“I must be losing my mind.”
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd) to The Overlook Hotel in Colorado for a caretaking job. Isolated in the snow, the family begins to come apart.
The kiddo has “The Shine.” This means he has visions of the future, the past, and the present. He’s a bit like the ghosts in A Christmas Carol.
These are precipitated, like other seizures, sometimes by a burning smell or flashing lights (which is why the doctor asks Danny about this after his episode at the start of the film). Since Danny and Mr. Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) have the same types of visions, Danny is likely undergoing a Stephen King plot element rather than an actual medical condition. However, absence seizures – characterized by blank stares and an inability to call attention to the person having them – would be a tidy way to sum up Danny’s “fits.”
Where do we begin, here? There are plentiful theories on the meaning of The Shining. Jack’s behavior could be transient or permanent, depending on which theory you believe fits the bill.
It’s REAL! If nothing else, this Coronavirus lockdown has proven that cabin fever is a real phenomenon. Symptoms include irritability, restlessness, and impatience, all of which are exemplified by Jack. Cabin fever does not provide a satisfactory platform for Jack’s hallucinations or his murderous appetite.
Alcohol-Induced Psychotic Disorder
Chronic alcoholism can lead to an array of issues, some of which are mental. If one considers that Jack packed some alcohol in his family’s load of luggage, this could neatly explain his hallucinations and the rampage, but Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) reassures the Torrances that there is no alcohol on the premises over the winter. Thus, Jack might be hallucinating all of his bar hops, which takes the demon drink off the table.
The Family Annihilator
Jack falls into a category of serial killers known as a family annihilator. These creeps start a family and then due to reasons beyond the comprehension of a functional person, they murder said family. Like cabin fever, these guys (usually, though women sometimes fall into the family annihilator category) are also real. Often, they try to cover up the murders or make it look like they were committed by someone else. With the advent of social media, these killers sometimes prey on social media followers to invest in their stories to gain sympathy after the crimes.
That’s right: Jack is just a good, old-fashioned serial killer. Experts are still working to understand the mind of a family annihilator, mainly because their motivations vary so widely. One theory explains that some family annihilators are those who struggle to repress their anger and then they murder the family as the result of a psychotic break.
Sound familiar, Readers?
Forced to wean off of booze (and mind you, five months sober is great, but probably not great enough to withstand being stranded in a hotel for six months with two people he secretly despises), Jack feels like Wendy could take his son away from him, he feels inadequate at his work, and he has no new coping methods to replace alcohol. He’s a man on the verge of a break, all right. Add to that the ominous idea that the hotel is haunted (by another family annihilator, a kindred spirit of sorts), coupled with the paranoia induced by his son’s and wife’s behavior, and yes, I think Jack Torrance is a classic family annihilator.
A documentary on the making of The Shining, the film delves into Stanley Kubrick’s take on the story. Cinephiles weigh in on the hostile takeover of the Native Americans by Columbus’ goons ; the holocaust; and just what happens visually when The Shining is watched from start to end, and from end to start.
However you look at the thing, there is more to The Shining than first meets the eye.