Up the Down Staircase, and the Discovery of Redrum Road



There’s a lot of cool stuff I unearthed while looking for Shining-Beatles connections, some of it probably coincidental, but still utterly hypnotic, like this candid photo of Jack and Shelley rubbing shoulders with Ringo at the 1978 Superman premiere (I’ve since learned that Duvall and Ringo were romantically linked, which might help explain her casting).

Or this tweet from Vivian Kubrick saying George Harrison was on set during filming.

Or the fact that the Beatles approached Kubrick in 1969 (at the peak of their disharmony…?) to direct them in a feature adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, thanks to John’s 2001: A Space Odyssey fandom. According to the above link, Paul and Ringo were to be Frodo and Sam, while George would play Gandalf and John would play Gollum (but I can’t say how factual that claim is).

But let’s get to the most important thing first: if you play Abbey Road three times while watching the mirrorform Shining (known to some as The Shining: Redrum Edition), you notice a slew of insanely fabulous overlay coincidences, both in terms of how the music’s rhythms and sections time with the movie, and also in terms of what the music is saying (both on its face, and about the band at that time) in conjunction with what The Shining is saying. Now, did Kubrick intend for us to do this? It’s hard to say with 100% certainty. But here’s what I think has happened.

(Actually, before I get to that, know this: I’ve since discovered the identity of one of the albums that appears behind Wendy in Boulder, and, long story short, track one off that album ends (it’s 10:45 long) the second that the album itself appears in The Shining, and it turns out it too can be played over the film to sequential effect. But that’s a whole other analysis.)

Kubrick seems to have lived by a filmmaking philosophy which I’m calling Up the Down Staircase. This happens to be the name of another film by the director of one of his favourite films, Summer of ’42, which, if you’ve seen The Shining, you know is in the movie.

Playing on the ever-popular cordless television set.

The phrase “up the down staircase” is uttered at the hero of the story, Sylvia Barrett (Sandy Dennis), a new teacher at an inner city school, by one of her fellow teachers, to inform her that she is breaking a rule she probably wasn’t aware existed, or mattered. “Mrs. Barrett, are you aware you’re going up the down staircase?”

It popped into my head when I tried to think of how to express Kubrick’s seeming tendency to take any element of King’s The Shining and follow it up to its macro implications and down to its micro implications.

Example: family violence and alcoholism. With up the down staircase, you need to look at a father breaking his son’s arm (central to the novel), but then you would follow that up to look at how England/America broke the arm of the world through colonialism. You need to look at how a man turns to alcohol to escape his demons, and you need to follow that up to look at how entire cultures delude themselves about what they’ve done wrong (like genocide). What’s crazy is that, once you get deep into studying The Shining (and probably some of Kubrick’s other works, I imagine), you start to see how he used this to approach every nuance of the novel’s story, and even sometimes the nuances suggested by those nuances.

He famously didn’t include King’s moving hedge animals, but the hotel is saran wrapped in animal art. And these artworks even follow the Torrances around the hotel.

REDRUM, perhaps the most iconic of all King’s iconic creations for this story, is a phrase that reveals something when seen in a mirror. So Kubrick inserts all these mirror phrases, and even goes to the trouble of making the film mirrorform.

King refers relentlessly to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, to really drive home the way The Shining is aspiring to carry the torch forward for a certain strain of literature, gothic horror, but also, King has never been able to resist infusing his work with a litany of pop culture references (even his otherworldly fantasy series The Dark Tower soon collides with the (spoiler alert) familiar). The Shining‘s Poe references are practically orgiastic compared to the lengths some stories go to bury their influences, though, and I wonder if this was partly what inspired Kubrick to include his own orgy of references. You can simply go to my guide to all the buried art pieces in the film, and make up your own mind about which pieces were the most ubiquitous, but I would draw especial attention to the works of Alex Colville, Krzysztof Penderecki, and the Group of Seven. Colville’s geometry and magic realism seem to have influenced Kubrick’s editing and aesthetic styles. Penderecki’s compositional methods seem to have influenced Kubrick’s methods for encoding so much symbolism, and making it work in the mirrorform, and the Group of Seven, while pioneers of the nature-centric landscape (in fact, many of the lesser-known artists in the film were noted in their time for their realism), were simply a collective of artists who inspired each other to greater and greater heights, and who had a forebear in Tom Thomson, and who had offspring in the form of the Indian Group of Seven. Just as The Shining (film) has a forebear in Alice in Wonderland/Lolita, and offspring like Shutter Island and Inception. So, while Kubrick did indeed embed references to Poe (and to Poe’s inspiration, Shakespeare’s The Tempest), Kubrick spent very little attention to King’s traditional aspirations, and heavily considered his own.

One of the essays on this site is only about how the inclusion of one song, Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, might be what inspired Kubrick to edit the film according to the Fibonacci sequence and to shoot the film partially according to the phi grid.

Anyway, you get the point.

In the same frame here we have, beside Ullman’s face, the first ever map of the Americas–the result of European colonialism. And beside Watson a painting by Copper Thunderbird, a Canadian indigenous artist, who probably would’ve been a lot better off if my ancestors never came here (depending on your view of residential schools, or indigenous lifestyles of yore, or which culture has historically done a better job of not committing the tar sands atrocities (currently advancing the rapidly dawning climate apocalypse), I suppose).

What I think a lot of Kubrick’s analysts get wrong is that they’re imagining these unearthable clues are Kubrick’s own viewpoint finding an outlet. Like in the fake moon landing theory, the tendency was to imagine that everything in the film that wasn’t from the book must’ve been an expression of Stanley’s secret life (if he’s referencing Apollo 11, it must be because…he was involved in Apollo 11…but how…?).

But take this example: if you’ve read my review of all the buried indigenous references, you might be inclined to think that Kubrick was looking for any old story to plug these topics into, to wax on about the evils of American imperialism. But (one of) the specific massacre(s) that’s been woven into the film, the Sand Creek massacre, was an atrocity committed against the Cheyenne and the Arapaho peoples…and the street the book Torrances live on in Boulder is “Arapahoe Street”.

On the first page of chapter 26, Wendy muses internally how on a day like that day even Bartók would’ve put her to sleep, and what one song is mentioned by name in the credits? That’s right, Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (all the other composers are truncated to simply a name credit, despite the fact that Ligeti also only had one song in the film, Lontano).

Hallorann is murdered in the shadow of an FH Varley painting called Stormy Weather, which shares its name with a famous Billie Holiday song. What’s Wendy doing at the beginning of chapter 6, in which she mostly ponders over the possibility of divorcing Jack? Debating whether the song Know You Rider was sung by Peggy Lee or Billie Holiday (it was Holiday, though Lee did sing See See Rider which was another stormy love song).

I could go on and on. The point is, I think Kubrick was primarily concerned with mining the novel for every one of its seeming inspirations and nuances, and seeing which ones were worth including. The specific weave of the film was Kubrick’s own, and he was certainly using his own preferences to express what he saw in the novel (there’s no references to Canadian painters in the book, for instance, and yet 90% of the paintings I’ve ID’d are by Colville, the Group of Seven, Copper Thunderbird, and the like). But his principal concern was in seeing what made the book what it was culturally (something that King almost can’t help pumping into his prose, which is probably why The Shining, both book and film, are so rich), and then letting that inform the inclusion of what made it into the film, and what he felt comfortable changing.

This process of Up the Down Staircase leads you places you might not have expected to find yourself, if you’re doing thorough enough research. For my part, I probably saw that phrase when looking into Summer of ’42, and then forgot its connection to the later film. Except that my brain held onto it, and inspired me to use it as a phrase that I told myself for weeks just felt like the right name. So, in case I’m being too subtle, I’ll spell it out. In discovering this process of Kubrick’s I inadvertently did something similar. My research into Kubrick’s process named the process. You kind of have to take my word for it, but I am still to this day blown away that my brain did that. And that’s why I’ve held on to that ungainly moniker, to remind myself of the process’s power.

But! If I had somehow never re-explored Mulligan’s oeuvre, I might’ve dropped the name when something else come along, or kept using it till someone said to me, “Hey, that’s the name of a great book, you know.” And I might’ve spent years wondering how I might’ve known that, and never realized it was thanks to The Shining. That’s why I still wonder if everything that made it into The Shining is as pointed and intentional as it can sometimes seem. Kubrick’s genius was grand beyond measure, sure, but he was still just a guy. And there’s a chance that, as he subjected himself to the eye scream, and went up the down staircase, he’d forgotten himself that Stormy Weather was ever crooned by someone other than Frank Sinatra.


There’s some things you don’t forget when going up the down staircase, and that’s how the name of the book you’re adapting was inspired by John Lennon’s first post-Beatles album, Instant Karma! (We All Shine On). The book is even dedicated to his son, the superb Joe Hill King “who shines on”. Every time you hear “The Shining” you should (as I frequently do, now) think John Lennon.

Or how an alternate title for Abbey Road was Mount Everest, inspired by a brand of cigarettes by the same name. And one of the books in the Torrance library is Tiger of the Snows, the autobiography of Tenzing Norgay, which was a book comprised of interviews with Norgay, conducted by James Ramsey Ullman. So, for a long time I thought Kubrick was simply drawing our attention to how a guy named “Ullman” is the reason why we know the inner thoughts of the man who climbed the highest mountain in the world. But perhaps this is the major reason. Also, the man I believe to be the real Charles Grady, is played by an obscure actor named Norman Gay. And that actor appears in the mirrorform as Ullman is telling the Charles Grady story. So “Ullman” is telling us about “Nor(man) Gay”.

When you start to imagine the book as intrinsically Beatlesian, as I believe Kubrick did, it’s perhaps due to the processes I’ve theorized above that Kubrick felt the need to lace the film with Beatles references.

Like, did you ever think it was weird that the tour of the hotel always looks like this from the side:

“But wait a minute,” you say. “That’s your best proof? Four major characters walking in an unnatural single file through four major areas of the hotel proves that Abbey Road is the The Shining‘s Dark Side of the Moon?”

To which I reply, you need more?

Okay. Try this on for size.

There’s a car that gets about five feet from slamming into Ullman at the front of the tour, here, right?–a split-second before the shot cuts to the next part of the tour? Well, what if I showed you that this car was an Austin Maxi, the same car that John Lennon crashed before the recording of Abbey Road, with Yoko in the vehicle with him, which is why he was absent for much of the early recording of the album? And what if you scrolled back up the page here and noticed that Ullman correlates to Lennon in every part of the tour?

Still not enough? Well, that makes you as skeptical as my partner, Simone (the Scully to my Mulder, who still doesn’t believe in the majority of my Shining theories). So for you hardcore skeptics, I’ll first tell you how I came up with this idea.

After noticing what I call the Abbey Road Tour, I looked up Abbey Road, which I’d actually never heard before (I knew Come Together, Maxwell, Octopus’ Garden and Because by reputation; I know, I know…friggin’ millennials, right?), and noticed that it’s split into two sides, in the fashion of LPs. Side one ends after track 6, at 24:51. What’s onscreen at this moment?

The Abbey Road Tour has ended, and Hallorann has arrived to “break up the band”. Danny arrives a moment later in time for Here Comes the Sun and Side Two to kick into gear, and Ullman suggests that Hallorann take Wendy and Danny off to see the kitchen. Side Two contains an 8-track medley of songs which go right to the end of the album, and which serves as a partial explanation for why the band broke up, and expresses some of their emotions about the collapse of one of the most celebrated artistic families of all time (the family bit is not just my editorial: McCartney saw the band like a family–even after almost 50 years McCartney is still referring to the Beatles as a family in that clip). So perhaps it’s appropriate that these tracks all land after the band has “broken up”.

(I should also mention that Abbey Road, if divided into the two sections of pre-medley songs and medley songs, gives us two album lengths which produce a near-golden ratio of 1.8–the ideal golden ratio is 1.618. This seems significant to me in light of my Fibonacci discoveries, since that means Kubrick might’ve used Abbey Road as a corrective, or guiding light, in applying the golden ratio to the film. Like, “Does Abbey Road look good over top of the movie? It does? Okay, then I must be on the right track.” thinks Stanley. Did you know I can read the thoughts of a dead film director? I can!)

“But wait!” you, the Beatles/Shining obsessive cry. “Don’t the Abbey Road Tourists reunite?”

Yes they do, my astute, fictional compatriot. Here, at the exact start of Because, the last pre-medley song:

And here, the complete band vanishes into the head of Hallorann on the line “Because the world is round”, never to be seen again in the film proper.

And here, while Hallorann looks like he’s having to explain something very troubling to Danny, we transition into the 16-minute medley, which carries us into the post-societal Torrances, on their irrevocable trajectory toward familial oblivion.

Intrigued yet? I hope you are, because we’ve got a tonne of ground to cover.

But before we get into the complete Redrum Road analysis (the second largest on this site, by a smidgeon), I just want to say that I don’t think we’re meant to see Jack Torrance as a literal expression of Paul McCartney (thanks to his position in the Abbey Road Tour) anymore than we’re meant to think John Lennon is Satan (thanks to both those figures being transposed over Ullman in this secret plot thread and in the Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are secret plot thread, respectively) or Ringo is Winnie-the-Pooh, or George is Bugs Bunny. If you’ve read my art analyses, you know that The Shining also takes structural inspiration from sources as diverse as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and The Tempest, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, The Masque of the Red Death, and an obscure British TV movie, among possibly many others (though I do doubt the “many” part). Not every one of the correlative characters from each of these is meant to speak to every other. And when you’re watching The Shining, you’re not literally watching Snow White. The plots might be identical in an abstract way, but abstract it remains.

As always, not all these observations are created equal. I opened up my mind to any possibility, and this is what I was able to notice. You might notice other stuff, or you might just enjoy one of the greatest albums of all time atop one of the greatest movies ever made.

Either way, enjoy!

Click here to continue to the Redrum Road analysis


Method 1: Go to the online version of the Redrum Edition at The Syncbook, and hit play on your Abbey Road right as the first frame of the movie comes on (this is hard to get right, but it’s how I did it the first few times). Be sure to remove the final, secret track Her Majesty, and be sure to set your player to restart the album after The End, because the entire thing needs to play through 3 times to cover the length of the film. The downside to that is, you won’t be able to pause without ruining the effect.

Method 2: Purchase a digital copy of The Shining (144-minute version) and whatever video editing program you like (I recommend Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro, but I’m sure there are cheaper alternatives–make sure they can adjust the direction and opacity of the video files). Put your digital copy into the program. Create a second copy of the film in the same project. Reverse the direction of the second copy. Set the opacity level of the second copy to 50%, or whatever looks best to you. Then clip off the end credits, and position the film so that the first and last frame of the film appear at the same time. You may find that you prefer a positioning that gives a more profound sense of synchronicity between the film’s internal edits, within the forward-backward motion of the drama. But I find that this basic approach plays much better with the rhythms and flows of the album. Alternately, you could buy a Blu-ray of the film and make your video file that way.

Method 3: Don’t make one, and just take my word for everything I’m about to unfold. I’m just thinking you’ll have more fun if you can see it for yourself.

Click here to continue to the Redrum Road analysis