Here Comes the Sunken Place, Part 5: The Golden Bowl



In my nauseatingly exhaustive study of the film’s minor details I noticed one other, possibly religious subtext. During the tour, there are two golden bowls in two conspicuous locations. The first sits where Jack’s colour-shifting typewriter will eventually sit…

White typewriter.
Presto chango. Grey typewriter.

…and the second sits on a large steel table in the kitchen that will disappear later, so that Wendy can drag Jack through the same space and lock him up, and so that a Grady-released Jack can stalk through for Hallorann killing purposes (bible scholars should know where I’m going with this by now).

So, I tried doing a deep dive into gold bowls in mythology, and possibly did a bad job, but only found some relatively irrelevantly basic references to gold bowls in Greco-Roman myth (I’ve since discovered that Heracles borrowed Helios’ golden bowl (referred to as a cup, hence my overlooking it) to fetch the cattle of Geryon), and one major reference to a gold bowl in Christian myth. That reference was capitalized on by author Henry James when he wrote the 1904 novel, The Golden Bowl, which Wikipedia describes as a “complex, intense study of marriage and adultery” exploring “the tangle of interrelationships between a father and daughter and their respective spouses. The novel focuses deeply and almost exclusively on the consciousness of the central characters, with sometimes obsessive detail but also with powerful insight. The title is taken from Ecclesiastes 12: “Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.””

And we just so happen to have a loosed silver cord next to a pitcher stuffed with kitchen supplies (does that count as broken?) near a fountain of sorts (does a kitchen sink count?)…

(I should also point out how the kitchen fridge here contains one reference to Greco-Roman times, and one reference to more modern Christian times.)

…and a possibly broken wheel beside a red tank of some kind in two locales (the portable electric charger seen at both the film’s garages is called a Silver Beauty).

So perhaps Kubrick’s making the same reference Henry James was making, but I wonder if he’s sympathetic to the bible’s words. Perhaps Jack’s typewriter is first white because it’s innocent in the sense that Jack hasn’t written anything on it yet, so it hasn’t become a tool of his vanity. And the silvery-grey typewriter’s “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” papers…are pretty vain. A waste of time and paper, if nothing else.

There’s even this amazing moment where both prior golden bowl locations are connected through the below crossfade. Note how the location of the lounge golden bowl is obscured by the large iron chandelier, and how the location of the kitchen golden bowl is obscured by the wonky angle of this shot. In other words, it takes a deal of close scrutiny to know that Wendy is dragging Jack through that spot, and that there was ever anything there in the first place.

Note too that the two Jack’s in this crossfade are in the same relation to each other as the Grady twins are in their death pose. Both with their hands up, face up and face down in opposite directions. The twins are agents of existential nihilism for Danny (All is vanity/Come play with us forever). But Jack is not a (literal) twin of himself, so his mirroring of their positions works better to have the face down Jack overlapping with the face up Jack, as opposed to the non-overlapping twins.

Also, during the ice cream conversation, Jack is largely obscuring the golden bowl (it’s only visible for a brief second after the group’s arrival, here), while Wendy is obscuring a Tony the Tiger Frosted Flakes box. So the cue there seems to be that Jack is the most attached to vanity, while Wendy is more attached to being Danny’s champion.

And then, during the crossfade, it hovers in the heart of Ullman, the master of lies (or whatever Christians call Satan).

We can also learn some neat things from the mirrorform. Like how the lounge bowl appears as Tony/Danny is finishing writing REDRUM (a symbol of Jack’s vain attempt to murder his family).

While the second appearance mirrors over Jack taunting Wendy about the murdered snowcat and Jack talking to Grady who will release him from his delicious prison for little more than Jack’s good word. Two things that speak to the seeming vanity of Wendy even bothering to lock Jack up.

But was it vain? Because at least it gives Hallorann the time to arrive at the last moment and steal Wendy and Danny’s fates unto himself. While that may suit the nefarious Overlook just fine, it nevertheless spares mother and child their seemingly inexorable dooms at the end of Jack’s axe.

Note the Golden Rey boxes all around Jack in these moments.

Here’s an especially interesting mirrorform.

Hallorann was just grilling Danny to remember what Tony told him about the Overlook, and right on the fade between the two gold bowl locations, Danny breaks from the conversational stream to ask, “Mr. Hallorann, are you scared of this place?” Of course, if Danny had kept thinking, he might’ve remembered that one of his visions was of himself screaming in the dark, which later turns out to be the face Danny makes when Hallorann is killed. So, in a way, Tony’s visions were vain. It’s not the visions that save Danny from his potential murder, it’s the pattern recognition inherent in the Lessons and Escapes. Still, he had a (very abstract) chance to warn Hallorann about his prognosticated demise. Had he done so, maybe Hallorann would’ve thought a little harder about whether saving this family was worth his own life…and maybe that would’ve lead to another Grady-style familicide. (Oh man, I’m not going to take the time to ponder what this means, but in the months since I first wrote this, I discovered a copy of Kubrick’s original treatment for the story, and in it, a Grady-possessed(?) Hallorann becomes the villain after Wendy successfully stabs Jack to death (scroll down to page 66). This would be the best explanation for the account that Kubrick wanted Slim Pickens to play the elderly black chef, Dick Hallorann. Pickens was consecrated into cinematic memory by Kubrick, thanks to the shot of Pickens riding the nuclear warhead into the ground as Maj. “King” Kong in Dr. Strangelove. So maybe having him fail to destroy the Torrances was supposed to act as a reflection of how he essentially ends the world in the earlier film. Note how Pickens was born in 1919, and in the treatment, the year photo Jack is trapped in forever was for 1919 (see below). Coincidence?)

So I think there’s a solid case to be made for Kubrick’s use of the golden bowls to express this old verse. For me, the only question is, in what way does it apply? Like, is it a refutation of “All is vanity” or is it a grudging/enthusiastic endorsement? Or is there some middle ground?

I think, given Kubrick’s whole thing about the Icarus myth, the survival of Danny was of paramount concern to the middle-aged filmmaker. So despite the hotel’s probable primary ambition to kill Hallorann, evil things satisfying their evil ambitions is not the death of meaning, hope, or ambition. The trick is to continue to be good in the face of evil (even the evils within us), so that we might transcend the old world, and leave its predators scratching their heads at how we managed to slip the noose they thought would choke everything.

Click here to continue on to Here Comes the Sunken Place, Part 6: Indigenous Content