The Shining: Redux

One of the creatures that especially caught my attention some five and a half years ago was a Netflix operative named Jerry. I chose to watch him well aware of the dangers he posed: what would he lie about? How would he fool me? As it turned out he made Erica Davenport appear more a threat than she actually was. It took me a little while to catch on, but by then much of the damage had already been done. Far more significantly, however, was the revelation he brought to my attention concerning my good old father; that is that Csaba Polony had, before his death, been obsessed with the idea of killing me. Jerry told me this in the middle of a warm summer day. Not two hours later I went to meet my friend Mark, and I called my dick “that.” Thud. The rest is history. It was exactly what they wanted to happen. They are behavioral scientists, after all. I’d never had my father explained to me before. It still fucks me up to think about him, as they knew it would. Calling my own dick “that”… I think it was supposed to be a joke. Unfortunately, no one laughed.

But I digress. This was a very long time ago, spanning an age during which the bitches and everyone else have worn many different hats, ranging from the violently dangerous to the loving to the pathetic. I stopped looking at Jerry, though maybe I shouldn’t have: according to the rest of them it was his idea to start helping me, completely ignorant of the possibility that I could actually win. But, apparently, I did. Still, Jerry seemed especially interested in my father. I can’t argue with the fact that I share his interest. The specter of that miserable old man will probably haunt me forever.

Shortly after the world ended some eighteen months ago the bitches started communicating with me through the movies I watched, though without the personality of Jerry taking credit for it. These movies were sometimes scary, sometimes insulting, sometimes sweet, and sometimes enlightening. It took me some time to realize that the bitches were manipulating the sound and images to create their own little narratives — that is, their messages weren’t communicated through the subtext of the movies as envisioned by the writer or director, but in the way the bitches altered subtleties of such things as facial expression and tone of voice, and that was more than enough.

A few stand out as particularly important: The Mummy, devoted to the equally disturbing character of my mother; Amelie, about my hapless early romances; Batman Returns, addressing the schism in my personality between Batman, who wanted to do good, and Cat Woman, who wanted to burn the vile world to the ground; and The Matrix, which summarized the theory of the time period we were entering into and what kind of work it would entail. Such a long time ago: now I can’t stand the presence of them. I automatically turn off the movies that seem to bear their marks. I guess I’ve come a long way. I used to think them deserving of respect. Still, I’ll remember what they used to be. Despite the bizarre, annoying, perverse iteration of themselves they’ve become, once upon a time I learned a lot from them. When they talk about my father, for instance, I still can’t help but listen. Mother too. She was just as bad; had none of this ever happened it probably would’ve been she who would drive me to isolation and despair, maybe even suicide. Once this whole episode is over I will probably be proven one of the luckiest people to have ever lived.blob: THIS AD

Last night I watched Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, a genuinely scary movie about ghosts and a father who becomes homicidal. I started wondering how I might have done what the bitches used to: to tell a story through someone else’s art. What am I to do, after all, with Katy and Csaba Polony? At least one of them got better in the end. Jack Nicholson, who stars in The Shining, looks something like him too.

The movie begins with a series of panoramic shots of the highway leading to the Overlook Hotel, and a solitary car driving it: Jack Torrance’s. The music is grim and forbidding, a rendition of a movement of Berlioz’s “Symphony Fantastique,” which tells the story of a man’s entrance into hell. During their interview his new boss is compelled to tell him that a previous caretaker went mad and killed his family. Jack shrugs it off. As a writer, a little isolation and cabin fever might be just what he’s looking for.

While Jack expresses no trepidation at taking the job, which calls for some six months of snowbound isolation, the same could not be said of his son Danny, whose not-so-imaginary friend Tony tells Danny’s mother Wendy that he doesn’t want to go there. “I just don’t,” he says, just like a little kid would. According to Danny, Tony is a little boy who lives in his mouth. In fact he represents Danny’s supernatural psychic abilities: he can read minds, among other things. My own intuition rarely betrayed me and was often proven more prescient than I knew at the time, though in this way it failed me: I had no idea how dangerous Csaba was shortly to become.

Soon the whole family is taking the drive. It is undeniably scenic. The Overlook Hotel itself is quite beautiful. The staff is cleaning the place up. Jack’s boss, Stuart Ullman, takes Wendy and Jack on a tour while the hotel’s head cook, a black man named Dick Halloran, takes Danny aside for ice cream and a talk. He recognized Danny’s psychic ability. He tells him: “My mother and I used to have entire conversations without opening our mouths. We called it ‘shining.’” Dick wants to warn Danny that the hotel has a “shine” to it, though its iterations are no more dangerous than pictures in a book: the game built around me was similarly harmless. No one actually wanted to kill me, they were just saying they did. Except for father, or course. But stay out of room 237, Dick tells Danny. This is the last piece of advice he offers. Then we are moved one month later in time, well into the Torrance family’s stay. The camera follows Danny on his tricycle as he rides through the eerily abandoned building. We see Jack telling Wendy he’s never felt more comfortable, “as if I’ve been here my whole life.” Danny passes room 237, and, perhaps intrigued by Dick’s warning, he tries to go in, but, finding the door locked, he moves on. He looks afraid when he does so.blob: THIS AD

I didn’t know Dad wanted to kill me. I had to be told. When he came down with cancer, and I and my family were compelled to care for him, he seemed to be trying to intimidate me. I couldn’t explain it, and was maybe a bit flattered: I suppose you could say I felt noticed, which is more than could be said of the previous twenty-seven years of knowing him. But when Jack assures Danny a little while later that he would never do anything to hurt him the statement sounds less than convincing.

Danny is just a little boy, maybe five or six. What was I like at that age? Certainly more diminutive than Dad. Far so. And that’s probably how I would have felt when he started his campaign: wholly out-matched, unable to protect myself, a helpless child. One can only imagine. His hugely convenient illness surely complicated his idea. Jack, lacking this impediment, sinks angrily into psychosis. In this way he doesn’t measure up. Dad would have done it with a smile on his face.

Danny passes room 237 again a little while later and this time he finds the door open. He walks in and the movie cuts away. A little while later Wendy and Jack find him with bruises on his neck. Wendy instantly blames Jack: “How could you?!” she yells at him. Jack looks perplexed. Wendy flees with Danny in her arms.

Next we see Jack cursing and talking to himself as he walks down a hallway into the hotel’s main ballroom, the Gold Room. He takes a seat at the bar and puts his hands over his eyes: “I’d do anything for just a glass of beer,” he says, and it sounds like he means it. He opens his eyes and smiles: “Hello, Lloyd.” Indeed there is now a bartender, and a fully stocked liquor cabinet, before him. “Hello, Jack,” says Lloyd. “What’ll it be?”

Jack is a recovering alcoholic. He hurt Danny once, grabbed his arm too roughly and dislocated his shoulder. He blames Wendy for never allowing him to live it down, and Lloyd listens sympathetically. “I love the little son of a bitch,” says Jack. Soon his interaction with Lloyd is cut short as Wendy comes running into the Gold Room. She tells him there’s someone else in the hotel with them: “a crazy lady who hurt Danny.” Room 237. Jack is the next to go there in the most effective scene of the movie.

The camera takes Jack’s perspective, slowly. The room is plush and well-lit, like a luxury hotel’s should be. He comes to the bathroom and it takes a moment to discern a figure in the bathtub behind the plastic curtain. We see Jack watching gape-jawed.blob: THIS AD

The person in the bathtub pulls back the curtain. It is a good-looking, naked woman. She stands up and steps out of the bathtub. She watches Jack expressionlessly, invitingly. He comes toward her as if unsurprised, takes her into his arms and kisses her. His eyes are closed. When he opens them he sees the woman’s backside reflected in the mirror behind her: it is fat and flabby and scarred with desiccation. He pulls back from her and finds an old woman with gapped teeth and a terrible smile laughing at him. Jack falls away, horrified, and runs.

Who could this be? Which woman could fool and scare my father? Perhaps his own mother, who taught him to be the way he was. Who could turn a beautiful woman into an undead specter? And who, in Dad’s imagination, might have gotten to me before he did?

He returns to the Torrance’s living quarters where Wendy is waiting for him and he’s already recovered his presence of mind. He tells her what he found: “Not a thing. Not a goddamned thing.” “Maybe,” he says, “Danny did it to himself.” Wendy does not appear to believe him, while Danny, in his room, is trying to contact Dick Halloran — someone, anyone, who might be able to save him from the danger that seems to be asserting itself. 

Wendy tearfully suggests they leave the hotel, but Jack becomes furious and blames her for ruining things for him just when they are getting promising. He storms out of their quarters while Wendy begins to cry. She probably doesn’t know what to think, becoming aware of her husband’s deepening madness, unable to account for his bursts of anger. Danny’s friend Tony might wish to tell her, and in his way he does, compelling Danny to write the cryptic word “redrum” on a door with lipstick. Meanwhile Dick has heard Danny’s call and has decided to return to the Overlook to see for himself what might be happening.

Jack drifts around the hotel. We see him sabotage the two-way radio, then return to the Gold Room, where there is now a lavish party taking place, complete with a room full of revelers in masks and tuxedoes. He looks happy to find this. He goes to the bar and orders another drink from Lloyd, who tells him that his money is no good, though he won’t say who’s picking up the tab. Jack strolls out into the crowd and soon collides with a smartly dressed, bald-headed waiter who spills his drinks on Jack’s jacket. Apologizing profusely he takes Jack to the men’s room so he can clean him up. Jack stands there, regarding the waiter strangely. “What’s your name?” Jack asks. “Grady, sir,” answers the waiter. “Grady, you said?”“Yes, that’s right.”blob: THIS AD

Jack pushes Grady’s hands away and takes a moment. “Mr. Grady,” he says, “I know who you are. You used to be the caretaker. You chopped your wife and daughters into little bits.” “I’m sorry, sir,” Grady answers, “but you are the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker.”

Jack looks at a loss for words, though he has rolled ably with the punches so far, as if telling Grady that he’s actually a dead man is merely some kind of controversy he’s bringing to the waiter’s attention.

Grady goes on to appear impressed that Jack knew who he was. He has something to tell him: that is that Jack’s son is trying to find outside help: “A nigger,” Grady says. Jack: “A nigger?” “A nigger cook.” (That would be Lorraine). “Well,” Jack breathes, looking aggravated at the thought, “he is a very willful boy.” “That’s right,” says Grady, “even a naughty boy, if I may be so bold sir.””My wife once tried to interfere with my work here,” Grady continues, “and I corrected her. My daughters sought to stop me, and I corrected them too.” Jack Torrance nods in agreement. “Some of us here wonder if you’re up to the task,” Grady concludes. Jack appears to wish to settle their doubts, as if it is important to him that his wife and son know how dangerous he can be. Why else would Dad have done it? He’d sure done it to Eva and Attila before me. And he probably even knew that he wouldn’t have been alone in the task: that many would have tried to stop him. In effect it would have meant the end of America. He probably didn’t know this much, but he did know that when he won — and that is a “when,” not an “if” — he, too, would never have been able to move past it. What would he have done to himself once the deed was done? I can’t help but continue to wonder, then, why he was so intent on doing it.

Soon it is the next morning. Wendy and Danny are in their quarters eating breakfast and watching cartoons. Jack is not there. Wendy tells Danny she’s going to find him. She takes a baseball bat with her.

She goes to the hall where Jack used to spend his days, writing or not. She approaches his typewriter and finds that each page is filled with the same phrase repeated over and over: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Wendy is horrified: Jack’s illness must have taken hold long ago. Maybe he’s always been this way. And when she hears him approaching from behind she lets out a shriek, chokes up on the baseball bat, and starts backing away. If anyone had seen Dad’s plan they might have acted similarly. She backs away through the hall and Jack follows her. Soon she is ascending the stairs, swinging the bat weakly. “Give me the bat,” Jack says. “Give me the bat. Wendy? Wendy? I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to bash your brains in. I’m gonna bash them right the fuck in.” Wendy is crying, but still swinging the bat. Jack reaches forward and she hits his hand. Then she swings again and connects, knocking Jack down the stairs unconscious. Next she drags him through the hotel to the kitchen and locks him in the pantry just when he’s coming to. Jack comes to the door laughing and telling her to check out the snowcat and radio, both of which he’s ruined. She and Danny are stranded. Escape to civilization is impossible. Mother, as awful as she too turned out to be, might have been my only hope, after all, but she wouldn’t have been able to make him stop either.blob: THIS AD

A short while later Grady, exercising more agency than what Dick said the Hotel’s ghosts were capable of, that is that they were no more dangerous than pictures in a book, releases Jack from the pantry. Meanwhile, in their quarters, Danny wakes his mother: he is holding a knife and shouting “Redrum! Redrum! Redrum!” When Wendy hugs him and picks him up she sees in the mirror’s reflection the significance of what Danny is yelling: the word “Murder” written backwards. Then Jack appears outside their quarters, knocking down the locked door with an ax. “Here’s Johnny!” he yells as he comes through. Wendy takes Danny into the bathroom, behind another locked door, and takes the knife Danny is holding. She manages to open the window and push her son out into the cold night, but there isn’t enough room for her to follow. She tells Danny to run, then stands by the door as Jack takes the ax to it. When he puts his hand through to try to unlock it she cuts his hand and he recoils, cursing. Then they hear Mr. Halloran. They are no longer alone. The cook has made the flight to Denver, rented his own snowcat, and made the drive.

We see Dick walking down a corridor, calling out “Hello? Mr. Torrance?” Moments later Jack materializes from behind a column, and kills Dick with a single swing of the ax. No help for Danny there. None of my father’s social opponents would have been able to stop him. If anything they would have made him try harder.

Without her husband before her, Wendy leaves their apartment to find Danny, but is finds herself surrounded in expressions of her husband’s psychosis. There are ghosts everywhere. Dead people, skeletons. She can’t get away from them. The place is more deeply diseased than even Dick Halloran knew.

Soon Jack comes out into the winter night after Danny, who he chases into the hotel’s elaborate hedge maze, bellowing “Danny! I’m coming!” Danny’s footprints are enough to keep Jack after him. In my own reality I never would have gotten away. Danny, however, does, by pausing and stepping back into his footprints and then jumping into a nearby passage. When Jack finds his son’s tracks end he stops momentarily then charges on. Danny waits, then flees the hedge maze back the way he’d come. He finds Wendy and they drive Dick’s snowcat away to safety.

Poorly dressed, Jack continues to yell while he collapses against a wall. Soon he is dead, frozen through and no more. This is the end of the movie, just as it would have been the end of my father. He never would have survived a success he never would have allowed me to escape. It took the bitches’ supernatural intervention. His mere existence is yet another reason I should be dead. Had none of this ever happened I might have become privy to his capabilities some other way. The mind shudders.blob: THIS AD

A few months before he died, shortly after the bitches’ arrival some time in early September, 2013, Dad gave me a couple of movies he’d picked out for me himself: Missing, and The Motorcycle Diaries. He gave me a humorous, interested look: I knew he wanted to tell me something. Indeed, the movies were full of double-meaning and intention; wisdom, affection, insight. Similar to how the bitches would a few years later, he told me he’d always been quietly watching me, that he wanted me to get laid and wanted to help me do so, that he knew and had developed opinions on friends of mine that came and went during my childhood. I’d always thought him oblivious, living in his office and working on his magazine. Jesus he must have been smart: how could he remember and communicate so effectively? What, had he re-watched all his movies and picked out the two best ones? They didn’t spare a single wasted moment. The bitches used their technology to manipulate the sounds and pictures. Dad did it with his mind. It was the first and only time he told me he loved me, though these movies were in fact part of the opening overture of his murderous plot. Over the last eighteen months I’ve thought of watching these movies a few times, but the concept scares me. I don’t want everyone to see me do it. I’ve re-watched some of the movies the bitches showed me only to find them completely lacking the subtext they had elaborated earlier — I think I’m afraid I’ll find the same thing with my Dad’s movies; that they won’t mean a damn thing any more, that is was all a figment of my imagination. How would I be able to explain such a thing?

What an awful person he was. I only hope that my own children, should I ever have any, won’t, some day, be compelled to write a similar essay about me. I guess I’ll have to trust myself. I know I don’t want to hate myself. I also know I don’t want to be hated, especially not for an action so repulsive. Maybe I’ll always be interested in villainous father figures. I thought that Star Wars’ Darth Vader as Luke Skywalker’s father, for instance, could have been more problematically developed: the fact that the hero was his father’s son could mean he too was capable of evil. I don’t think the same can be said about me. I intend to make Csaba Polony into an antagonist for the ages. Lacking his physical person, I guess that will have to be enough. If it comes down to a choice between him or me, and I suppose it did, I think I’m glad to be alive, and I think a lot of people agree. I might soon find out whether or not eternal life reigning as a God-King in heaven is in fact in store for me. A loving and healthy mother too. I suppose that’s plenty. Sorry, Dad, but you’re not invited.

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