The Alex Colville Connection




There’s an indigenous reservation in Washington state called the Colville Indian Reservation, which came up as a tangential element in a few of my little research dives into the lives of the Albertan Bearspaw people whose portraits appear in the film, like Chief Bear Paw and Chief Walking Buffalo. The one direct connection is how the second shot in the film features Jack driving past Lake McDonald, which was likely named for Duncan McDonald, who was half-Nez-Perce, which is one of the twelve bands of Colville people (people named for the reservation).

The Nez Perce War came to my attention since it ended with something called the Battle of Bear Paw, which is not named for the chief seen in the film, but rather for the mountains in which the battle took place (though I think it’s quite likely the mountains and the Nakoda band’s etymology could be linked in some way). But survivors fled into Alberta, Canada – right into the zone where Chief Bear Paw had held sway. One of the major historical moments that connect Chief Bear Paw and Chief Walking Buffalo (both of the “Bearspaw” band of the Nakoda nation) is the signing of Treaty 7, which Bear Paw signed and Walking Buffalo witnessed the signing of as a child. That was on September 22nd of 1877. The Battle of Bear Paw happened a week later, between September 30th and October 5th of 1877. The signing of Treaty 7 was not good for the Bearspaw people, as it’s believed they didn’t understand the subtlety or intricacy of the document, and what it would mean for them going forward. So, though the Colville/Nez-Perce people who survived the Nez Perce War by fleeing into Bearspaw country avoided a terrible fate, they arrived just in time to share the misfortune of their new brethren – who happened to share the same name as that fateful battle. One of the main chiefs lost in that battle was named Looking Glass, and Stephen King’s novel makes overt references to Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland/Alice’s Adventure’s Through the Looking Glass, something Kubrick’s film does much more subtly. So I suspect this could’ve been part of Kubrick’s reason for invoking this particular network of references. Also, the name Delbert (à la Delbert Grady) is the masculine form of Alberta, the place to which the Colvilles fled.

It’s probably also worth pointing out how the Makah people of Washington state were (relatively) close neighbours of the Colvilles, and how there’s a painting called Makah Returning in Their War Canoes by Paul Kane hanging next to the ghost I believe to be the real Charles Grady (click that last link for details). In the novel, Jack remembers grimly the way his father put his mother in the hospital by beating her with his cane, and I believe Kubrick saw a connection between how Jack reacts to the memory of Mark Torrance and his encounters with Delbert Grady. Both are violent, vicious father figures (though one is a little more pitiable than the other), and I think Kubrick saw in them a connection to western imperialism.

But, despite the incredible symbolic depth of Colville paintings (or even because of how weighty they are), both in themselves and in how they relate to the film’s subtext, I have a harder time seeing the Colville paintings as evoking the people of the same name as strongly as the Bearspaw portraits evoke those people. I realize that probably sounds obvious, and I think I’ve provided sufficient evidence to show the Colville people are not discounted from the film. But the strongest link is in McDonald Lake (and yeah, there are two JEH MacDonald paintings in the lobby – The Solemn Land and Mist Fantasy – the latter of which may connect more to the notion of imperialist genocide more than any other in the film), and that connection really depends on Kubrick knowing about that one, arguably most likely, explanation of the lake’s name.

In any case, here’s links to all five Colville paintings, so you can decide for yourself how likely they connect to all this: Woman and Terrier, Horse and Train, Hound in Field, Moon and Cow, and Dog, Boy, and St. John River.


If you read my section studying the film from the perspective of the Fibonacci sequence, you’re aware that, from an editing perspective, the film is basically a jigsaw puzzle of geometric forms, and if you’ve read about all the paintings above, you’re aware that Colville is presently next to Dorothy Oxborough for the single artist whose work was most represented by the film. Along with the Group of Seven artists, these are all also the most easily recognizable to average moviegoers. Colville is probably famous in some parts of the world simply from being in this film.

Well, I’m not an art scholar, and I’m sure there are many artists, past and present, who famously used geometry to compose their works, but Colville was one of them, and possibly a prominent figure of this style. There are numerous examples online of him using grids, golden spirals, and other, looser structures to compose images. Below are a few examples to show the range of elegantly simple to archly complex approaches he took over the years. Was it designs like these that inspired Kubrick to try his own Fibonaccian approach?

Also, in pouring through Colville’s canon to try to spot other possible hidden paintings, I noticed a few paintings of his pre-1980 period that seemed to speak to certain of Kubrick’s compositions. Check it out.

Four Figures on Wharf (1952); a good (if not replacing) alternative to my Abbey Road thoughts.
Woman and Terrier (1963): This feels like cheating, since this one’s in the movie, but maybe that’s all the more reason. It is, after all, in the shadow of the Torrance copy of the painting that Wendy confides to the doctor about Jack’s abuses, and here she is about to relive the horror she once felt about her husband’s wrath.
May Day (1970); Possibly the inspiration for making the Torrance Beetle yellow (the one in the book is red). Also, in the mirrorform, as Jack is saying “Has it ever occurred to you that I have agreed to look after the Overlook hotel until May the 1st?!” we get this shot of the Overlook with the tiny yellow Beetle parked outside, seen in Jack’s right lapel/collar here. And, of course, similar conifers are seen all about. In case you’re unfamiliar, May the 1st is also known as May Day, the name of the painting.
Woman in Bathtub (1973); the framing is quite different, but the subject is
quite similar. Also, we will get a fair view of the ghost’s vaginal cleft later on, as well.
Hotel Maid (1979); this painting involves a white telephone behind a grey-haired lady, so perhaps the best comparison is to the white phone in room 237. But I made this master of all the shots of people using phones and radios to look for other explanations. To little avail.
May (1979); There’s a few instances of chopped wood stacked as neatly, but the wagon going by the tour here felt especially apt, as well as the distant rise of land behind both images here. May is also the end of Jack’s contract with the hotel.
November (1979); Maybe a stretch, but you have to admit these cop cars have similar silhouettes.
December (1979); part of a series (one for each month, called Book of Hours) Colville did while The Shining would’ve been toward the end of production, or during post-production. I’ve wondered a fair bit if Colville was aware of his works being used in the film, and the fact that the ones for May and December (the month Jack dies and the month Jack’s contract with the hotel would resolve) bear the strongest resemblance to shots in the film is striking. If the October one (of an owl on a branch, with the moon behind it) had worked out, it would’ve been a perfect hat trick. I suppose if July had worked out (a person’s torso sticking halfway out of a large body of water), that could’ve tied to the month of Jack’s eternal imprisonment, as well.