Halloween is almost here, and you know what that means. It’s movie season. There is something special about watching horror films in October. Cinefiles such as myself can’t get enough of the genre year around, but it seems even more fitting this time of year. One of my essential picks for the season is 1980’s The Shining staring Jack Nicholson and Olive Oil herself, Shelley Duvall. That brings me to #11 on the Grizzly Bomb Countdown to Halloween, Jack Torrance and The Shining.
“Here’s Johnny!” I was one of those kids that made references to pop culture, but was entirely confused on their actual origination. Though I hadn’t even seen The Shining, I was familiar with Jack Nicholson saying, “Here’s Johnny!” When I would imitate it, people assumed I knew who Johnny Carson was. Clearly they were unaware of my 9PM bedtime. I would get the same confusion when I would pretend to be Michaelangelo from the Ninja Turtles by saying, “You dirty rat. You killed my bruddah.” Everyone assumed it was my James Cagney impression. (Even though he never once says that line, but I digress.) Yeah, a five year old knows who James Cagney is. Blonde Crazy was one of my favorite films when I was five. (Sarcasm)
So this little five year old is going around saying, “Here’s Johnny!” But why? Because Jack Torrance is one of the most influential characters of pop culture, that’s why! Originally introduced in Stephen King’s 1977 bestseller, The Shining, Jack Torrance was quite simply an alcoholic that ultimately met his demise due to his addiction. Jack Torrance in his written format succumbs to this addiction, and nearly destroys his family and trusty chef Hallorran in the process. The novel is heavily themed with addiction, and the enormous sacrifice required to overcome it. One scene from the novel that was omitted in the film featured Jack’s father, who was also shown to have been an abusive, alcoholic. In the book, it was only after brutally destroying his own face with a mallet that Jack comes to his senses and resembles the caring father he once was. Through the telepathic powers of The Shining, Danny is capable of overpowering the hotel’s evil spirit and the hotel’s boiler explodes. Danny, his mother, and Hallorran escape, but Jack is destroyed along with the hotel. This novel is such a phenomenal representation of what addiction does to a family generation after generation, and the climactic sacrifice required to extinguish the blemish.
In 1997, a three part miniseries was produced by King starring Steven Weber as Jack Torrance. The television adaptation was intended to ensure a more true adaptation of King’s orignal novel. Those familiar with the book loved it. Those that had not read the novel, not so much. Though the explanation for the boiler exploding in the book is due to negligence, the boiler exploding in the miniseries is directly due to Jack sacrificing himself to save his family. The redemptive qualities are even more present in the miniseries then any other form. Also, the miniseries includes a scene not in the book in which Danny has graduated from high school. In this scene, it is revealed that Tony, Danny’s imaginary friend is actually the future self of Danny who has served as a guardian. This is explained far greater in the miniseries than in the book, and makes even more sense when it was recently revealed that King will publish a sequel to the book in September of 2013. It should also be pointed out that Anthony or “Tony” is Danny’s middle name.
So what liberties did Kubrick take with the 1980 film that were so far off the mark? In my opinion, some of the best pieces of the film, that’s what! It’s unfortunate, but in cinema, the original writer is one of the most disrespected members of the filming process. As the saying goes, they’ll take artistic suggestions from the hair stylist’s brother’s pizza guy before they listen to the writer on the set. Or at least, it goes something like that. I don’t know, I have taken my own liberties. Kubrick creates a character the audience is far less likely to sympathize with. His insanity is so pungent that it is unrecognizable. There is rarely confusion to wether Jack is the protagonist or antagonist. We find the Overlook Hotel to be his fate and his destiny rather than succumbing to his own vices. Hallorran doesn’t just get nearly beat to death with a mallet like in the book. He gets an axe buried in his chest! Not only did the audience get a shock from this scene, but the audience that had read the book would also receive a shock to find that Hallorran wasn’t going to make it out of this one.
The ending is one of the most blatant liberties in which nothing happens to the Overlook itself. Though the evil that resides within the hotel is responsible for Jack’s behavior, it is Jack that pays the ultimate consequence, not the hotel. No boiler explosions, and aside from some busted in doors, the hotel is unscathed. Jack however, is left as the creepiest frozen Jack-sicle you’d ever see in the outdoor shrub maze. The themes of addiction are not felt as strongly as in the novel. We are not given a greater explanation of what The Shining truly is, and how great of an impact Danny has. In many ways, I feel the film is successful at creating gruesome suspense and attacks the audience visually rather than displaying the theme of addiction. In true Kubrick style, the film is done incredibly well, and for that reason, it remains a favorite to many.
Keep an eye out, another character on the Countdown will be revealed at every night at 12:01 am for the rest of the month. You’ll also be able to find them HERE.
Also, for more on the Overlook: The Shining: The Most Complex Horror Film Ever Made