The Tower of Babel – 1563

by Pieter Bruegel the Elder




First seen on the cover of a Scientific American seen in the Lobby on a side table…

…then in the Colorado Lounge mixed in with the piles of mags and papers while Jack’s hurling the ball, and finally (that I know of) in Suite 3 while Wendy’s pacing and fretting.


Bruegel is considered the “most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting” (Cornelius Krieghoff was a Dutch-Canadian painter by the way).

The issue of Scientific American in the film (Vol. 238) is talking about how Bruegel’s interest in, and depictions of the current technology of his day give us a rare insight into what was available at that time, and what would’ve caught the eye of one such as he.

Kubrick might’ve seen himself in Bruegel (in the sense that 2001: A Space Odyssey attempts to use a modern understanding of technology to see the future).

Bruegel‘s son, Pieter Bruegel the Younger, was also a major figure in Dutch painting. The tower of Babel was commissioned by a man named partly after his father (Cush). Jack Torrance from the novel’s full name is John Daniel Edward Torrance. Even the painting has a twin self/descendant in the “Great” and the “Little” Towers of Babel (the “Great” one is the one in the film).


Bruegel’s design for the tower was heavily inspired by a visit to Rome: the building style reflects Roman design conceits, especially the colosseum, which (considering we’re talking about the book of Genesis here) means that the painting has a sort of unavoidable anti-historicity. The Overlook features a ghost ball where everyone’s dressed like it’s the 1920’s, but the music they listen to is all from ’32-’34, and of course Jack’s modern visage will become ensnared in a 1921 photograph.

The Caesars envisioned Rome as an Eternal City, something Europeans of the day found hubristic (hence how the arches on Bruegel’s tower show signs of crumbling). Grady tells Jack they’ve both always been in this magic, timeless place (a great place to kill your family in!). So using Bruegel’s Babel might be a spiritual precursor to all the Julius Caesar references around the film, some of which occur outside of the hotel.

But is the effort to make an enduring, progressive society inherently hubristic? I don’t think so, and I don’t think Kubrick did either. His quote about how the Icarus myth is about building better wings could apply to the Tower of Babel as well (Bruegel also did a famous piece about Icarus). In Bruegel’s painting, the arches are crumbling because the builders aren’t completing each ring of the tower before moving on to the next floor up, which actually seems like a fairly apt metaphor for probably what every stage of human progress has felt like on some level. How can 8 billion people be on the same page about everything? We know about climate change now, and Scientific American knew about it in March of 1978 at least (note the article about World Oil Production), but we can’t seem to help ourselves about building that next layer.

The last thing to note there is how Bruegel envisions the tower as a spiral. Spirals play a large role in The Shining‘s design, both in the Fibonacci sense, and in the phi grid sense.

It’s also interesting to note how, when Jack calls Wendy about getting the job, both he and she would have an endangered “tower” behind them. Jack’s is what we’ve just discussed, and Wendy’s is Richard Martin Stern’s novel The Tower, which was later used to create the film The Towering Inferno.


The Tower of Babel was built on a “plain in Shinar”. Are the lobby, lounge and Suite 3 “Shinar” areas? Or “shiner” areas? We don’t see Danny using his shine to reach his mind into many areas, but he’ll use it from his bedroom to spy on the post-237 autopsy (Suite 3), he’ll use it from his parents’ bed to spy on the lounge fight (lounge), and he’ll use it from the steel drawer to spy on Hallorann’s murder (lobby). The only exception would be the way he uses it to reach Miami, to summon Dick.

Babel comes from the Hebrew word for “confused” (bālal). When Wendy is being chased through the lounge by Jack, just as she gets to the first landing up the stairs she says she just wants to go back to her room, and Jack asks why, and she says, “Well…I’m very confused…” At that moment she’ll be standing perfectly east of where the magazine was seen earlier.

The ruler of Shinar had three names: Cush, after his father; Nimrod, because he “established rebellion (mrd) in the world”; Amraphel because he said “I will cast down”. It strikes me that rebellion is “mrd”, which looks a bit like “murder”. Jack’s murderous expressions will begin in the lounge, become a serious threat in Suite 3, and fully realized in the lobby.

Also, Shinar’s other major appearance is in Daniel 1:2.


If you were directed to this page because of something to do with “117”, this is the piece that clinched the Overlook game board theory for me, and this piece that inspired the name of the Tower of Fable theory.

In a nutshell, the game board theory and my larger identification of 117s feed off each other. The Tower of Babel is how I figured out the game board – the game board is 11 x 7 squares – and the Tower of Babel appears at Genesis 11:7 of the bible. But the Babel story isn’t limited to 11:7. It’s reference from 11:1-9. It just so happens to include an 11:7. But if we flip those to get 7:11, that’s part of the Noah’s Ark story (something invoked by the artworks inside room 237, in fact). So, while I think of 117 as the “Tower of Babel number”, it could just as easily be the “Noah’s Ark number”, I just happen to like better how Tower of Babel gives us a shorthand for the madness of the Tower of Fable, and the game board Overlook. That said, the Overlook is jam-packed with artworks depicting animals, so it’s probably something of an ark as well.

But, extraneous to those more specific theories, I’ve discovered a plethora of little 117 symbols throughout the film, showing up in time codes, or even little contextual details. Like, the most recent thing seen in the film, so far as I can tell, is a newspaper discussing the Vela Incident of September 23rd, 1979. That’s been my main reason for interpreting the film’s events as taking place in the year 1979, which is how I realized the dates for the other days mentioned in the film as October 30th (CLOSING DAY), November 30th (A MONTH LATER), which would make TUESDAY December 4th, if it’s the first Tuesday after November 30th in the year 1979. Applying that same logic, the next four placards each jump two days ahead: THURSDAY, SATURDAY, MONDAY, WEDNESDAY. And the day of Jack’s assault would therefore be the 13th, and then the day of his frozen face would be the 14th, and so it’s possible that the day of the photograph is the 15th (there’s sheets all over the lobby furniture that weren’t there before). What’s more, there’s two saints referenced in artworks seen in the film whose feast days connect to the first day and the last day of the Torrance drama. So what does this tell us? Well, if the span of the film does go from September 23rd to December 15th, that’s 12 weeks exactly, or 84 days. But you could think of that as 11 weeks and 7 days. Those final 7 days would be everything from the MONDAY placard forward, and that’s the day that Jack seems like a spaced out zombie on the bed, when Danny comes looking for his firetruck. So, not a perfect dividing line between sane Jack and insane Jack, but interesting, anyway. In fact, the day he starts to seem off his cracker is the 4th of December (TUESDAY), which would be 11 days to the end.

There might be too many of these to want to put them all in one place, but if I think of anything else like what I just covered, I’ll include it in a list here.

  • This piece appears at exactly 3:05, which is 185 seconds into the film. But if we subtract the 14-second Warner Bros. logo, it’s actually 171 seconds, a 117 jumble. And Jack is actually howling out the lyrics to a 1921 musical called Bombo at this moment (according to the film’s subtitles), so, detestable as the practice of blackface is, Jack singing out lyrics to a blackface song, incomprehensibly no less, is a fairly apt metaphor for the Tower of Babel, the idea of God making it hard for the many peoples of the earth to understand one another.
  • Wendy is first seen reading Catcher in the Rye. The official version of that novel is 234 pages, and she appears to be holding it open at the middle, which would be 117 pages. In fact, her “red book” edition is 212 pages, and after close scrutiny I figured out that she’s on page 132 of that edition. Still, though.
  • The centre page of King’s novel (pg. 224) features the story of Jack’s father Mark beating his mother with a cane. King describes “one” whack smashing the mother across her face, then “one” whack coming down on the top of her head, splitting the scalp, followed by “seven” “whumps” to her body.
  • The Grady girls are described as “about 8 and 10” by Ullman. That’s not that far from 7 and 11, and he’s being openly inexact.
  • At 7:11 Ullman is telling Jack that the job entails “doing repairs, so that the elements can’t get a foothold”. In both Babel and the flood, the elements got a mean foothold. At 11:07 Jack is calling Wendy, and Aileen Lewis is sitting behind him, reading what might be this magazine, sitting in a chair beside where the magazine was sitting. At 70:11 Dick is listening to Glenn Rinker describing the “record winter heat wave” in Miami, quickly transitioning into the storm story about Colorado. And 17:01-17:10 is Wendy describing Jack breaking Danny’s arm to the doctor.

Next art reference: Northern River