Kubrick’s Labyrinth of the Mind

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6 November 2014

Francesco Casetti says, “To present a story that has already been told, means to explore how cinema is capable of renewing and intensifying the relationship between text, representation, and spectatorship” (Casetti 84). King’s novel, The Shining makes liberal use of literature’s ability to dip into a character’s consciousness to show the mounting psychological instability of the characters as the story progresses. But while King writes The Shining in third person perspective, Kubrick Films his version of The Shining in third person subjective perspective using the subtlety of the actors’ body language and influences of scene, set, sound effects, and musical score to show the inner workings of the characters’ minds. While it is true that film is limited to visual and aural representations where literature is not, Kubrick’s changes show that intense focus on the minute details of setting can be used to show the state of a character’s mind without the need of internal dialogue. Kubrick’s film, The Shining uses the physical spaces of the hotel to represent the psychological space within the minds of Danny, Jack, and The Overlook itself.

The hallways of The Overlook are a physical representation of the workings of the mind. Danny’s tricycle rides show that the hallways defy the laws of physics and therefore cannot exist in the physical world. In Rodney Ascher’s documentary, Room 237, Danny is tracked as he rides his tricycle through the hallways. He travels from the kitchen, which is on the first floor down the hallways passing the stairs that lead down to the Colorado Lounge. He travels through multiple floors of the hotel without using the stairs or the elevators (Room 237 2012). The way the hallways linearly connect nonlinear areas of the hotel recreates the way that the stream of consciousness connects thoughts that are not normally connected.

The rooms that are connected to the hallways stand in as flashes of thought that surface from the unconscious mind. These hallways are flanked by nearly identical doors set at regular intervals on both sides of the hallways. The regularly spaced doors are nodes on the stream of consciousness that lead to connections to memories that are buried in the subconscious. According to Rob Ager, many of these rooms cannot exist in the spaces that they are given. The doors on the side of the wall nearest the Colorado Lounge are shown to have only four or five feet of wall in which to contain a room, and room 237 is a large suite with a living room, a bedroom, and a large bathroom that extend off of it overlapping the room next to it (Ager 2008). As subconscious memories, the walls of the hallway do not need to have the space to contain the rooms because the doors are just access points in which to connect to memories that are stored in another place.

The hallways are used to gain insight in to the minds of the characters. The camera shots of the hallways are often shown at a four way intersection of halls (The Shining 1980). The shot is set up to show almost nothing of the three different directions that the character could have possibly taken while showing the hallway ahead fading off in the distance like it goes on forever. The floors in the hallway are covered by carpet with a uniquely labyrinthine design that is focused on by a head down camera shot that shows more of the floor than the ceiling (The Shining 1980). In the context of this shot, the carpet pattern, the hallway fading off into nothingness, and the character standing at the crossroads between the hallways work together to show the inability of the human mind to accurately predict the consequences of an action, and these things show the mounting confusion in the characters’ minds. The camera shots and the set design work together to show chaotic mental state of the character that is being focalized in the scene.

Jack and Danny, in particular, are singled out for the focalization in the halls. Both Jack and Danny have scenes in which they are standing alone in the crossing of two hallways as if at a point of decision when they contemplate whether or not they will enter room 237 (The Shining 1980). Both Danny and Jack find reason to go into the room. Danny falling in to temptation and Jack entering out of duty to protect his son. The context of the character’s interaction with the ghost in the room serves as a hallucination showing the fear of the character that has entered at the moment.

Because the rooms act as access points to stored memories along the stream of consciousness, the visions that the characters’ see takes advantage of their bad memories. Danny chose to enter room 237 after he had been warned not to go into the room. Halloran warns him of the ghost, and Jack warns him not to want him roaming the hallways (The Shining 1980). Danny’s vision of the ghost plays off his fear of getting caught for breaking the rules. The vision of the dead woman in the tub grabs him by the neck and strangles him leaving bruises around his neck (The Shining 1980). The film hints on more than one occasion that Jack had been violent in the past, and he had even broken Danny’s arm for having dropped his papers (The Shining 1980). So the ghost’s attack on Danny shows that deep down he is afraid of his father becoming violent again.

Jack, on the other hand, enters room 237 out of his fatherly duty to his child. Before he enters the room he has an argument with his wife where she accuses him of causing the bruises to Danny’s neck (The Shining 1980). Since Jack enters the same room that Danny did, he accesses the she same node of the stream of consciousness and the memory of the same night from his point of view. The ghost appears to Jack as a nude young woman. As Jack gives in to his lust, she turns into the bloated corpse of the dead woman (The Shining 1980). Jack’s hallucination shows his fear of giving in to his passions.

The hallways of The Overlook hold their own hallucinations as well. Danny and Jack May have been drawn to the memory of the woman that died in room 237, but the traumatic memory for The Overlook takes place in the Colorado Lounge. The hallway that acts as the stream of consciousness is open the Colorado Lounge on the ground floor, where Danny rides straight through it on his tricycle trip through the hotel, and on the main stairway that leads down into the lounge. Something so traumatic happened in the Colorado Lounge that the memory stands as an open wound in the psyche of the hotel, and The Overlook tries to fill the hole with the souls of the Torrance family.

The connection between the physical spaces of the Overlook’s hallways and Danny and Jack’s minds leaves more questions than it answers. The movie follows at least one character that has the ability to read the thoughts of others and tell the future, but none of the characters foresee what happens except maybe the hotel itself. But that may just be the point of the film; the mind is such a confusing and convoluted place that even if one could access the power to see the future that person would not be likely to understand what is revealed. The Overlook Hotel is secluded amongst the mountains like the consciousness of the characters’ minds, and like the labyrinthine pattern of the carpet in the hallways and the hedge maze that stands in front of hotel, The Overlook symbolizes the convoluted and confusing actions of the subconscious mind.

Work Cited

Ager, Rob. “MAZES, MIRRORS, DECEPTION AND DENIAL: An In-depth Analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING.” The Shining (1979) Analysis.  2008. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

Casetti, Francesco. “Adaptations and Mis-adaptations: Film, Literature, and Social Discourses.” A Companion to Literature and Film. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

King, Stephen. The Shining. New York: Anchor, 2012. Print.

Room 237. Ascher, R. IFC Films. 2012. Film.

The Shining. Kubrick, S. Warner Brothers. 1980. Film.

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