Dog, Boy, and St. John River – 1958

by Alex Colville


Seen twice in the antechamber of room 237. Once as Danny enters for the first time (58:12-58:19; 58:25-58:35) and once when he shines an image of himself entering to Dick (71:40-71:42).


I’ve discussed Alex Colville’s significance at length elsewhere.


The only painting in the film only to be seen in a mirror.

Because I’m an idiot, I used to think (and did think well into my project) that these mirror doors were glass doors, seeing into a hall that lead west toward the larger 237. But if you registered that they were mirrors, you would know, once being plopped into 237, that you had no sense of an exit. The light your mind catalogued for the room is absent.

Also, there’s two shots of Danny moving through this space, the one of him entering after playing with his cars and trucks (which goes for 17 seconds), and one of him shining his moment of entry to Hallorann (2 seconds). So first off, you’ve got a 2-17 in the appearances of the painting, and that’s King’s number for the evil room in the novel.

You’ll also note the slight shifts in perspective between these two shots, but more significant is the filter on the shot, which colours the lamps as pink and gold, in tones extremely similar to the pink and gold lamps we first see as Jack enters the room (see above). And of course, pink and gold are Wendy’s “favourite colours” (she tells Ullman this right before entering the Gold Room), and the dog in this painting (obscured at first by the pink lamp) is a golden retriever.

There’s also two versions of the film, in which the ball that rolls up to Danny is shot to look more gold and more pink. The gold version comes from whatever version was used by the editors of Room 237, while the pink ball comes from the longest version of the film, which I believe is the standard version sold on Blu-ray. This ball invites him into room 237, so these pinks and golds are not for nothing, I suspect.

Perhaps Danny knows that pink and gold are his mother’s favourite colours, and this was meant to explain Danny’s being tricked into entering 237. He saw all these pinks and golds, and it messed with his dubiety.

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I have been noticing a trend among dual paintings, like the Grady Twin Paintings or the twin Monahan paintings, that takes this notion of eye-shape-esque objects to a new level, and I suspect this pink/gold thing could be part of that trend.

Also the painting is called, Dog, Boy, and St. John River not “A Dog, His Boy…” Or “A Boy, His Dog…” The idea in that title is that no ownership lies between the three parties. The dog might very simply be wandering by, along or belonging to someone else. It’s our associations with this kind of image that makes us insert the ownership, or the connection. So perhaps it also symbolizes the separation of father and son, their separate journeys through this space (which the audience experiences simultaneously). Some have suggested that the dog cowers behind the boy with the gun, just as Danny cowers behind Tony, or as we the audience cower behind the voyeuristic camera, heading into danger. I like that idea conceptually, but I prefer to think of it in terms of how Danny has been to 237 and survived its worst horrors, and how his father will now be tested in kind and fail. Maybe Tony is the shotgun, and the dog is Jack. Or, and here’s a really crazy one, maybe all the dogs in Colville are secretly God (which is “dog” spelled backwards in English, in case you’re reading a translation here), and Kubrick could be using the door-mirror to suggest that inversion (as I’ve already discussed, there’s strong Colvillian evidence that Tony is the dog; does that make Tony God?). In which case, Dog lets Boy go out into the nervous reeds ahead and takes on none of the risk, just as the gods take on none of the risk when mortals with free will act and choose. Or so we say, until we retreat into “everything happens for a reason”, and thoughts like that.

Other thoughts on the painting: the boy’s rifle is open, to be reloaded, or else the butt bends way down from the barrel, and at an odd angle

The boy seems like he’s reclining somewhat, to keep balanced on the slope. If he just discharged a shot, he’s awfully relaxed about it. Maybe he shot at something over the water, and watched the waves consume it. Maybe he’s seeing that weird shape coming around the far left hillside (looks like a submarine?), and checking if he’s actually loaded. Maybe the open gun is meant to suggest that the boy’s weapon is empty, which would be a nice way for 237 to suggest its dominance over Danny.


There’s also a specific Biblical reference here, which plays into the idea of order. The river is named for John the Baptist, who is sometimes thought of as Jesus’ precursor, sometimes as Jesus’ specific mentor, and the myth of John holds that he prophesied the coming of Christ. So John dilutes Christ’s ultimate figurehead quality (which was already split with the holy ghost, if I haven’t been mislead by popular culture) in part by being so revered, and by being considered so important as to almost equal Christ. The name Jack derives from John. And the subtext of Jack’s loathing for Danny comes in part for the way he resents him for coming between him and Wendy. So it’s like Jack is prophesying Danny’s supplanting him, and unlike John the Baptist(?), takes a malevolent course of response.

And while I’m on the subject, John also makes baptism a staple of Christian ideology, so that could relate to the way the ghost starts out in Danny’s vision in a kind of baptism-esque position. And John became a saint by dying for critiquing Herod’s divorcing of his wife in order to marry his brother’s wife, and here Jack is cheating on Wendy in favour of the “crazy woman” who he knows (or should believe) strangled his son.


Anyway I decided to do a little research on the St. John River. Sadly, it too has a history with the expulsion of indigenous peoples, in this case, the Maliseet. Also, turns out it’s considered the Canadian-American version of the Rhine, which bordered along the German-Swiss and German-French border (which is where these other dogs were first bred). It was so named because Samuel Champlain first visited it on the feast day of John the Baptist. Remember, the St. Maurice painting might have something to do with a feast day.

Also, check out these lines from a poem about the building of a bridge on the St. John river, from the late 1800’s. “For if the humbler work go wrong/The finer parts ye rear in vain:/Even so the social life of a man,/Which national strength may ne’er attain…” And before that starts to sound way out there: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is a line of dialogue from Bridge on the River Kwai (which is in part about the relationship between Burma and Thailand). And Jack might’ve been typing this very sentence both times Danny encounters this area of the hotel (more likely he was having his nightmare the second time, though).


The 2-second blip is one of my favourite overlays: Jack crankily asking Wendy, “Which room was it?” while a giant 237 floats beside him.

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The 17-second chunks start right as Lloyd appears to Jack at the ghost ball and hovers while Jack and Lloyd stroll up to each other. Their greeting occurs during the break while the painting is masked by a door, but comes back as Jack says, “It’s good to be back, Lloyd!” and disappears again right as Jack says, “Hair of the dog that bit me!”

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So, perhaps we should note that it’s the gold lamp inside Jack’s head when he’s facing Wendy (reality) and the pink lamp when he’s facing Lloyd (fantasy). This would also seem to jive with how its golden in Danny’s part of Suite 3, and pinkish in all the rest. I’m starting to wonder if this is meant to relate to the golden light of day versus the rosier light of sunrise and sunset.

Next art reference: Mysteries of the Boiler Room