One of the creatures that especially caught my attention some five and a half years ago was a Netflix operative named Jerry. Seems like a long time has passed since then. I tried 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. The bitches are behavioral scientists, after all. It was exactly what they wanted to happen. 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 they were manipulating the sound and images to create their own little narratives — that is, it wasn’t the subtext of the movies as envisioned by the writer or director, but the way the bitches communicated through them by altered subtleties of such things as facial expression and tone of voice.
A few stand out as particularly important: The Mummy, devoted to the equally disturbing character of my mother; Amelie, about my unhappy, 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 disgusting 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, eventually maybe even suicide. Once this is over I will probably be proven one of the luckiest people to have ever lived.
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 say what I wanted it to say; 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. Perhaps father would never have felt more alone. According to his new boss, a previous caretaker went mad and killed his family. It’s probably true that many people underestimated the corrosive nature of the game they started to play, and how difficult it would ultimately be to switch off. Before the e-mails went out, anyway, Dad wouldn’t have been quite so inspired.
While Jack expresses no trepidation at taking the job, which calls for some six months of snowbound isolation that he could use for writing, as Jack is a writer, the same could not be said for 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: in my interpretation I am Danny, and Tony would stand for my intuition, which rarely betrayed me and often proved more prescient than I knew at the time.
Soon the whole family is taking the drive. It is undeniably scenic. The Overlook Hotel, whose name, like Jack and Danny, is fittingly meaningful, 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 for the most part its iterations are no more dangerous than pictures in a book: I gradually discovered this as time went on, that nobody actually wanted to kill me, they were just saying they did; except for father, or course. But stay out of room 237, Dick says. Then we are moved one month later in time, well into the Torrance family’s stay, following Danny on his tricycle as he rides through the eerily abandoned building. We also 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 a little afraid when he does so.
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 is less than convincing.
Danny is just a little boy, maybe five or six. What was I like at that age? Certainly more diminutive than Csaba. Far so. And that’s probably how I would have felt when Dad started his campaign: wholly out-matched. Just like Danny’s “shine” can only help so much, I would have been unable to protect myself.
I wonder how long it would have been for Dad’s plan to reveal itself. His hugely convenient illness surely complicated his idea. Jack, lacking this impediment, sinks gradually into psychosis. Dad would have done it with a smile on his face.
When Danny passes room 237 a little while later 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. While neither Mom, nor anyone else, cared a whit to begin with, next to Csaba they would have looked angelic.
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 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.” Soon his interaction with Lloyd is cut short as Wendy herself 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. Did Dad think he would impress anyone with his scheme? Particularly women? Had he gone through with it he would have lost everyone, particularly himself. Had he always hated himself and the way he abused people? Maybe he blamed himself for all those that he damaged over the years, and didn’t trust his intuition not to reveal a person he found pleasure with to be something else entirely, something that could hurt or repel him.
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. The woman is dead. 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. He returns to the Torrance’s living quarters where Wendy is waiting for him and apparently he’s already recovered his presence of mind. He tells her what he found: “Not a thing. Not a goddamned thing.” “Maybe,” he says, “he did it to himself.” Dad would have lied to himself too. 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. After all what can a child do when it’s his own father out for him?
When Wendy suggests they leave Jack becomes furious and blames her for ruining things for him just when they were getting promising. He storms out of their quarters while Wendy begins to cry. She probably doesn’t know quite what to think, as yet unaware of her husband’s deepening madness, though unable to account for his bursts of anger. Danny’s friend Tony might wish to tell her, and in his way he does, writing the cryptic word “redrum” on the 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 masks, confetti, 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?” Jack pushes. “Yes, that’s right.”
Jack takes a moment and pushes Grady’s hands away. “Mr. Grady, 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, and yet has rolled quite ably with the punches so far, as if telling Grady that he’s actually a dead man is merely some kind of confusion 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 insulted,” 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. He might have to fight to ultimately do away with his family, dispatching with an inconvenient black person, but there’s no doubt he seems up to the task. The bitches tell me Dad knew it would be a big deal. He might not have known it would mean the end of the world, but certainly that of his companionship with anyone who knew him.
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: apparently Jack’s illness took hold long ago. Maybe he’s always been this way. And when she hears Jack 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.
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 Danny 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, though he is probably not as afraid as he should be.
Jack disappears. 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, just as Dad would have done to anyone who might have sought to stop him. No one would have been able to succeed. Danny is such a small boy. You are always that to your parents. You always want their approval. You are helpless from what they might want from you.
Without her husband before her, Wendy leaves their apartment and heads into the hotel, where she finds ghosts and skeletons and masked revelers everywhere: demonstrations of her husband’s psychosis. She can’t get away from it. One of them, a bald man in a tuxedo with blood gushing from a wound to his forehead raises a glass to her: “Great party!” he says, and drinks. My wife and mother too wouldn’t have been able to escape what Dad was doing to me. It would have driven them crazy eventually.
Soon Jack comes out into the winter after Danny, who he chases into the hotel’s elaborate hedge maze, yelling: “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 taking a few moments to step back into his footprints and then jump into a nearby passage. When Jack finds his son’s tracks end he takes a second or two and then charges on, still bellowing incoherently. Danny waits a while, then flees the hedge maze. He finds Wendy and they drive Dick’s snowcat away to safety.
Poorly dressed, Jack continues to shout while he collapses against a wall, and the next shot is of a frozen through Jack Torrance, dead and no more. Dad too would not have survived the consequences of his actions. He might have been murdered. So too, he might have killed himself. He never would have been able to get away from a success he never would have allowed me to survive, and he knew getting into it that he and everyone else would feel this way. I guess this is one way he and I differ: I do not want to be hated, and I don’t want to hate myself. Why anyone would feel differently is a bit of a mystery to me, and yet look at my parents: two walking, talking examples of why human nature would never have survived itself. I can probably count myself lucky I never saw what they were for myself, at least, and especially, in their final iterations. It’s fair to say that the concept of them terrifies me.
Well, that’s my Shining interpretation. While I’ve enjoyed writing this essay it’s also felt a little ridiculous: searching popular culture for a sympathy that few could imagine, though not for lack of trying, as I’m surely the most well-studied person to have ever lived. Even the bitches keep saying that they think I’m perplexing. Some day I hope to understand what they mean.
A few months before he died, shortly after the bitches’ arrival, when I was just beginning to use Hana, Dad gave me a couple of movies he’d picked out for me himself: Missing, and The Motorcycle Diaries. They were full of double-meaning, just as accurate and engaging as the bitches’ movies were a few years later. They were full of wisdom, affection, and insight. It was the first and only time he told me he loved me, and yet he’d already begun hatching his plans to murder me. Over the last eighteen months I’ve thought of watching these movies a few times, but for some reason the concept scares me. 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 in 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’ll keep you, and everyone else, updated. Wish me luck.