Disappearances: A Tale of Two Red Couches



This is an appearance, not a disappearance, but there’s a gap between the two red couches during the tour of the Gold Room, where a third red couch will appear, with three ghosts on it, during the ghost ball.

The gap (lefthand images below) appears numerously, meaning it mirrors over many moments in the film: 1) as forward Wendy does her little jig, saying they could “really have a good party” in there, backward Grady is commenting on how Wendy appears to be more resourceful than Jack, and that she’s got the better of him; 2) as forward Susie brings Danny to his parents, backward Grady is saying that he “and others” have come to believe that Jack doesn’t “have the belly” to [kill his family]; 3) as mad Jack approaches the Gold Room for the second of three times, backward Wendy is saying “Are you sure it was the right room [237]? Maybe Danny made a mistake!”; 4) you could argue that the gap is always behind Jack’s shoulder during the first Lloyd conversation, but it’s only plainly visible twice: once during the “white man’s burden” lines (featuring the back half of backward Jack’s escape from room 237), and once during the “words of wisdom” section, which carries on for a while, as Jack begins to tell Lloyd he’d never harm Danny in a million years (featuring the front half of Jack approaching the younger nude ghost); 5) the final appearance is when Wendy comes running to inform Jack about the ghost in 237, which mirrors over the backward appearance of the Lesson Key (see below), but only during the appearance of the kingfisher and the blackbird paintings (Jack and Wendy, respectively).

The common factor between all these mirrorform moments seems to be people expressing doubt at Jack. As for the room 237 moments, you might argue that this is about Jack himself doubting–first doubting his sanity for seeing a beautiful naked woman, and second doubting his senses that she’s become an old corpse. The effect of 237 on Jack’s psyche is to make him doubt his senses.

The ruby slipper couch (righthand images below; the middle ghost is wearing ruby slippers) appears once during Jack’s ghost ball approach, every time we see Jack when he’s talking to Lloyd for the last time, and once when Jack dances away to Grady. The mirror action for these sections include Wendy in the boiler room (Jack’s approach), the entire sequence of Danny playing with his cars and seeing the ghost ball and approaching 237 (Jack talking to Lloyd), and the very end of Danny talking to zombie Jack where he’s assuring Danny he’d never do anything to hurt Danny (Jack dancing to meet Grady).

It’s only 115 seconds from the first to the last appearance of this couch (82:42-84:37), so it doesn’t have much chance to connect very many things in the mirrorform, but as discussed in the mirror phrases section, Jack’s final conversation with Lloyd features a few subtle subtexts of Jack being “blocked” for what he wants. So it’s neat that this, in conjunction with this “blocking” couch, would mirror over the scene of Danny finally gaining access to room 237. In fact, there’s a strong sense of invitation between the two “ghost balls”. And both men take the invitation, and are transported back in time, in different ways–Jack in the seemingly literal sense, and Danny in the sense of how the 237 ghost’s abuse causes him to have a similar mental reaction to when Jack dislocated Danny’s shoulder.

I also just want to point out how the ruby slippers overlay with the one active light connected to the boilers (top right red box below); during the shots of the ruby slipper couch behind Jack at the ghost ball, they overlay with a chair behind Danny that is not visible in the overhead shot of Danny playing (see below), so this appearing couch overlays with an appearing chair. A chair that is right beneath a painting of a girl with pigtails, painted by a Dorothy (that’ll be important later). And as the shot zooms in on Danny’s toys, the ruby slippers ghost overlays with Danny’s toy SWAT van–which appears one other time, beneath the news show reporting on the “missing Aspen woman” Susan Robertson (see below)–and overlays with the blue bus–which appears beneath Summer of ’42, a film partly about a bomber pilot.

And before we get into the finer points of what this all might mean, there’s actually another red couch with a funny attitude in the film, only this one disappears in its final moment. This final moment occurs in the mirrorform before any forward appearance of the couch. My initial assumption about this was that Kubrick removed the couch to take away our sense of climbing up on it during the final zoom, as if we were standing on it to inspect the impossible photo Jack. Now I have quite a different idea.

All of the subsequent appearances of the couch occur during very interesting mirror moments. 1) When Jack’s arriving for the interview, it’s first blotted out by the headlights on the escaping snowcat. 2) After he gets the directions to Ullman’s office, it’s blotted out by a light in the labyrinth, as minotaur Jack stumbles in freezing defeat. 3-5) As Ullman’s impossible window shines behind him (and as he describes the Grady carnage), the couch appears three times during Wendy’s second and third Four Horsemen portals. 6) As Danny decides he doesn’t wanna talk about Tony anymore (cutting to a wider shot of the room, which now includes two very bright windows), Hallorann makes his final approach. 7) As Wendy brings Jack an Overlook breakfast, lounge fight Jack is passing between two very bright windows, ranting about his “responsibility” to the hotel. 8) While Wendy is passing between radios, backward Wendy is getting Danny-blocked by Tony while the outer room light shines brightly in her hair. 9) And, curiously, while Wendy’s soothing a recently awoken nightmare Jack, her arm makes a dark bar as it extends to Jack’s back, so that the couch in the mirrorform (Jack approaching the ghost ball) appears perfectly in the dead centre of the frame.

So the effect in four of the nine mirror moments is for a natural/electric shining light to block out the couch. In the four (most) closely connected to Hallorann’s death, there’s a bright light nearby from a source that we know to be impossible (the Torrance apartment in Boulder shouldn’t be able to have a window on three sides). Perhaps significantly and perhaps not, the impossible light four come right in the middle of the natural light four. And then, in the last instance, an effort was made to show the red couch unblocked by any kind of light. This is in sharp contrast to the first instance, in which the snowcat headlights totally obliterate the couch from view.

So I’m guessing the reason this couch disappears has something to do with Jack’s final absorption by the hotel, connecting it to the photo Jack photo, which only appears on this wall once the red couch has vanished. But it strikes me as strange that we have one disappearing couch and one appearing couch, and that they seem not to be the same couch. Jack sees the lobby one right as he’s headed to the ghost ball. So, even if we were to think the lobby one jumped over to the Gold Room for the ghost ball, it would’ve jumped back for all the sequences connected to Hallorann’s death, and what would the point of that be? But then the lobby one does later disappear. So are these completely separate incidents of identical red couches appearing and disappearing?

Also, there’s at least three incidents of the disappearing couch being blocked from view by the framing of the shot, and in two of these, it’s the Gold Room sign doing the blocking.

And then there’s the fact that, during the 5 seconds Jack’s getting directions to his interview, there’s a couple hotel employees (a man and a woman), almost totally obscuring the lobby couch with their attire.

So, I would say the clearest thing at play here is that there was some effort to make these couches be visible and not visible at various times (also, I checked all the other red couches in the film, and there’s no funny business with any of them). But is the whole message with the appearance of that third couch (the second of three), and the disappearance of the other couch (the second of three) something to do with Jack’s slow submersion into the hotel’s dark subconscious? The photo Jack photo makes it clear that the hotel consumes Jack on some level, so we don’t need more evidence that that happened. Do these couches tell the story of why it happened?

A friend of mine, and a consummate Wizard of Oz fanatic, had told me about six months ago, after seeing The Shining for the first time, that he wondered if the blowjob bear was meant as a reference to the cowardly lion, a thought I dismissed at the time because I’d discovered Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are by then, and was under the impression that the potential Oz reference was just a misdirection. Also, the only film Kubrick ever expressed a strong dislike for, apparently, was the 1939 classic.

But a few weeks ago I noticed that the ghost sitting in the middle of this appearing couch wears ruby slippers (see below). The same ruby slippers that then dangle behind Jack for the entirety of his last conversation with Lloyd (a detail that helped me realize that we never zoom in on Jack in this final conversation, like we do more often than not in the first).

The ghost sitting beside ruby slipper ghost stands up between Jack passing the couch and the shot tilting to show the couch behind him. Then, when Jack’s finding out there’ll be no charge, she passes behind Jack with another woman and a man (the woman is sitting at the group of four seats to her left in the first image below, and the man goes and sits at the table to the left of the 237 ghost in the shot following Jack to the bathroom), and then, when he gets up to dance his way to meet Grady, she’s back on the couch, without having passed back by (third image below). And I noticed that the woman sitting in the middle of the third couch (who I suspect to be a Kubrick relative) is one of the only other women in the hall wearing shoes that don’t match the rest of her ensemble, these being very dark blue.

So, it’s possible the ruby slippers bit is a coincidence, since the red-blue slippers bit is likely a reference to Wendy’s Four Horsemen portals, and to the general red-blue subtext that exists in several places throughout the film (I should probably make a special section for that in the page on patterns).

But if the ruby slippers are about Wizard of Oz, 279 seconds after their last appearance on screen, a song starts playing called Home. And there’s no place like home.

Also, 5 seconds after ruby slippers ghost appears on screen, 237 ghost appears in the deep distance for the first time, fully clothed.

It occurred to me, while scouring for Snow White data points, that the actor they got for this role, resembles Lucille La Verne (who voiced the wicked witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) in her role as The Vengeance in A Tale of Two Cities. So, putting aside the biography of Charles Dickens in the Torrance living room in Boulder, it might be the case that the 237 ghost was meant to resemble a different wicked witch from Dorothy’s.

Other Wizard of Oz references would include Jack saying, “come out, come out, wherever you are” (a song from the film), Shelley Duvall’s first film was Margaret Hamilton’s third last (Brewster McCloud), a more famous Margaret Hamilton was one of the lead software designers on the Apollo 11 mission (a machine that Danny wears on his 237 sweater), the character of Dorothy Gale being inspired by Alice of Wonderland fame (the Grady twins resemble the original Alice from the books), the idea of a storm acting as a catalyst for a major shift in the story’s narrative, both stories having a preoccupation with twins (Oz in the sense that the fantasy people all have real life correlatives), Jack has a dream of the people in his life (though his is not seen, and is of a markedly different nature), both stories having a preoccupation with precious stones (ruby and emerald for Oz, gold and jade for Shining (jade is referenced in the song Masquerade (“Ladies dressed in jade/Hold me tight at the masquerade”), the mirrorform moment for which is Jack confessing his nightmare’s contents, and worrying about his sanity), both stories having a preoccupation with compass directions (as in the wicked witch of the east and west, vs. the Four Directions business here) and if you like, the BJ bear bears a slight resemblance to the cowardly lion (and I guess the tin man wields an axe like Jack…but I don’t think I see Scarecrow or Dorothy qualities in Ullman and Watson). Oh, and we might note that L. Frank Baum’s final book, Glinda of Oz, came out a year after the stroke that killed Oz author L. Frank Baum, on July 10th, 1920. That’s almost a perfect year before the date that photo Jack is trapped in, July 4th, 1921 (and, actually, there was one final Oz book published in 1921, attributed to Baum at the time, but which we now know was the work of Ruth Plumly Thompson, who would go on to write 20 more books in her Oz series). We could also point out that the artist whose works are most repeatedly seen throughout the film (up to 11 pieces, some of which are seen multiple times), Dorothy Oxborough…is a Dorothy. And her piece Native Girl with Pigtails hangs near 237, most prominently seen when the mirror action is Jack with the ruby slippers behind him. This piece reappears in a hall connecting to the lobby, which is only seen once, right before Jack axes Hallorann, which means it’s very close to a red couch scene.

Now, even with all that to speak of, I would still file this under “theories I don’t love” (mainly because of Kubrick’s disdain for the 1939 film), but there is one other thing to note here, and it’s something that feels like a clincher to me.

As we’re seeing the couch gap for the second time, forward Jack is saying, “Hey Dan! Did you get tired of bombing the universe?” The image below is right as Jack says “bomb”. Just a moment before, Danny’s head lined up perfectly with the chieftain on the Calumet can behind backward Jack. L. Frank Baum was infamously of the opinion that indigenous peoples should be genocided off the face of the earth, in order to secure the safety of white colonialists. Jack’s comment has always struck me as a reference to an old arcade game, like Space Invaders (1978) or Galaxian (1979), but we don’t actually see any arcade game machines in the games room. And there’s not much room for one to be hiding (only the corner to the right of the dartboard remains unseen). So perhaps this is the best evidence that “bombing the universe” could be read as “Bauming the universe”. As in, “applying the white colonialist’s logic to everything”.

And in case that seems like a bit of a reach, there’s actually another bomb in the movie, this time a Böhm. Maxi Böhm, who was called the “joke president” of Austria, is seen on a TV screen behind Wendy as she passes through the lobby, between radios. He’s appearing on a popular German game show, Dalli Dalli. This Böhm is passing through Danny’s mind just as Tony is informing Wendy of Danny’s absence, and here Wendy is becoming more urgent with Danny, telling him to “Wake up! Come on! Right now!” And this “Baum” appears in conjunction with the other of our two couches, seen behind both Wendys. Perhaps if we knew what Böhm was joking about in this scene we could make a deeper comment, but it seems to me that each of our ethereal couches has a “bomb” attached to it. So what are the odds that the one with the ruby slippers on it wouldn’t be a “Baum” reference?

But Baum also has a first name: Frank. And there’s at least two Franks behind two of the paintings in the film: Franklin Carmichael and Franklyn Popham Cattermole. Neither of these is specifically certified, but if you go check out the visual evidence in those links, I’m sure you’ll agree I’ve got pretty good guesses going.

The Carmichael is only seen once, as nightmare Jack wonders if he’s losing his mind, and as ghost ball Jack is about to get the most unobstructed view of the lobby couch. (Also, note the wizard-cap-shaped hunk of petrified wood(?) in the glass display case to the left, there.)

While the Cattermole is seen once in conjunction with the Gold Room gap, as Wendy wonders if Jack went to the right room. I don’t want to repeat my findings on the Cattermole here, but my theory is that this painting represents the true dark heart of the Overlook, a kind of eye of Sauron for the hotel. But just as we have a “Baum” for both couches, we have a “Frank” for both couches. That’s pretty spectacular.

Oh, I forgot that there’s also a book called Bomber Pilot that appears while Tony-Danny’s doing his REDRUMing, and overlays with Ullman starting the tour, in which he’s wearing a bomber jacket. And Ullman is connected to Satan. And Summer of ’42 is about a bomber pilot, and Danny’s toys during that scene overlay with the ruby slipper ghost during the rug shot, as mentioned near the beginning of this section. So, yeah, I think we can safely take Kubrick at his word that he wasn’t over the moon about Baum’s creative output.

I’ve wondered a few times if, since a “ghost ball” lures Danny past the Lesson Key inside 237, does the “ghost ball” in the Gold Room lure Jack toward a similar key? And perhaps this is it. Perhaps Jack’s key is what we might call the Baum Key. And perhaps, for whatever reason, Kubrick chose these two couches to convey that fact.

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