Last night I watched Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with my parents. Referring to the heroine and “best supporting” actress Olivia Duvall, my mom said, “You know, she wasn’t’ such a wuss in the book. She was a much stronger character.” The book about which my mother was speaking, of course, is the original novel The Shining written by Stephen King
After his first scotch, earlier that evening, my old man said, “You know, I think this movie only makes it because of Jack. I think Jack kind of makes this thing.” How sad, I thought, for Stanley Kubrick, that my dad could only give any credit to the genius of the film to its star, Jack Nicholson.
Both of these interpretations of the film seemed to suck some major dick, in my opinion.I snapped back at Dad, “I think it was part of Kubrick’s intention to star Jack. Exactly for that reason, Dad. He wants you to think that Jack makes the film.”
“No. no. no. Jack makes the movie. That’s all there is to it. Jack makes the movie.”
Mom added, “And the book was very good and very creepy. I mean, this movie is very creepy. But the book was very, very creepy!”
“Yeah, but Jack made the movie. Jack made the god-damn movie. God damn it.”
Unlike my parents, I still wasn’t sure what the fuck Kubrick was up to. Mom might have agreed with me on that point. But she had (and has) such a hard-on for Stephen King that it didn’t really matter.
These are the things that were floating in my mind in those moments that I wanted to tell my parents but couldn’t. I wanted to say, there are many interpretations one can make of a film. But I couldn’t say that, lest I sound like the over-educated pretentious son who should just know when to shut the fuck up. I wanted to say, I believe Kubrick’s Shining either has a Christian or a Nietzschean motif working in it. (And now, after doing some research on Kubrick and his beliefs, I’ve revised my theory regarding anything “Christian” in Kubrick’s works. He was a devout atheist, as devout as your average born-again Christian.) And now I wonder whether Nietzsche, the self-described anti-Christian, really wasn’t, perhaps, trying to save Christianity from its own worse defenders. Maybe he was tearing it down brick by theological brick to preserve its best components—however doubtful that might sound.
Stephen King, although I have not read his Shining in particular, seems to me—at least from the few books I have read of his—a masterfully frightening storyteller, albeit at times a shallow and formulaic one. I suspect that Duvall’s character in King’s book was not such a “wuss,” as Mom said, because of some superficial, contrived yet vague sense of feminism King intended to push thematically. It was the ‘70s, after all.
But had Kubrick directed Duvall to play such a character, the movie would have failed. Ripley, the character played by Sigourney Weaver in the Aliens movies, is a masculine, strong and vigorous portrayal of what modern feminism would like to see in our contemporary film heroines. The first two Alien(s) movies are horrifying and entail some interesting philosophical ideas, but they are no Shining. It’s my belief that The Shining is a better movie (and proves Kubrick to be the better director. Sorry, Ridley Scott) because of Duvall’s “wuss-ness,” because, as my father says, “Jack makes the movie” (in part, true) for its philosophical and symbolic depth. Jack’s presence of character is so commanding, so powerfully chilling that he stands like a small god in the film. He is rude, arrogant, sexist, racist, violent and belittles his family from the very beginning of the film, long before any so-called possession takes place.
Duvall’s character appears weak, timid, lame, and perhaps even stupid. But she is caring, nurturing and a motherly figure. She is passive but loving. She has no desire or will but to protect her son and love her husband. (However, the latter’s motives may be compelled by fear and terror rather than any sort of authentic, devout love.) She has little will to power (at least, on the surface). Jack, on the other hand, has a very fervent will. He conceives himself to be an artist (though he is undoubtedly a failed one). His desire to write a novel is so strong that he has quit his day job as a teacher and relocated his family to a remote winter island of snow buried in the mountains of Colorado.
Now, I think of Christianity here, and I think of Nietzsche and cannot decipher the two. St. Paul’s maxim that Christians should exercise “strength through weakness” and “live through dying” is captured perfectly by the actions of Duvall’s character. If we consider Nietzsche’s critique of resentment in the Genealogy of Morals, it is Jack who is driven by revenge and resentment. But who is the uber-mensch? It is Duvall, not Jack. He is the weak one. He is the one who is possessed by “demons”. He is the violent alcoholic who beats his family, who has no will to control his own temper, his thoughts, his habits (which is why, I believe, he begins to drink again as he becomes “possessed”). Jack dies in the end. Yet Duvall has the will to live and protect her son. She has no resentment. Only the will to love.
I don’t know who the black seer is supposed to be or what he symbolizes. He is the seer, the wise, kind gentlemen. He is something of a wise wizard or protector with powers. (However, considering that Kubrick didn’t believe in any of that supernatural stuff, it’s hard to say what he represents exactly.) He dies as well, murdered by Jack. Could he be some kind of Christ figure? It is “through his death” that give Duval and her son the opportunity to survive. Had he not brought the snow mobile truck, they would not have escaped.
Another interesting point to consider: Jack is out-witted by his son in the maze. Does this fact imply or illustrate a Nietzschean argument that weaker willed people (such as Jack), though they appear stronger on the outside—as most bullies do—actually wish to control, dominate (and, thus, kill) others who threaten them because the weak-willed are, at bottom, fearful of such possible threats?
I can’t help but think of Jane Woodman or other “strong” feminist types, those who follow, or fall in line with, the Ridley Scott vision of a “strong” woman. (Neesha comes to mind as well.) Perhaps through their strength, they only reveal their “weakness” and wish to control and dominate others.
Beware of those who seem to be, or who appear to be, or wish to be, or who simply are—powerful! (Or maybe I should say, be wary of those who seek outward forms of power!) They may have power in the world, hold a powerful office or affect a powerful manner. But in fact, they are weak, scared creatures who appear and act with strong and noble virtues on the surface; but they cannot accept—or even fathom—the reality of their own lives (not to mention the lives of others). They cannot accept or imagine what turmoil and pain might be entailed by simply floating through the world like a crimson rose peddle drifting down the Mississippi River.
P.S: For a much thorough and stronger analysis rather than the chicken scratch above, check out this link: http://www.collativelearning.com/the%20shining.html