Here Comes the Sunken Place, Part 2: The Three (Greek) Faces of Jack



So, this is obviously the domain of Juli Kearns, and I don’t mean to steal any of her thunder, but I just wanted to point out some things that aren’t covered in Room 237, because her minotaur theories were probably the most ridiculed in that film, after the moon room stuff, and I want to point out that the evidence for it is much less flimsy than the documentary obviously lead many to think. If Kearns has written about what I’m about to point out, then I’m happy to cede credit to her, but when I started this project I agreed that I wouldn’t look into any other theories about the film (other than the few notions that Kubrick scholars have indulged themselves to put forward in their books), and I think I owe many of my insights to staying true to that philosophy. Unacademic, or unscientific, as the approach may seem.

So, the big thing that drew me into looking into this was when I discovered that the ball of thread Ariadne gives to Theseus to find his way out of the labyrinth after slaying the minotaur was called a “clew”. That rung a huge bell, because I’d already found that a book in the Torrance living room was Young Jethro by Roy Clews. There’s barely any information on Clews or his book online, but the book in the film is probably among the top ten most easily identifiable art pieces in the film. It’s spine faces Wendy as she chats about Danny’s condition with the doctor.

(I also just want to note that another book in this stack, The Wish Child, by Ina Seidel, could be a reference to the fact that her other big successes with her pre-and-post-WWII German audience were Das Labyrinth (1921) and The Old Woman and the Butterfly (1964).)

And what is directly behind Wendy’s head in the reverse shot…?

It’s behind her head during the opening breakfast, too. What is that little guy?

Oh, I see. It’s a clew!

And it has a loose thread drifting down behind some yellow square of art, with what appears to be a crude drawing of Edgar Allen Poe on it. That’s just my guess (believe it or not, I only noticed the yellow square a couple weeks ago, almost at the end of all my work on this project) but it seems likely, given that the novel of The Shining makes numerous references to Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. (Poe actually uses the word clew four times in his The Murders in the Rue Morgue, which you can read in full here, if you’d like to verify.)

Most people (myself included) have assumed that the labyrinth is Kubrick’s big, jarring insertion of his private ambitions for this project into King’s masterpiece–the novel features no labyrinth, or any Greco-Roman references, really. But this could suggest that Kubrick saw the Theseus/Minotaur element as more connected, and more intrinsic to understanding the novel’s motivations.

Perhaps he’s simply saying that to understand the novel you have to go back into Poe, and to understand the film you have to go back into Greco-Roman mythology. But having the clew extend to Poe suggests that Poe was Theseus/Ariadne in some way. If so, Kubrick wasn’t the first to see labyrinths and clews in Poe’s writing.

What’s also interesting is how, when we crossfade from breakfast to the interview, the clew overlaps with the sun in Copper Thunderbird’s painting Flock of Loons. Which also appears right before Jack stalks out the door to kill his son, and right before Wendy finds the dead snowcat.

And orbs like these factored a lot in Thunderbird’s works. They often seem to act as part of a kind of protective barrier or connective tissue that envelops the various animals contained within. Going in close on Flock of Loons, it’s almost like each of the birds contain labyrinths within themselves. And this sun-clew might be what helps keep them organized and oriented.

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As for the mirrorform (the moment overlaid with whatever’s going on on the exact opposite side of the movie), Jack passing Flock of Loons is linked to Wendy, having just left the spot with the clew 17 seconds ago, saying “Sounds like you got the job.” Again, the Roy Clews book is beside her here.

A second later, Flock of Loons passes over the old man studying the model labyrinth in the lobby behind Jack. So if the painting is symbolic of the clew, the mirrorform gives us this moment of it overlapping with someone trying to study the design of the maze. Just as Jack will do later in the film (as his final act of pre-madness).

But as I’ve discussed numerous times elsewhere, I think part of the message here is that you can’t simply study the maze to beat the maze. The maze changes once you’re inside it, so you need something more powerful than that. When Jack finds the end of Danny’s trail in the heart of the labyrinth, and screams out for his son, he turns his gaze to the sky for several moments. He thinks Danny has ascended into thin air. Like a flock of loons.

Check out this quote from Kubrick, “I’ve never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be, as is generally accepted, ‘don’t try to fly too high,’ or whether it might also be thought of as ‘forget the wax and feathers, and do a better job on the wings.”

Sure enough, the designer of the labyrinth was Daedelus, the father of Icarus. The story goes that Daedelus was imprisoned in the labyrinth by King Minos after building it at the king’s request, and then, from inside the maze, Daedelus built the wax wings so that he and Icarus could fly out of the labyrinth. That’s what leads Icarus to fly too close to the sun, melt his wings, and fall to his death, while Daedelus uses his to flap off to Sicily in mourning for what his inventions did to his lineage.

Here, in Kubrick’s universe, the story is being somewhat inverted. The son seems to have flown out of the labyrinth thanks to his “very great talent” and survives, in so doing creating the circumstance that leads to his father’s demise. But is Jack really his father anymore by then?

We’ve already discussed how Jack has transformed into a Geryon figure. But perhaps there’s something to be said for his transformation into the minotaur too (and possibly Medusa as well, but we’ll get to that).

Going back to the mirrorform, note how the first shots of the clew behind Wendy’s head overlay with Danny beginning his escape from the labyrinth.

It’s hard to make out, but the overlay here is Danny seeing his steps and following them out of the maze.

Also, while the film is beside itself with horned and antlered beasts, there actually isn’t many direct bull references. There’s a Goat Mountain, there’s a Bearspaw chief named Walking Buffalo, there’s giant stuffed moose and bison heads, there’s a painting of two muskox, and there’s the Dorothy Oxborough portraits that appear more than any other art in the film. But there’s only one direct visual reference to an actual bull, and it appears right here, at breakfast, while a mirrorform Jack stalks back and forth through the maze, vainly seeking after an escaping Danny (again, hard to make out, here, but he’s in that middle box).

Its next appearance is to the other side of Wendy’s head during the doctor interview, where it overlays first with Wendy realizing she can escape her imprisonment in the bathroom.

Then with the image of Jack stalking through the kitchen to get to the hiding spot to kill Hallorann, while passing the open pantry door, where Wendy had tried to hide Jack away.

Its final appearance is during an extended shot of Wendy pointing her cigarette right at it, while Danny runs all the way into his own hidey hole. So, three of the four bull sightings overlay with hiding places and one with Minotaur Jack trapped in the labyrinth.

The original purpose for a labyrinth may have been the trapping of evil spirits, and that’s basically what it does with the minotaur up to his death. You know, he doesn’t ever seem to get out to do his shopping and socializing. He just roams around in it til someone comes and kills him. Raw deal.

But also, remember what Danny says is the reason the doctor wouldn’t be able to see Tony if Danny opened his mouth? “Because he hides.” Is this Kubrick’s way of suggesting Danny (and perhaps all who shine) is his own labyrinth? If so, is Tony his Theseus, or his Ariadne? Probably not his minotaur, but if part of the point of all this labyrinth imagery is that we’re all labyrinths unto ourselves, it would follow that we all have something minotaurs in us to be defeated. The O’odham peoples believe that life itself is a labyrinth, and to reach the centre is to reach both ones dreams and one’s death upon meeting the son god.

There’s three other bull references in the film (that I’ve noticed–there could be others in the artworks I haven’t ID’d), but they’re more obscure. The one is how Danny is throwing darts at a bull’s-eye in the games room, while wearing a jacket that says FLYERS on it (flyers like Daedelus and Icarus?).

Another is from the way a woman (despite carrying heavy luggage in the opposite direction from the parking lot) says “Goodbye, Mr. Ullman” a moment before stepping behind this red pillar, while wearing a Toronto Toros jersey. Toro means bull, of course, and their mascot was an angry red bull. In fact, as the pillar obscures her, she’s standing right between the pillar and the model maze in the distance. (By the way, it’s possible I’m wrong about this, and the jersey is actually for the Trois-Rivières Ducs, but it’s still very similar to the Toros jersey. It could be a mash-up of both.)

And I probably don’t need to point this out, but this pillar is in the same row of pillars that Jack will spring out from to kill Hallorann. Only that pillar will be right beside the model labyrinth.

Also, as Toro lady hides behind the pillar, Ullman and Watson are passing over a symbol on the floor that looks exactly like the designs on ancient Greek coins, called didrachm or drachma, some of which showed the minotaur on one side, and a rudimentary labyrinth on the other. The design of these mini-labyrinths resembles how other coins depicted wagon wheels. Was the invention of the wheel understood to ancient peoples as something like the labyrinth? Something that abstractly “trapped” evil spirits (ie. made labour easier and improved quality of life)? Also, note how the handlebars on Danny’s bike gives Jack horns here. And also how there’s the model maze and the mazerug hanging in the distance.

Also, did you note that I didn’t say anything about the mirrorform moment in the last two shots? Don’t worry. I didn’t forget about it. It’s just hard to make out what Wendy’s doing there, so check out the below shot.

In order to get Danny out the window, she has to shove aside some Crystal White detergent by Octagon. And Crystal White sounds an awful lot like Joy Ivory, the two bottles next to the clew. Is there symbolic significance to this, beyond the connection to the clew? I’m not sure, but there is a strong undercurrent in the film of connections to colonialism, the holocaust, slavery, and the genocide of the indigenous populations of America. Jack quotes White Man’s Burden at Lloyd. So I’ve wondered if the difference between the stationary Joy Ivory that sits behind Wendy during all the Boulder scenes is symbolic of her ignorance of her (meagre) privilege as a white person in America, and the legacy that brought her to her position of power. Extremely minor power, perhaps. But power over non-white people, such that she can wear that Navajo-style belt she’s wearing and not have to know what it means.

When that power turns on her, when she has her own eye scream, seeing REDRUM for what it actually is, she becomes enlightened, and throws the Crystal White aside like it was nothing, renouncing on some subliminal level the power of her whiteness. Perhaps the “white/ivory” aspect is merely a connecting thread, to suggest that Danny’s passage out the window is like the activation of his clew. Wendy then becomes an Ariadne figure (another subtle suggestion of her feelings for her son?). But that doesn’t fit quite as nicely with all the other clues surrounding Danny’s solving of the labyrinth.

As for the “octagon” aspect, I haven’t figured out if that means something. You can draw an octagon around the labyrinth on the old didrachms. Is that the point?

Also, note that the bottle in their bathroom clearly says “FOR DISHES” on it.
But it’s on a toilet? In an apartment with no sink for dish washing?

To the point of Wendy’s white supremacy ignorance: in both sequences where she’s got Joy Ivory floating behind her head she’s trying to put a happy face on something mildly distressing. First, her child’s fear of the hotel, then her husband’s abuse of her son. In the first instance, she’s speaking directly to the product of Jack’s abuse: Tony.

The bottle appears two other times. First, when Jack is having his only scene alone with Danny, as a wrecked out zombie man who wants to stay here forever and ever, and then while Wendy’s miserably plotting an escape plan she doesn’t act on, but only in the make-up mirror. Not when she reaches the bathroom door and turns. So it’s like she’s halfway to renouncing her whiteness. She hasn’t had her eye scream yet.

Finally, there’s one more bull reference: the one dog in To Itch His Own is a bulldog named Butcher, which is interesting since Durkin was just outside servicing a car called a Matador.

In fact, the film features at least three Matadors (according to the experts over at the Internet Movie Car Database). The first one comes right after the bull’s-eye scene, and the other two appear on either side of Butcher the bulldog’s appearance.

Also, one of the minotaur’s names was Asterion, which means literally “starry”. So some have imagined that the balls that surround the minotaur on ancient coins must therefore be symbolic of stars. I’m not so sure, but if that’s true, there’s a design on the Suite 3 bed sheets of a large flower surrounded by little star-shaped flowers (and a toenail-shape like a slice of moon). This part of the blanket’s design is only fully visible in this one shot (all other shots of the blanket show aspects of this design, some of which are fairly complete, but this is the clearest, fullest view), and it’s here, in the one scene Jack and Danny have alone together.

One last thing about clews. While it’s not absolutely exact, when the shot cuts from Danny’s door to Wendy’s kitchen, the thing that’s in roughly the same spot as the clew (it’s just passed over the exact same spot) is the Winnie-the-Pooh-coloured Dopey sticker. I’ve described how Danny’s door and Snow White and Winnie-the-Pooh relate to Danny’s survival too many times to want to do it again here. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point that out.

Okay, so, after all that, are you a little more convinced that maybe Jack is a minotaur of sorts? Honestly, I’ve never understood why that position was ever controversial, but if you still think it is, hold on to your hat, because I think this rabbit hole goes deeper. But not much deeper, don’t worry.

Remember when I said we would come back to this? Specifically the SKI MONARCH poster? Well, fans of Room 237 will recall that Juli Kearns believes the shadow skier in this poster is meant to resemble the stunted legs and massive upper torso of the minotaur. But the ski poster from reality that this poster is (possibly) based on isn’t for the Monarch resort but for the Vail resort. Why is that significant? Well, besides a possible “veil” pun, it means that this poster was made specifically for the film. The Monarch resort was selected for its name. Why?

It turns out the film has a mild preoccupation with butterflies. They’re referenced in the first Overlook room Danny is seen in, the games room, the first room that Jack is seen in post-CLOSING DAY, fluttering around his sleeping form…

…they multiply into a painting (that wasn’t there before) when Danny finds zombie Jack with his mirror double…

I suppose it might be perfectly obscured by Wendy’s head here, but seems unlikely.
Other paintings, that aren’t in the room initially, also appear later.

…they sneak onto a tissue box in the Gold Room bathroom…

…and we reach peak butterfly action when Wendy plots her potential escape.

Even her sweater on the chair vaguely resembles a shedded cocoon.

So, what’s up with all these overwintering so and sos? Well, if you read my section collecting all the animal imagery, you know they could simply be a reference to the way monarch butterflies overwinter, like much of the Overlook staff, by migrating to warmer climes during the winter, and return north in the summer.

But what I find more interesting is how the latin name for a monarch was given as “danaus” in 1780 by Jan Kluk, which many have felt, understandably, to be a reference to the great-grandson of Zeus, Danaus, who became the king of Libya, and founded Argos. But a fellow named Robert Michael Pyle has suggested that the name is more a reference to Danaë, Danaus’ great-great-granddaughter, whose name is the feminized version of his name (and which sounds an awful lot like “Danny”), and who gave birth to Perseus, after Zeus impregnated her while in the form of golden rain, as one does. (Also, is that another caduceus by the Zeus eagle?)

If Kubrick was making the same association, these butterflies could be a roundabout way of invoking Perseus, Danaë’s child, who cut off the head of Medusa, with the help of a mirror, so that he didn’t have to look directly at Medusa and be turned to stone (just as Danny does his mirror walk in the heart of the labyrinth, then hides behind a hedge, never looking at Jack). Also, scholar and linguist Jane Ellen Harrison had the notion that Medusa’s real power was activated by being decapitated (Perseus gave the head to Athena, who put it on her shield, which she used to turn her enemies to stone), and that the symbol of her was therefore more like a mask than an empowered entity with her own personality.

The first we see of dead Jack, he’s gained tendrils of frost snaking down his ruined visage. But the next we see of dead Jack, he’s been granted the eternal life he sought from the hotel. He’s finally achieved the power (immortality) he craved, if not exactly in the manner he craved it. Realizing, if only subconsciously, that the Overlook gave Jack the poisoned version of what he wanted to achieve through his writing–a legacy–makes us leery of the vanity of such narcissistic pursuits. Medusa’s castrated head turns to stone all who gaze upon it. Photo Jack’s head reminds those who think on it that all you might get from fame is your picture on a wall in a hotel somewhere, while those who knew your name hate or pity you for the monster you became.

For a long while, seeing only the minotaur myth, a sense grew that there was something sacred going on in Jack’s hiring, as if Ullman and Watson knew Jack was going to go Grady, and were fine with it. If the original purpose of ancient labyrinths was indeed the dreamcatcher-like trapping of evil spirits, I wondered if perhaps they were simply resigned to Jack going Grady, and Danny having the power to come out okay. Those who’ve read the Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are analysis, know that there’s a much, much darker plot at play. But what I think I was picking up on was this decapitation/castration subtext. Jack couldn’t get away from who he was: a failed writer, who could not will himself to succeed. He would never know the greatest joy implied by his highest ambition: popular, commercial, critical, and possibly even historic reverence.

The most clearly visible book in the film is also the first we see, The Catcher in the Rye, whose author, JD Salinger, saw his only serious artistic success in that book, and then vanished into the obscurity of self-imposed seclusion, and a string of failed relationships. Nevertheless (and despite a life that sounds pretty miserable in the blow-by-blow) it’s been said that there’s no more major symbol of 20th-century American literature than Holden Caulfield’s red baseball cap. Salinger achieved a rare, singular impact…and didn’t even seem to cherish it. He regarded publication as a “damned interruption”. And seemingly true to that, left as many as 15 novels unpublished when he died. Salinger wrote for the joy of writing. Torrance wrote for unachievable glory. And the ghosts use this to lure him deeper and deeper into their promise of everlasting inclusion and acceptance.

What’s more, Medusa, according to Ovid, was made into a petrifying monster by Athena as payback for Poseidon’s having raped her in Athena’s temple. So Medusa’s story ostensibly begins and ends with Athena, just as Jack’s does with the Overlook.

Jack is Medusa (decapitated), the minotaur (decapitated or throat slit), and Medusa’s grandson Geryon (shot through three heads) all rolled into one. That’s one head-screwed monster mash.

As a bonus (and to further the Danaë point), let’s look at some of the mirrorform butterfly moments.

In this moment there’s butterfly imagery on both sides of the film at the same time, forming a triangle. Unless you count bathrobe Jack and mirror bathrobe Jack, in which case it’s a bit of a W.

The entire time Jack is saying, “I wish we could stay here forever…and ever…and ever!” unintentionally quoting the Grady twins, the butterfly box is inside Danny’s head, as if he’s thinking of the Grady twins this entire time. When the shot changes, and Grady and Jack walk back out into the ghost ball, Danny’s dialogue is, “Dad? You would never hurt mom and me, would ya?”

As Wendy plots escape between two butterfly cluster portraits, the twins appear to Danny for the last time.

As we’re seeing the make-up table mobile for the first time, Danny is seeing his last vision of REDRUM, and the mobile hovers directly above REDRUM.

Then, when Wendy is seeing MURDER for the first and last time, the mobile is off to the side, sitting inside tour Jack. There’s also a make-up kit that resembles a butterfly, and our last shot of one of the butterfly paintings in the upper right. Altogether, these create a slash of butterflies across MURDER (which is true without the mirrorform, incidentally).

As Danny regards the twins in the games room, standing at the bull’s eye, his head is being swarmed by the make-up table butterflies, and then, when we cut to the girls, REDRUM Danny’s head is full of the MONARCH poster as he crosses the room.

This gives the effect that games room Danny is thinking “butterflies” when he sees the girls, and that REDRUM Danny is thinking “MONARCH” and “minotaur silhouette”.

As REDRUM Danny is passing the make-up butterflies the first time, tour Wendy is passing the same spot where they are yet to appear.

Finally, there’s two instances of the mobile disappearing unceremoniously from where we either just saw it or are just about to see it. The one is when driver Jack has just finished saying, “They were a group of settlers in covered wagon times” referring to the Donner party. And the other is from when Grady says, “I’m sorry to differ with you, sir.” In all cases, the notion of familicide is rank in the air, and the missing mobile overlays with mirrorform Jack’s person.

So, in the sense that Medusa is slain by the child of a woman who was later associated to butterflies seems to connect well to the concept of Jack’s dispelling of them, and Danny’s high exposure to them.

Click here to continue on to
Here Comes the Sunken Place, Part 3: The Shame of Being Watched