Absurdities: The Shining as a Natural Phenomenon



I came up with the idea to write about this months before actually writing about it, and I’ve lost some of the gusto for it. But there’s something about it niggling at me, telling me it’s worth commenting on, at least.

I think my main motivation for introducing it is to chrysalise my general feeling, which I’ve expressed numerously around the site, that there’s something intriguing about the way the shining as a potentially unabsurd natural phenomenon fucks with viewers’ heads. I’ve discovered in almost every, if not every book of analysis I’ve read on The Shining, a leap in logic that the analyst is making, and it’s usually about the supernatural elements in the film. Perhaps this is simply because people who make a career out of analyzing art and people who make a career out of science and technology don’t tend to be the same sorts of people. Perhaps it’s something innate about art, that we’re so drawn to see only what we want to see, that we fill in the gaps in our understanding with our imaginations purely by reflex. But I don’t think you have to do that to confront what the film is showing you about the shining. Nor do I think you have to have an understanding of all or even any of the film’s subtext to confront it.

What we can say for sure is that there’s multiple different kinds of shines at play.

  1. Visions Danny receives from Tony
  2. Tony speaking to Wendy or Danny
  3. Hallorann speaking words to Danny telepathically
  4. Danny knowing something without having asked about it, and without the other person knowing he now knows (like when he knows about 237 before Hallorann’s mentioned it), and/or, eavesdropping on a conversation in another room, out of hearing range
  5. The Overlook projecting a physical object or being at a corporeal person
  6. The Overlook manipulating its physical nature to create a presumably desired effect
  7. Danny experiencing visions with unclear genesis
  8. Visions Danny projects at others
  9. Wendy knowing something before she’s experienced it physically

The mistake a lot of people make is thinking that Jack has even the teeny-tiniest degree of shine power. He does not. This is stated outright in the novel, but there’s nothing in the film to suggest he has a molecule of shine to him. It is, however, an easy mistake to make, because if you’re identifying at all with Jack, you know that you wouldn’t let yourself be tricked by a bunch of hallucinations. And all you’ve ever experienced in your life is concrete reality, so if you were presented with something supernatural, you would know that it was because metaphysicality is a fact of reality (like when people presume their dreams to be prophetic), and the simple fact that you possess the ability to perceive that metaphysicality is enough to prove that you operate on the same level as it. But I think the reason that we get so much exposure to so much art in the film is because Kubrick’s take on shining is as analogous to art. And just as there are people who can and can’t create art, there are people who can and can’t shine. There are people who can and cannot perform metaphysical acts.

And that’s where it gets hard to separate what we know about the shining through the natural reality of the film, and what we know about the shining due to the filmic nature of the film. So a good example of that is the way Danny touches 237, then gets a blast of the Grady twins, but has no other apparent reaction. Was this a thought? A memory? A double shine from Tony, repeating his first shine of them? If so, Danny didn’t black out as he did before. Why not?

In this master image of every interrupting vision of Danny’s, you can see how the filter over the repeating images changes from vision to vision, so it’s hard to know for certain which visions are visions and which are memories. We think we know from the nature of the first shine what a mental vision experience is like, coming from Tony to Danny, but is this specifically different from a mental thought? And does Danny want to be doing it whenever he’s doing it? Or is it always a consequence of Tony whispering in his mind’s ear? Is this the eye scream?

The vagueness deepens when we consider the hotel’s way of manipulating others. Jack’s drunkenness seems real after drinking the ghostbooze. But is he just acting that way through the power of suggestion? The way you might walk out of a romance movie feeling more in love with life, or your partner, or with the possibility of the future. There’s really no way to know if the hotel isn’t simply poisoning Jack with shine poison. There’s no way to know that the hotel’s shine isn’t inside Jack, working its dark magic, same as Danny would pluck a “237” from the mind of Hallorann. But that doesn’t make Jack a shiner; he’s an aspiring artist, but he has no inspiration, no shine. So his allowing in the hotel’s shine makes him their puppet, and he’s fine with that, because the dark shine is offering what his shinelessness will never afford him: immortality.

This is the difference between art that’s trying to serve humanity, and art that’s trying to serve itself.

So what does it say, then, that the ultimate drive of the dark shine is the consumption of the light shine (people like Hallorann)? I guess it says that we shouldn’t let the people and the things that would try to end or enslave all human creativity get away with it.

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