the film is simply that some people need each other, i.e, Maurice needs Belle. Moreover, those who have lost someone, need those they have most - which is why Belle returns to her widowed father. What this links well to is The Lion King...
Just as Beauty And The Beast is an expansion on themes of adventure and love brought up in The Little Mermaid, The Lion King is an expansion on themes of responsibility raised in Beauty And The Beast. Thus, we see the holes in this film, the lack of exploration into Belle's responsibilities - all characters responsibilities - being somewhat made up for by later features. This raises a very interesting conversation on cinematic universes we'll surely pick up on another time. Coming back to the moment in which Belle is given the mirror, however...
... what we are seeing here is another moment buried in subtext. The Beast gives Belle the mirror as a way of looking back on him. Belle accepts this mirror without much of a word. This means that there is an understanding between the two that she's never coming back. Watching this film as a kid, I never understood the huge emotive beat that was this moment, because, can't she just come back? The truth is, Belle doesn't really want to. Not only would she rather be with her father, but seems to embrace the little town she wanted to escape as her future. To pick up on the comparison to The Little Mermaid, this is the equivalent to Ariel deciding to stay with Triton in the ocean instead of going off with Eric. However, there is the added element of change present in Belle decision to leave. She essentially disengages from The Beast's plight, leaving him as a kind of broken kid. Whilst this seems both unfair and completely sensical (would you really want to live with a Beast that loved you?), this is primarily a moment of suspension for Belle. She decides to not walk away from the people she can help, her father and The Beast, but decides between the two. This is all reversed, however, by the town who can't let things be...
The 'Kill The Beast' song is actually a very interesting one. This film is often seen as one closely linked to the composer, Howard Ashman. The theory behind this implies that The Beast is a projection of Ashman, who had HIV and later died of AIDs. (Link here to a more in depth explanation). Whilst Ashman had to have allowed this to contribute to his characterisation of the lead through songs, there is also a strong link to the theory we're exploring now in this song. In such, we see the depth of subtext in Beauty And The Beast, one you could probably draw a myriad of theories and explanations from.
However, staying with our current theory, the lyrics of this song seem to paint The Beast as a potential paedophile or child molester - all because he was maybe molested himself.
[Gaston:] The Beast will make off with your children.
[Gaston:] He'll come after them in the night.
[Gaston:] We're not safe till his head is mounted on my wall! I
Say we kill the Beast!
[Mob:] Kill him!
[Man I:] We're not safe until he's dead
[Man II:] He'll come stalking us at night
[Woman:] Set to sacrifice our children to his monstrous appetite
[Man III:] He'll wreak havoc on our village if we let him wander free
[Gaston:] So it's time to take some action, boys
It's time to follow me
Through the mist
Through the woods
Through the darkness and the shadows
It's a nightmare but it's one exciting ride
Say a prayer
Then we're there
At the drawbridge of a castle
And there's something truly terrible inside
It's a beast
He's got fangs
Razor sharp ones
Killer claws for the feast
Hear him roar
See him roam
But we're not coming home
'Til he's dead
Good and dead
Kill the Beast!
Light your torch
Mount your horse
[Gaston:] screw your courage to the sticking place
[Mob:] We're counting on Gaston to lead the way
Through a mist
Through a wood
Where within a haunted castle
Something's lurking that you don't see ev'ry day
It's a beast
One as tall as a mountain
We won't rest
'Til he's good and deceased
Grab your sword
Grab your bow
Praise the Lord and here we go!
[Mob:] We don't like
What we don't understand
In fact it scares us
And this monster is mysterious at least
Bring your guns
Bring your knives
Save your children and your wives
We'll save our village and our lives
We'll kill the Beast!
This song, when looked at under the themes given to us by the opening of the film is very transparent. The townspeople seem to think The Beast will do to others as was done to him, but, given themes of change, we know this not to be true. There is no predacious subtext of this manner present in any part of the film, 'The Beast' is a facade that the prince took onto himself as a person who could never love and never be loved because of his tortured perspective of others - primarily, it seems, women. This is what the narrative fights against; a hatred and self-loathing built up in The Beast over his decade alone in his castle.
With the final conflict, we are then seeing the poison in the town that is Gaston confronting the epitome of its opposition; The Beast that has tried to change himself. Again, what we are seeing here is conflict constantly proceeding a change in a character. What the final fight represents is the fight that The Beast has to have fought to better himself. This is the guiding pattern of the film, it's all about escaping the environments and people that try to control you and designate you a way of life. This is where The Shining comparisons I've been hinting at really come into play - but we'll touch on this in the end.
With the fight concluded, what this final transformation means should be clear by now. The Beast, almost taken down by the essence of conflict in this film...
... that which of course destroys itself, transforms. This is because Belle comes back, allowing The Beast to see that someone cares for him, that he isn't the inevitable product of his past. This reverses his perception of self and billows out into the final surge of change that the film needs.
The commentary of this film is thus very simple, it's all about recreating a perception of self by over coming external pressures and the myriad of elements of life that we ultimately cannot control. And in doing this, The Beast becomes a person capable of fully embracing Belle, of creating an environment in which they, the weirdos of a provincial little town, can live their happily ever after.
... it now allows him see the true light of a brighter present...
Before I let you go, Beauty And The Beast is a film heavily linked, through theme, to Kubrick's The Shining. To explore this, read onwards...
Within The Throes Of Abuse, Destruction And Dysfunction
Jack Torrance takes a job as the caretaker of The Overlook Hotel through isolated winter months, bringing with him his wife and young son.
Room 237 is part interesting, part nonsense, part insanity. Ultimately, it does not reflect a true reading of this film as it presents itself. This is what I want to do today: both demonstrate why this is such a great film, and also what it means with an honest, taken-as-given analysis. Staying with Room 237 a moment, what we have here is a documentary tantamount to bad reality TV. It's intriguing, but in a way you feel probably isn't too good for your mental dexterity. More than this, Room 237 is primarily a collection of poor reviews or looks in on a film. You have obsessive fanatics of this film that zoom waaaaay to far into tiny details which ultimately does nothing more than trivialise Kubrick's ingenuity, talent, craft and artistry, making it not just pretentious to say he's a genius, but almost laughable. Then you also have those who pick up interesting details (like the reference to Native Indians) but cannot demonstrate the purpose of that throughout the narrative. This has always been something that has tugged at the fibres of my filmic pretension and geekness. It's fine to analyse the details of a film, to zoom into scenes, moments, seconds, but, each frame cannot be treated as an individual painting. Each frame must been seen as a segment of a collage. If you wanted to, you could make a claim for this film being racist against blacks or Native Americans because of certain designs on clothing, on the walls, the use of 'nigger' and of killing the only black guy. If you wanted to, you could use this film as evidence for the moon landings being faked by Kubrick (I know). If you wanted to, you could see this movie as being misogynist because of the way Wendy is treated by Jack, how she's given responsibilities in the kitchen and how women are generally the targets of a lot of violence. If you really wanted to, you could see this movie as a whole lot of things, and I suppose that's part of what makes it great: its ambiguity, its flexibility, its resounding accessibility. But, to judge a film you must take into account each scene, each moment, see how they interact and so hear how the film as a whole speaks to you. This is film analysis. It's not making a case for a sneaking suspicion you have, or a scene you thought pushed the mark too far. It's discovery and then the articulation of what you've discovered. It's here that you then make your case. The film provides your agenda, you don't bring it into the movie. That's said, let's get into why this film is so often seen as one of the greats.
I've often had a hard time seeing what people mean when they say a film is a masterpiece or is great. This happens all the time when I look into arts I'm not familiar with (almost all of them). What this says to me is that I just don't get what I'm looking at most of the time. However, I've loved film for a long time, but haven't always been able to see what people mean by great, or even form my own opinion on their view or the film itself. This is simply something you have to develop, meaning seeing greatness is something you have to learn how to do. That sounds stupid and elitist, but that's not what I mean for it to be. What I'm trying to get across is that greatness needs to be pointed out, made clear and precisely demonstrated - something hard to do but also gain access to--largely because 'great' is a word thrown around all to easily (myself being a huge culprit of this). Either way, what makes The Shining great, what makes any film great, is that it both excels in many of its cinematic elements and maintains an irrevocable quality over time and as a cohesive piece of art. 'Cinematic elements' are varied and vast, bringing together a huge skill-set of sometimes hundreds or thousands of people, stretching through numerous art forms. The most obvious elements of cinema though are directing, acting, editing, writing and sound design. A great film excels in all of these elements, but to varying degrees. This is because perfection is not a tangible thing, and the judgment of what is great is ultimately something not determined by a film's many individual parts (something we'll come to in a moment). So, The Shining excels most in the fields of direction, writing and editing. I love the sound design, but it is a little too blatant and emotive at times as well as repetitive. This cheapens the experience as it takes you out of the movie slightly instead of drawing you into the narrative and supporting the meaning of the film. I also love Jack Nicholson's performance, but, it's a little over the top at times, moreover, the acting overall isn't amazing (though very good, great in parts). Again, this cheapens the experience, but it also reduces verisimilitude which will add further detriment to the immersive quality of the film as well as diminish character work. On the note of character work, we're going to have to touch on Stephen King's novel. King has criticised this film quite openly on the basis of bad character work. Firstly, I haven't read the book. Secondly, this is a distinguished piece of work that has since defined itself from the novel, leaving the point of comparison rather useless. Thirdly, for reasons we'll get into later, the characterisation in this film is there to support the narrative. So to get along as quick as possible, let's move onto what's great about The Shining and take a look at direction.
Kubrick's style is something you could write a book about. But, in respect to The Shining, what is so exceptional about it is the regimented framing and fluid movement. The cinematography, blocking (where actors sit, stand, move) and framing work together to produce a beautiful, life-like look that is very open to technical analysis. And it's for this reason that The Shining is a film I can return to time and time again. I love the 'sit down and talk' scenes. These are the scenes that are often said to be the best way to judge a director's worth. If you give a director a huge set-piece, a whole lot of CGI, a magnificent landscape, or even phenomenal actors, what they capture is something that wants to be seen, that in some ways speaks for itself. To understand what I mean you simply have to consider something like the end battle of The Avengers or an action scene from Indiana Jones happening before your eyes, or in a YouTube video. Just seeing aliens, Captain America, Hulk smash or Indiana run from huge boulders, fight atop moving tanks, shoot unsuspecting sword-wielding enemies, is enough, and whilst direction can add a lot to this, there is a strong basis of amazement that leaves a lot of a director's job down to simply not distracting the audience from the imagery. The same goes for a great bit of acting, writing or artwork. You could otherwise just listen to, read or look at these things despite their presentation. When it comes to simple talks at a table good acting is key, but what elevates something like the opening to Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Basterds, the majority of 12 Angry Men or Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, the monologues in There Will Be Blood, the central dramatic set-piece of Fury or Psycho, above a filmed podcast, a YouTube video or a play is direction. What this demonstrates is something I've already touched on a few times and that is the importance of immersion. The individual elements of a film (acting, writing, editing, direction, sound design) are there to ensure you are having a good time, are there to put you in that suspended place just above reality, but below a dream, are there to draw you in and hold your attention. This is a huge qualifying factor of a mediocre, good or great film. They have to entertain or draw you in. With the simple 'talk at a table' scene what you have is a segment of your story that is usually something you need, not really want - it is ultimate something your audience is not often looking to be entertained by. But, Kubrick holds long and (on paper) kind of meh conversations over long stretches with minimal acting and little movement by setting down cinematic poetry. By that I mean to reference what Scorsese calls cinematic language, and this term describes the means by which a camera angle can tell you something in the same respect these typed squiggles do. In other words, during the table scenes Kubrick not only manages to hold our attention, but say an awful lot with the positioning of his camera.
With the last sentence I leave an open end of analysis/explanation as going through scenes frame-by-frame would take a long time in what is already going to be a long essay. Nonetheless, it's the combination of editing and great camera work that truly suck you into the film, but are also the source of a lot of rewatches, rewinds and obsession. That is to say, the camera work in this film demonstrates what cinema is: it is art made accessible, but art that retains the capacity to say a lot. The last thing that makes this movie great is the writing. This encompasses plotting, character work, dialogue, such and so on. You can then break these elements down further to assess them, and whilst the writing of this film isn't flawless, it is great. It's actually the writing of this film that makes it truly great to me as how a screenplay materialises on screen is my favourite thing about movies. But, before moving onto this I must conclude the point of parts and wholes. Elements of a movie can vary in their strength, but the quality of a picture must be judged over time, and with the movie seen as a singular composite of numerous arts. This comes down to what a film is and how we see and/or analyse them. Films, as repeated many times over, are there to entertain and draw us in for an hour or two. It then makes no sense for you to be ignoring or fixating on fractions of the film before judgement. You must see it in full and be paying attention to everything for your view to have any veracity. Moreover, a film explains itself. This is why film analysis is the articulation of what has already been said by a film. The purpose of analysis is to reflect overall meaning that some may miss, but also provide opportunity for the film to flourish in the themes it holds and the questions it asks us. In the end, a great film does a lot - a lot of impressive, astounding, interesting... things. Those things remain, in part, undefined, as a great film (given the needed approach or perspective) makes its own rules and plays by them like no other. The Shining takes the idea of book adaptations, makes its own rules of approach and surpasses the novel. The Shining also mesmerises, captivates, draws in obsessives, fanatics and weirdos. The Shining defines itself as the greatest horror film ever by being unlike any other, by being strictly irreplicable.
Ok, to delve into my favourite aspect of what makes this film great we come to the writing and in turn the meaning of this behemoth. This is a film entirely about destructive familial relations, it is about domestic abuse, child abuse and self-abuse. To see this you have to look straight to the aspects of this movie that are so easily looked past. The central performance of Jack, the constant build to the moment he's smashing down doors with the axe, pushing his face through the whole in the door to taunt 'Here's Johnny!' all detracts from the supernatural foresight of Danny, Hallorann and the ghosts Jack talks to - these are the most important aspects of this movie. That's not even mentioning the final image...
To understand how Jack is somehow in a ball in 1921, you have to understand what The Shining actually is. The Shining is the ability to see things that have happened or may happen that are demonstrated by the film to be a looming threat. This isn't strictly true though as Hallorann tells us. He was able to talk to his Grandmother, for hours on end, when he was a young boy. What's more, he talks to Danny. The Shining is then two things. It's the ability to see danger, but also communicate. To understand why Danny and possibly Hallorann have The Shining you only need to look to these scenes...
It's Jack talking to Lloyd that reveals the central elements of his character. Firstly, he tells the story of his breaking Danny's arm. Secondly, he hints at possible alcoholism with 'the hair of the dog that bit me' and Llyod handing him whiskey. What is implied here is that Jack, despite trying to be a good father, snaps at times. It's his relationship with Wendy that makes this most clear. And it's here we need to come back to character work. Nicholson injects a lot of needed life into a very subtle film. Like in Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick risks seemingly bland, even bad performances for faux interactions between characters to imply satire and an underlying lie.
With Jack and Wendy in the car, in the bedroom or talking on the phone you can sense an utter disconnect masquerading as shitty writing and terrible performances. It's knowing how much hatred for Wendy Jack is hiding that makes these scenes work. What looks like bad acting is bad acting, but on Jack Torrance's behalf, not Jack Nicholson's. Nicholson portrays a miserable husband who feels stuck in a relationship with the unthinkably oblivious Wendy. This is actually the aspect of character work that makes little sense. Wendy is never shown to pick up on Jack's disdain for her (not until it's too late). This may be because she fears Jack (due to his stressed/drunken and possibly violent history) and is putting on as much as of a show for him as he is for her, however, this is hard to find evidence for, leaving ambiguity a downfall in writing. In other words, her character is ultimately left a slightly tangential element of this film left largely unexplored. Nonetheless, the key takeaway from Jack's past and his relationship with his wife is that he is a conflicted, possibly abusive husband and father. Knowing this we can come back to what The Shining actually is. For Danny, The Shining represents an ability to reach out for help. This is made clear in early scenes with him talking in the mirror and with later warnings with the twins - but let's not jump ahead of ourselves. Staying with the opening act, there's an extended cut of this film that includes a small scene with a doctor coming to see Danny (who has been sick) and also one with the doctor talking to Wendy about Jack breaking his arm a few months before hand (something Wendy defends Jack on). This scene brings together the outside world and the inner family circle on the theme of abuse. This also happens with Hallorann interfering - and doesn't end well.
But, what is present in both of these scenes is the idea of Shining. Danny called out for help to Hallorann, but couldn't when alone with his mother or the doctor. The Shining is then a metaphorical means of presenting a child's (person's) ability to call out for help. This implies some interesting things about Hallorann who can also Shine and maybe lived with his Grandmother. It's possible that he had an abusive past, giving reason for his (alleged, but denied) fear of room 237 and why he would have lived with his Grandmother, not his parents. However, we cannot jump to that just yet.
So, Hallorann and Danny obviously have The Shining, but, what went over my head for years was that Jack does too. This isn't the same kind of Shining that Halloran and Danny have as he can't communicate like them, but it is what lets him see ghosts, just as it does Danny. Before delving too deep into that, we also need to recognise something implied about Jack's past. It is possible that his parents abused him, giving reason for his need for seclusion, his incredibly distant facade and ultimately his final break. So, with The Shining we can see that Danny, Jack and Hallorann struggle or have struggled with needing help, but not having a voice to call for it. But, The Shining is not just a means of communicating - as implied with Danny's violent visions and Jack's interactions with a ghostly world. The Shining is also a means of reflection. With Danny and Hallorann this reflection triggers foresight of possible danger. For Jack, we see something different. The best way to see The Shining is under the Freudian interpretation of a dream. Bad dreams or nightmares are a means of a dreamer working through fears. But, dreams are also a means of wish fulfillment. So, for Danny and Hallerann, The Shining provides warning based on their fears and anxieties relating to abuse (like a nightmare). For Jack we see a much more masochistic means of dealing with past trauma. In short, Jack seeing Lloyd is a very dangerous means of Jack accepting his violent side and embracing an abusive childhood/history - some kind of self-destructive wish fulfillment or a means of reversing repression. This is what will eventually explain the last image of the film and open up the true struggles of characters throughout the narrative. To get into Jack's visions we have to recognise what The Outlook Hotel is and so recognise what Jack's role as the caretaker means. As we all know, The Outlook is a fundamental symbol of isolation. And it's the barren seclusion that The Outlook provides that forces the singular families within to the edges of their psyches, sometimes resulting in tragedy.
The Outlook then represents a family home blown up and made to seem looming. What this emphasises Jack's role as caretaker to be resultantly becomes unbearable. In short, his responsibilities, not only for the hotel, but his family force him into deep waters of introspection that have him come out full of hatred. The Outlook Hotel forces deep soul searching, and for the deeply conflicted men at the heads of some of these families, the isolation of self leads to implosion. This then bunches Jack in with Grady, the father who killed the twins - and gives reason why Grady and Jack have an exchange about who is actually the caretaker of the hotel. What this allows us to do is see 'the caretaker' as an archetype. He is a man at the head of a family that is deeply conflicted and profoundly miserable. With Jack we see the conflict in the way he's pulled in two directions, both by his son and wife, but also by his job as the caretaker and aspirations of being a writer. In short, he loves his son and maybe loves writing, he doesn't seem to like the work he's got, or the wife he lives for. His dissonance on who he is to the family grows with him believing he cannot express himself, he cannot live for himself and is wasting his time. We see this in this scene...
... and also in the infamous lines...
It's here that we're moving towards room 237, so we're going to keep a hold on the dull Jack and his lack of play. Instead, understanding Jack as a conflicted man/father/writer/caretaker/husband we can pull apart why the caretaker is an archetype. The caretaker is a man that finds no joy in his life, not as a father, a husband, not in his work, nor in his art. He is isolated with the ones he loves in a world where he feels unappreciated. This is demonstrated to be a very dangerous figure, one apt to explode. The reasoning why comes back to Jack and his version of The Shining. As said, The Shining is a like a dream, for Jack, some kind of wish fulfillment that is ultimately masochistic. Remembering the implimence of Jack possibly being abused as a child combined with the discussed roles of traditional families and responsibility, we can see why he envisions the 1920s across the hotel. He sees Lloyd, Grady and so on because he sees himself as an archetype, a man built in another time. This then explains the last image as being a critique of the traditional nuclear family. Jack sees himself in a time passed, but displaced hugely:
That's why this image is so important - and takes a leaf out of Polanski's book and his masterpiece, Repulsion, with a picture essentially explaining the narrative. Jack is the centre piece if this image, but his central positioning only isolates him. The crowd around, full of couples and smiles, are a faceless mass that seem to engulf his presence. You even see his wave being held down as to suppress and demean his presence as what we can assume to be the caretaker. Seeing the image in this respect allows us to see Jack as the try-hard weirdo that has no friends, that smiles, but is never really happy. He tries to fit in with the masses, tries to conform, but simply does not fit in.
The constant overshadowing idea of Grady and the crime he committed then lay heavy on the archetype of the caretaker as someone who is inevitably going to break. This is why Jack fits into this picture, why he sees ghosts, why he does their bidding. He not only bends to his own fears of hurting his family...
... but the will of apparent inevitability, of the past dictating the future. It's here where the theory of Jack being abused as a child becomes more poignant. Maybe Jack draw to violence comes from an idea of control, of 'correcting' his wife and kid as once Grady did. This idea may come from a traditional, and rather dysfunctional, idea of family, but maybe Jack's personal experience of family life as a child informed this. If his father used violence to lead and look after his family, why wouldn't Jack? If his father abused him and his mother maybe not just physically, but mentally, why wouldn't Jack? What we have here is a question of self-determinism and environmental-determinism. We cannot infer that just because Jack was abused as a kid that he will abuse his wife and kids. In fact, we can see a struggle within him to keep from this, to hold his family together despite him maybe not loving his wife (even like her slightly) anymore. The questions presented by the metaphorical Shining are then all about the world in respect to the individual.
However, we can't delve into these questions right now. Instead, we need to understand what room 237 actually is. Room 237 is ultimately nothing very interesting, at least, nothing that lives up to the weight the name holds. There is no significance of the numbers pertaining to moon landings. There is no actual significance to the physical room - it's just a designated place in the hotel. I've watched the film dozens of times over and never has anything explaining why room 237 is important as a physical place come up. There is the possible chance that this is where Grady and his family stayed, maybe it's where he killed his wife. But, there is no evidence for this, none at all. For this reason we can only assign room 237 the metaphorical meaning the narrative provides. Room 237 is Jack's suppressed thoughts hidden in his temporary family home. What is most interesting about it is not really what goes on inside (we'll get to that though) but what happens around it. Firstly, we have to look at its introduction through Danny who comes to ask Hallorann about it. What should be clear already is that room 237 is a sexual place...
... to juxtapose that with the distance between Jack and Wendy you should understand what this means:
Jack isn't getting any, and even if he is, it's not with a person that excites him, nor is attractive to him. Bring this back to Danny, and you see his fear of the family being split up, of Jack leaving in pursuit of another woman. Bring this theme of sexuality forward a little to Hallarann, we come across more interesting details...
When confronted by room 237, Hallorann denies he fears it. Combine this with his implied abusive past, the fact that he is alone in his bed (a bachelor) with the huge pictures of nude models and you see his confusing relationship with women. He gets along fine with Wendy, implying he does not fear or get nervous around them - just as he says he doesn't room 237. But, he stays away. Why? Well, maybe Hallorann was almost the caretaker archetype (giving reason for his Shining) but never committed to traditional family life as that was not for him. He remains a bachelor for his own sake, and maybe because he doesn't think he'd be a good father. This is the life that Jack maybe should be living: alone in his room by day, typing away, nude pictures hung around for him to muse upon, and then by night, he puts the typewriter away and goes out to sling some dick, get some free love...
Ok, this is not the time or place for an absurd theory, but the link to Easy Rider is an interesting one. Nonetheless, the commentary provided here with Hallorann and Jack is not that all men should be bachelors, just that some aren't suited for family life - Jack being a key example of this. So, getting closer to actually going inside room 237 we get a thematic build culminating with the accusation of Jack abusing Danny...
It's this scene that solidifies the idea of abuse and The Shining being linked because of all the violent and supernatural snowballing that occurs as a result of this scene. Danny claims he is hurt by the woman in room 237. In other words, he foresees Jack wanting to split up with Wendy and find another woman. Him being physically hurt by the woman isn't something we should take seriously though. It only makes sense that Jack was the one that hurt him, as seeing the woman in the bathtub as a metaphor leaves him the only one left to hurt Danny. His manipulation of the family then demonstrates how deeply troubled he is, how he not only pulls the wool over their eyes, but possibly his too. What we now need to ask is why Jack beat Danny upon discovering room 237. Well, maybe he stumbled upon a secret of Jack's, maybe he questioned his intentions, or let loose some kind of anxiety over the state of the family. We cannot know for sure, but what is implied is that some kind of sexual tension has been picked up by those with the capacity for Shining - and it tears them apart. But, assuming Jack did beat Danny, you can see clearly why he'd accuse him of murder, be in a zombie-like state and use The Shining (Tony) to call for help.
It's from that point that all hell breaks loose and the family break apart, Jack being frozen out of the group...
It's having said that that we can quickly touch on the maze. This is a symbol of introspection, of being lost in oneself.
For Wendy and Danny to be able to navigate this well enough, but Jack to be ultimately lost (to freeze to death) in here speak volumes. It demonstrates the resounding struggle he faces as a conflicted father/husband/writer such and so on. But, we still need to conclude what goes on in room 237. It's knowing what this...
... horrific image means, that we'll understand why Jack devolves into a murderer. So, going into room 237 forces him to confront his suppressed or latent sexual desires. However, he sees them decay in his grip, implying that he feels he is too old or too deep into marriage to be a bachelor. This means that he is both stuck with a woman that will rot in his arms (sorry Wendy) and that his desire for a young, beautiful woman has also rotted to nothing over the years of his marriage. This realisation drives Jack over the edge as he sees no meaning in life. He finds no joy in work, he cannot write, he cannot love, and so he decides he wants to snuff all of his problems out.
The final thing to do here is ask why Kubrick has pulled together such a complex subtext and so see the cohesive whole of these many intricate parts. The major elements of this story are of abuse, of tradition, of sexuality and of disconnect. This is what fuels all of the violence and horror and what ultimately makes clear to Wendy why she needs to get away from Jack...
And, yes, this is her realisation that Jack is not sexual attracted to her and...
... ultimately wants to kill her. She sees the violence and the deviance within him, a deviance that maybe implies Jack is gay. This says a lot about Hollorann, Grady and even Danny, and I suppose if you wanted to you could see this film as being about trying to come out of the closet, but not being able to. In fact, it makes a lot of sense if you wanted to see many of the male characters as lying to themselves about their own sexuality. This would explain why Wendy doesn't have The Shining, why she's not a focus of the narrative and her perspective is never really taken seriously. I won't say that this isn't a possibility, just something that doesn't fit that well into the narrative as Jack seems quite enthusiastic about the young nude woman, and quite concentrated on an idea of family and fatherhood. I suppose it's up to you on how you see the end takeaway of this film as about heterosexuality or homosexuality.
Nonetheless, the many elements of this film (sexuality, abuse, tradition, disconnect) are encompassed by one major theme - isolation. The Outlook Hotel is so important as it truly represents a psychological Petri dish that holds specimen the Torrance family for the world to see. It's a metaphor for social moulding and its perceived constriction. It's Jack that sees the world's image of normality projected onto himself who asks: why isn't he happy? He cannot cope with the pressure of responsibility, maybe because he is deeply conflicted on grounds of childhood abuse, or maybe because he is a deeply suppressed homosexual. In the end, he can neither express himself to his family, or through his writing as he cannot channel his anger, his lamentations, his sexuality to someone who he feels can listen. He does not know how to ask for help, and he let's that destroy him. The lasting question of this image...
... is then as much about isolation, as it is self-determinism. Was Jack always doomed to be the broken caretaker archetype, or did he simply doom himself?
In the end, what The Shining is all about is down to you. You have to put yourself in Jack's position as to hear the questions he may be asking himself, to maybe understand how he justifies his heinous outburst. If you find intrigue in this, in the craft of the filmmaking, in the experience of this film, I'm sure you, as I do, will see this film as an undeniable great.
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